The notion of a house as our most private sanctuary is obliterated with Mobile Homestead, the work of the late contemporary artist Mike Kelley, which has made its way from its permanent home at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) to the lot in front of The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (MOCA). This is the mobile home’s first journey outside of Detroit, coinciding with a larger retrospective of the influential artist's work at MOCA. He committed suicide in his South Pasadena home in 2012. He was 57.
“We’re not in the real estate business,” says MOCA Los Angeles’s new director Philippe Vergne. “We’re here because Mike Kelley believed art could make a difference, could change someone’s life, one work of art at a time.” At first, the 45-foot-long rectangular volume on wheels appears to be the epitome of domestic perfection. Wrapped in white siding and dotted with blue-green shuttered, sliding windows, the structure is a full-scale replica of Kelley’s single-story, ranch-style childhood home in suburban Detroit. But rather than isolate itself from the world outside, the house has doors that are—literally—open to the seedy, the overlooked, and often unloved.
During its two-month residency at MOCA, Mobile Homestead—Kelley’s “largest work of public art,” according to Bennett Simpson, the retrospective’s curator—will host programming designed to bring the public face-to-face with socio-economic problems. The house currently hosts the Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD), which creates performances and artwork to increase awareness of L.A.’s Skid Row, home to the highest concentration of homeless people in the country. Inside, the cheekily named LAPD has installed a 20-foot-long visual timeline chronicling the history of Skid Row, with digitally printed portraits of people working to uplift the beleaguered neighborhood. Out on the patio railing, quilted satin-and-gold-lamé banners with portraits of Skid Row workers ripple in the wind, glorifying what is normally swept under the rug.
Kelley’s Mobile Homestead will also be the site of talks on rent control by the LA Human Right to Housing Project and effects of imprisonment on communities by Critical Resistance Los Angeles. For two days, the Local United Network in Combating Hunger (LUNCH) will invite the public to bag lunches to be distributed to a local homeless shelter the next day. Apart from these community projects, the public can also drop off donations for homeless children or donate blood to the American Red Cross. Entrance to the mobile home is free to the public.
“In Detroit, the Mobile Homestead is a community gallery,” says Mary Clare Stevens, executive director for the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. “It’s a free zone for the exchange of ideas.” In the same way, MOCA hopes Kelley’s exhibition will ignite conversations about the fissures in society the artist often investigated in his work. “The house encapsulates this tension between the public and private, and the individual’s role to relationships outside of itself.”
Mobile Homestead is on view at MOCA Los Angeles until July 28.