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Title
Four Part Butter-Scene N'Ganga
Artist
Mike Kelley
Date
1997
Dimensions
overall installed 25 × 111 × 111 inches
Materials
galvanized washtubs, pigmented vermiculite, plastic fruits and vegetables, cable, speaker wire, audio system, CD, adjustable wrench, locking pliers
Location
Not on view

Object Details

Type
Mixed Media (Multimedia)
Accession Number
1997.70.1-.6
Style
Conceptual
Inscriptions
unsigned; N.A.
Physical Description
Four wash buckets fastened together with pipe and cable. buckets are filled with colored vermiculite and plastic vegtables. The whole structure is hung and wired to a stereo mounted on the wall, that plays the CD
Printer
N.A/
Credit Line
T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1997

object label Mike Kelley, Four Part Butter-Scene N'Ganga (1997) Walker Art Center, 1999

To this day I am incredibly fascinated with the social function of certain kinds of obviously nonsensical formal systems.–Mike Kelley, 1994

Mike Kelley is best known for his soft sculptural assemblages and installations of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which incorporate crocheted afghans, dolls, and stuffed animals. He has cited as influential the works of Paul Thek and Peter Saul (on view in Gallery 5), which employ similarly funky and abrasive approaches to politically and sexually charged subject matter.

The theme of Four Part Butter-Scene N'Ganga is multilayered and tied to a series of works Kelley made that were inspired by the “Land-O-Lakes girl”–the faux Native-American woman gracing the cover of the familiar butter package. In this work her normally “pure” presence is reinterpreted in the cacophony of grunts and gasps you hear–the infamous “butter scene” from Bernardo Bertolucci’s film Last Tango in Paris. The four washtubs full of brightly colored, mysteriously textured globs of vermiculite and plastic fruit and vegetables are “n'ganga pots”: cauldrons containing a stew of exotic and mundane materials used in Santeria rituals throughout Latin America. Kelley says: “The n'ganga is considered the repository of the enslaved tortured souls … the stew is the limitless erotic made manifest … it is the pot which gives chaos its form [and its limits].”

Label text for Mike Kelley, Four Part Butter-Scene N'Ganga (1997), from the exhibition Art in Our Time: 1950 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, September 5, 1999 to September 2, 2001.

Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center

curatorial commentary Philippe Vergne discusses Mike Kelley’s Four Part Butter-Scene N'Ganga (1997) Philippe Vergne, September 1999

Mike Kelley was a teacher in MCAD [Minneapolis College of Art and Design] a few years ago. I choose him because for me it makes sense to show Mike Kelley’s work also in relation with Paul Thek because a few years ago, Mike Kelley was one of the first artists to go back to Paul Thek’s work and write about the work again and almost pull the work out of the darkness. I like Mike Kelley a lot, first, because he, I think, is offering to the American orthodoxy an option because he’s coming from Los Angeles and, for years, the headquarters of the art scene was New York, and since a few years, we see it at Los Angeles. So, artists are living in Los Angeles such as Paul McCarthy, Larry Pittman, Charles Ray, who is also in the gallery. This Los Angeles scene might become one of the most dynamic scenes in America.

I choose this piece because I think this piece echoes in a very nice way what Kara Walker, David Hammons, and Paul Thek are addressing in their work. It’s an installation. It’s called Four Part N'Ganga [Four Part Butter-Scene N'Ganga]. … It’s very difficult to say. It’s addressing something which is related to voodoo, trance, another culture something which is linked to the African-American culture. It is a stew, like a painting stew into the four pots which are hanging. So there is also a way, even if you look at the first painting we’ve seen, the Otto Muehl, you can see that Mike Kelley is making not fun but dealing with the history of painting, painting as a soup with also this kind of irony, exoticism. It’s also a way for him, I think, to exorcise part of the American history. All these pieces are also linked to the history, I think, of the way the Native American was represented through the Land-o’-Lakes butter boxes, with the Native American woman sitting which he explained to me that when he was a kid, he was folding the butter box in such a way that the knee of the woman became her breast and it was for him one of the first erotical experiences he could have.

Philippe Vergne, Curator of Visual Arts, Walker Art Center, commenting on Mike Kelley’s Four Part Butter-Scene N'Ganga (1997), during the exhibition Art in Our Time: 1950 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, September 1999.

Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center

object label Mike Kelley, Four Part Butter-Scene N'Ganga (1997) Walker Art Center, 1998

Kelley is best known for his soft sculptural assemblages and installations of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which incorporated crocheted afghans, dolls, and stuffed animals. In Four Part Butter-Scene N'Ganga, four washtubs full of brightly colored, mysteriously textured globs of vermiculite and plastic fruit and vegetables are held by an armature of pipe and wire. At its base, a cacophony of grunts and gasps–the “butter scene” from Bernardo Bertolucci’s film Last Tango in Paris–emanates.

The tubs in this work simulate n'ganga pots, cauldrons containing a fetid stew of body parts and other exotic and mundane materials that might be used in Santeria rituals. According to the artist, “the n'ganga is considered the repository of enslaved tortured souls who are bound to carry out the evil spirits of the magician… . The n'ganga stew is the limitless erotic made manifest … it is the pot which gives chaos its form and, in doing so, limits it.”

Label text for Mike Kelley, Four Part Butter-Scene N'Ganga (1997), from the exhibition 100 Years of Sculpture: From the Pedestal to the Pixel, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, February 22-May 24, 1998.

Copyright 1998 Walker Art Center