In 1988 Mike Kelley created Pay For Your Pleasure as one of three works for his show at the Renaissance Society in Chicago.
It consisted of a hallway hung with 43 banners by a signpainter, depicting portraits of great men of arts and letters, plus a quote from each about the transgressive nature of creative genius. There was also one self-portrait by the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who’d taken up painting in prison, and whose work was, controversially, garnering market and media attention. Sort of the George W. Bush of his day, except Gacy actually went to jail.
David Rimanelli posted this work on his Instagram recently, and it prompted me to revisit Kelley’s installation, and the quotes he assembled. The Renaissance Society’s documentation includes a text that rightly criticizes those in the spectacle-driven culture who turned a murderer into a celebrity artist. [The work mitigated its own centering of a Gacy painting by including donation boxes for victims’ rights organizations, though, if you think about it, that gesture only offloads the scale-balancing to the viewer.] but it seems oddly silent on what I think was Kelley’s most devastating critique, the consistency with which icons of white male-driven culture seek to excuse themselves from moral obligations to anyone but themselves.
The work was acquired by MoCA in Los Angeles in 1989, and hand to heart, the description is, “Oil on Tyvek, wood, an artwork made by a violent criminal in (location of exhibition), and two donation boxes.” Christopher Knight captured the damning site-specificity and guilt-assuaging in 1992. I would pay a hundred dollars to see this work in Dallas or DC with a W painting.
Mike Kelley: Three Projects, 1988 [renaissancesociety.org]
Mike Kelley, Pay For Your Pleasure (1988) [moca.org]