Artists are Madmen! (Or maybe not)
This image shows Mike Kelley’s “Pay For Your Pleasure”, from 1988, as installed in his retrospective at MoMA PS1 in New York. The piece consists of a series of huge portraits of great cultural figures, inscribed with things they said about the links between madness, crime and art. So there’s Veronese saying “We painters claim the license that poets and madmen claim” and (William) Blake claiming that “those who constrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be constrained.” At first the piece could read as a celebration of these ideas – Kelley himself had a Dionysian side, and took his own life – but there’s lots to make us read it the other way around. After all, the portraits themselves are aesthetically stolid (I’d bet Kelley paid some hack to paint them) and some of the speakers don’t quite exemplify their own quotes: Veronese for instance was hardly a radical. And then there’s the fact that that tiny image we see at the end of the installation is a work by a genuine criminal that Kelley asks to have installed each time the piece is mounted. And it is definitely, absolutely no masterpiece.
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