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].”