Lot 2
  • 2

Mike Kelley

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Mike Kelley
  • Visceral Egg
  • acrylic on paper
  • 152 by 103cm.; 59 7/8 by 40 1/2 in.
  • Executed in 1994.


Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1995


Los Angeles, Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Mike Kelley, 1994


Exh. Cat., Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, (and travelling), Mike Kelley, 2012-13, p. 190, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

First exhibited on the occasion of Mike Kelley’s 1994 exhibition at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles, Visceral Egg formed part of a multivalent dialogue anchored to the artist’s interest in biomorphism and Ufology – the pseudoscientific study of all reports and documented phenomena relating to Unidentified Flying Objects. More specifically however the present work was accompanied by three other graphic works specifically focused on medical ailments and prescribed pharmaceuticals connected to the digestive system; alongside Visceral Egg, Pepto BismolIrritable Bowel Syndrome and Immodium A-D (all 1994) together comprise this small corpus. On a wider scale however, these works form a tranche within Kelley's greater project of Lump Drawings and related works first initiated by the artist in 1991. Encompassing a taxonomy of steaming lumps, carbuncles, anthropomorphic forms and disembodied organs, ranging from graphic works through to installation pieces, this major project crystallises Kelley's key dialogue with the abject. However of this 65-part corpus, Visceral Egg is emblematic of this series in being the only piece in which Kelley's own unflinching and direct likeness is presented. 

In-keeping with Kelley’s utterly innovative, highly conceptual, and naturally pluralistic artistic legacy, the present work is best elucidated in context of the entire project of this 1994 exhibition. Across a synaesthetic cacophony that spanned a multiplatform of works, including a giant foil asteroid suspended from the ceiling and hooked up to lights and a PA system (Silver Ball, 1994); a number of egg-shaped silver paintings depicting biomorphic abstractions of alien bodies derived from sci-fi culture; diagrams of humanoid forms surrounded by colourful auras; the aforementioned graphic works on stomach maladies; and finally a set of plywood viewing boxes balanced on trestles (Channel One, Channel Two, and Channel Three, 1994, now in the collection of the Tate, London), Kelley explored the relationship between a form of technological fetishism or phobia, and the body as a site of abjection or loathing.

In his essay ‘On the Aesthetics of Ufology’, the artist explains Ufology’s conflation of “high-tech fetishism and symbolic body loathing” as symbiotic and mutually inclusive: “In most modern art histories, the aesthetics of technical perfection and those that relate to images of the deformed body have been set in counter-opposition. However, in Ufology these two aesthetics are set side by side in a less clear relationship” (Mike Kelley, ‘On the Aesthetics of Ufology (excerpted from an interview with M.A. Greenstein)’, 1997 in: John C. Welchman, Ed., Mike Kelley: Minor Histories - Statements, Conversations, Proposals, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2004, p. 401). Using Ufology Kelley explores the bizarre coalescence between an ideal of perfected technology and an abject re-imagining of the body.

Executed in Kelley’s characteristic graphic style, Visceral Egg features a steaming disembodied portrait of the artist’s head attached to an ovoid sack containing the human digestive system. The gastrointestinal tract and biliary organs (liver and pancreas) are diagrammatically enclosed within the biomorphic egg, out of which an oozing seepage ruptures its sack-like bodily-boundary. This evocation of formlessness in the manner of dripping, gooey excretions, alongside a scrambling of the body and its parts, utterly permeates Kelley's oeuvre. As though witnessing the human body during a moment of slimy transformation – at once invoking the body-horror of John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing – this graphic work conjures the Freudian ‘primal scene’ and once again circles back to the importance of repressed memory syndrome in Kelley’s work. Fascinated by the so-called ‘eye witness’ accounts of alien abductees – in which subjects remember painful medical procedures centering on the probing of bodily orifices combined with a sensorial overload of light and sound – Kelley linked these confessionals back to the kind of false memories that emerge as symptoms of repression. In turn, this piece underlines a central tenet of Kelley’s practice, in which most adult emotional problems are the by-products of forgotten childhood trauma.

Charting a career that has re-defined the nature of performance and installation art, Kelley mines the psychological landscape of a youth spent growing up in Detroit in a working class and Irish-American Catholic family. By harvesting the detritus of ‘low’ or mass culture Kelley explores the dark and soiled places of his own imagination and that of our own society to mechanise a return of the repressed. As an archetypal abject reimagining of his own self-image, Visceral Egg is emblematic of the conceptual brilliance that has earned Kelley status as one of the most influential artistic minds of the late Twentieth Century.