Mike Kelley, the daring and influential contemporary installation artist who counted the band Sonic Youth and artist Paul McCarthy among his collaborators, has died, police said Wednesday. He was 57.
Kelley's body was found at his home Tuesday night and it appeared he had committed suicide, South Pasadena Police Sgt. Robert Bartl said, without providing further information on the death. An autopsy was pending.
The artist's death brings to a tragic end a career empowered by both a punk-rock rebelliousness and pop-culture kitsch. He famously filled spaces with sculptures and unorthodox objects, and his solo exhibit "Catholic Tastes" at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York established him as a major figure in the art world in 1993.
"His work was widely collected and exhibited internationally," said Stephanie Barron, senior curator of modern art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "He had a voracious appetite for all kinds of art. He was enormously curious and worked incredibly at his craft. He was never afraid to think really big. Artists like that don't come around very often."
Bartl said authorities went to Kelley's home Tuesday after a concerned family friend went to the residence, and then called 911. The friend told investigators that Kelley had been depressed after recently breaking up with his girlfriend, but no note was found, Bartl said.
Kelley's work will be included in the upcoming 2012 Whitney biennial in New York.
In addition to "Catholic Tastes," his major solo exhibitions included 2004's "The Uncanny" at the Tate Liverpool in the United Kingdom and 2006's "Profondeurs Vertes" at the Louvre in Paris.
"Mike was an irresistible force in contemporary art. ... We cannot believe he is gone. But we know his legacy will continue to touch and challenge anyone who crosses its path. We will miss him. We will keep him with us," Kelley's studio, Gagosian Gallery, said in a statement that the Los Angeles Times published on its website.
He erected a life-sized Colonel Sanders statue alongside a miniature Sigmund Freud at the Gagosian in Los Angeles in 2011 and was influenced by old yearbooks for a 2005 exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in New York that featured a 15-foot-long missile called the "gospel rocket."
"His works often violated notions of so called good taste and blurred the boundaries between art, music and popular culture," said Barron.
Kelley was a student of conceptual artist John Baldessari, and he collaborated with fellow artists like Paul McCarthy and Tony Oursler. The band Sonic Youth used Kelley's work on the album cover for "Dirty" released in 1992.
Born in Detroit, Kelley founded the band Destroy All Monsters with three other musicians in 1974. He left the band in 1978 to attend the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, near Los Angeles, but never strayed far from the music scene, frequently contributing to music journals and always counting music as an inspiration.
"He was extremely intense, very serious, phenomenally well read. He would go very deep into his subjects, a real artist scholar but with a real passion for whatever he was investigating," Barron said.
After encounters with him, Barron said, "I always came away learning something new, thinking about things differently and in awe of his curiosity."
Although she corresponded with him in the last couple of weeks, the last time she saw him was a month ago.
"It's incredibly sad," Barron said. "It's hard to imagine somebody with the life force and intensity that Mike brought to bear is no longer with us. His impact will be seen with distance as all the more powerful and we'll have to begin to process this."