The Mobile Homestead was Mike Kelley’s largest architecture model. Even though the one-to-one replica of his childhood home was eventually—after his death— finished in 3D, it is a much more fitting description to call it a façade, a walk-in postcard of the front elevation picturing one of the thousands of generic ranch-style homes that litter the American landscape from Detroit to Los Angeles, and from Seattle to Houston. The house is an architectural manifestation of x marks the spot among the industrial detritus of downtown Detroit. It sits awkwardly perpendicular to the parking lot behind the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, in the wound of an urbanity that broke open after the city was divvied up between its most prominent corporate heavyweights: Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. Among many of the still dilapidated warehouses and factory buildings, and a couple of rehabbed city blocks dotted, here and there, in between at times expansive nothingness, the house could not be more of an unsettling, alien presence.
While the exterior beckons with a deceptive come-hither air of leafy suburban familiarity and quaint American coziness straight out of 1998’s Pleasantville, the inside makes no pretense that this is anything other than a public space. Linoleum tiles on the floors give it a strangely industrial realism and a violent scab of aluminum paneling, which runs along the full length of the front of the house, detaches the façade from its stationary back to be chauffeured around Detroit’s neighborhoods. Yellow neon lights leave no doubt: this is not a home; no one could live here.
Exhibitions get caught in the familiar maelstrom of scale that always haunts residence-turned-museum galleries: nothing fits and everything turns into either decoration or furniture. Like many sculptural architectures that weren’t necessarily designed with a clear image of placing exhibits in mind—think Libeskind’s Jewish Museum or Gehry’s Vitra Museum, for instance—it may have been a more powerful gesture to just leave the spaces as they were when the keys were handed over: empty.
Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead
Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit
permanent, since 2013