Jamian Juliano-Villani | Mike Kelley

West Barn

September 10-October 5, 2022

The Ranch is pleased to present Jamian Juliano-Villani | Mike Kelley. The two-person exhibition maps the uncanny resonances between the artists’ practices—as well as Juliano-Villani’s explicit references to and citations of her predecessor. Both artists have received international recognition for their unabashed confrontation of what Kelley called “unsavory issues.” Images and objects typically avoided as gauche or overly sentimental, embarrassing or vulgar, are the routine subjects of their visual worlds. Hoarding and excessive accumulation become artistic devices; self-mythology and memory are made public. Works made by Juliano-Villani for this exhibition reflect directly on the selections from Kelley’s oeuvre. An outdoor presentation of a windmill sculpture by Juliano-Villani accompanies the gallery presentation.

The idea for this two-person exhibition arose from Juliano-Villani’s longstanding reverence for Kelley and a desire to confront the curatorial challenge of conjuring a parafictional dialogue between the living artist and the deceased. In most of these manmade pairings, the dead artist is rendered a silent, if not passive, collaborator. Chaffing at this paradigm, Juliano-Villani has worked to summon Kelley’s voice—allowing it to become what she calls “kinetic” once more. Memory—hers of Kelley, hers of her childhood, Kelley’s of his, theirs of popular culture and familial vocations—is therefore one of the activating forces of this presentation and a point of rumination that propels each artist in turn.

New paintings by Juliano-Villani directly address Kelley. This is perhaps most explicit in her horizontal banner of serialized horse heads that is pulled from Kelley’s Alma Pater (1992) (a print of which hangs in Juliano-Villani’s back office at her gallery O’Flaherty’s). Kelley’s original features this same thoroughbred along with the text “Mike Kelley Alma Pater” and the University of Michigan insignia. Many have written on Kelley’s preoccupation with the educational system. Indeed, the artist emphatically constructed his self-mythology by way of the institutions of learning through which he passed. But the inversion of Alma Mater, and its replacement with its masculine twin, evidence another of Kelley’s fixations: his father and male identity writ large. Kelley’s dad oversaw janitorial maintenance of a public school in Detroit. The shadow of cleanliness/trash, education/blue-collar labor permeates Kelley’s artistic logic and imagery in ways obvious and discreet.

Abiding patrilineal preoccupations also help clarify Juliano-Villani’s coterie of images and provocative compositions. Her parent’s own a promotional advertising company called Robbi based in New Jersey and founded in 1978. The gravitational pull of the logo and the branded image haunts Juliano-Villani in much the same way that the educational complex trailed Kelley. For both, it is not simply the aesthetic of these professions on offer, but moreover the conceptual riddles of these systems. In paintings like Running of the bulls #1 (2022), Juliano-Villani cracks open the psychotic undercurrents of the unmistakable emblem of the “Out East” busing company, the Hampton Jitney. The repetition of the Jitney symbol throughout the paintings and merchandise made for this show duplicates the lessons of marketing engrained in Juliano-Villani from childhood—recursion and reappearance are the powerful tools of consumer manipulation. For Kelley, repetition is the disciplining device of the pedagogue. Yet both artists allow these taming instruments to exceed their typical function, instead implementing them as strategies of undoing. To Juliano-Villani, the multiple prompts the possibility of multiple lives and identities. In Kelley’s hands, repetition purges desire unsatiable and untoward.

Here, another moment of lockstep between Juliano-Villani and Kelley: a predilection for the uncouth, the libidinal, the sullied. A recent series by Juliano-Villani gives cropped images of unspecified hands removing lice from a child’s head. Ruminating on this episode of childhood embarrassment, these scenes unspool memories suppressed and humiliation closeted. The return of the repressed dominates Kelley’s practice as well. This is clearly articulated in Boy Swag Lamp (2005), in which a winged blonde boy is gagged and made a chandelier fixture. An image of domination and suppression, this object reminds of Kelley’s thematic return to the self-mortification at the core of Christian morality.

The opening reception held on Saturday, September 10, 2022, features an Easter Egg Hunt designed by Juliano-Villani as memorial homage and complement to the “Leftovers” component of the exhibition—“throwaways that are memorable” and valid forms of art per Juliano-Villani (like bumper stickers, signs, branded cups, silkscreened shirts, and golf balls). The ground’s activation includes a grave made for Kelley to be placed by Patrick Painter, the artist’s longtime friend, supporter, and dealer. The winners of the Easter Egg Hunt will be rewarded with merchandise and memorabilia made for the exhibition.

—Megan Kincaid

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