“UPON THE BASEMENT’S completion after Kelley’s death, the first thing Loren did was to cover a wall with Destroy All Monsters artwork. That was followed by a sort of “christening” by Loren and Shaw, who recorded some music in the space, including a demented cover of Andy Williams’s “Lonely Street.” Since then, Loren has mostly invited Kelley’s friends underground, including the artist Paul McCarthy and the band he plays with, Extended Organ, which performed in one of the rooms. “I can’t say it’s inviting,” McCarthy said of the space. “I like it, but it’s not cozy. I don’t think it’s meant to be cozy.” McCarthy was as surprised as anyone by the existence of the basement: “I never knew he was doing it until literally the day of his memorial, and he’s already gone.”
“MOCAD and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts have a strict policy about maintaining the privacy of the basement, in keeping with Kelley’s wishes that “the underground zone will not be open to the public and the works produced there would have to be presented elsewhere, or not at all.” One cannot simply walk into MOCAD and ask to see it. Perhaps one wouldn’t want to. Amy Corle, the curator at the museum who runs the programming for “Mobile Homestead,” had told me that fear is not an uncommon reaction to standing over the hatch that is in what would have been Kelley’s childhood bedroom closet.
“A lot of people think they want to go down,” she said, “and then they look and say, ‘No.’ ”
“This reaction is understandable. A clunky and awkwardly placed ladder leads to a concrete room with another ladder leading farther downward. There is a path at the bottom with more ladders that go up into tunnels that connect to different rooms. Some of these chambers have extremely low ceilings that an adult of average height could not stand up in. Light comes from small fluorescent bulbs in caged fixtures, the kind found in a submarine. One of the tunnels leads to the space where Paul McCarthy played with Extended Organ. It is covered in cheap Halloween decorations. In another room, Loren installed a God’s Oasis sign. Elsewhere, he stored some of Kelley’s ashes.
“The space is both claustrophobic and improbably vast, and panic can set in quickly. Standing there, staring into the dark of one of Kelley’s concrete tunnels, about 40 feet beneath the ground, with only blackness visible ahead, it helps to think of home.”
Text: M.H. Miller, Mike Kelley’s Underground Afterlife, The New York Times.