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Mike Kelley, in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Riddle of the Sphinx, 1991. Yarn and found objects. 360 x 156 inches (914.4 x 396.24 cm). Collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo credit: Will Brown. Mike Kelley, in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Riddle of the Sphinx (installation view), 1991. Yarn and found objects. 360 x 156 inches (914.4 x 396.24 cm). Courtesy of Metro Pictures. Collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Mike Kelley, in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Riddle of the Sphinx (detail), 1991. Yarn and found objects. 360 x 156 inches (914.4 x 396.24 cm). Collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo credit: Aaron Igler.
Mike Kelley, in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Riddle of the Sphinx, 1991. Yarn and found objects. 360 x 156 inches (914.4 x 396.24 cm). Collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo credit: Will Brown.
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Mike Kelley, in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Riddle of the Sphinx (installation view), 1991. Yarn and found objects. 360 x 156 inches (914.4 x 396.24 cm). Courtesy of Metro Pictures. Collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
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Mike Kelley, in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Riddle of the Sphinx (detail), 1991. Yarn and found objects. 360 x 156 inches (914.4 x 396.24 cm). Collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo credit: Aaron Igler.
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Mike Kelley

While in residence at the FWM, Kelley created two large-scale knitted afghan installations, projects in keeping with his interest in craft materials during the 1980s and early 1990s. Entitled Lumpenprole and Riddle of the Sphinx, they employ a similar technique in their fabrication. The FWM identified a studio at the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Philadelphia University) where artists are trained to operate computerized knitting machines, and Kelley’s pattern for the room-size afghans was translated into panels of appropriate size for the machines to accommodate. The panels were then hand sewn together to form the finished pieces. For Riddle of the Sphinx, Kelley chose the gradation of hues based on color names that suggested the evolution of a day—“purple dawn” and “midnight” are two examples.
 
Like many of Kelley’s previous works that incorporate worn toys and domestic objects, these two installations introduce the aesthetics of the artist’s lower-middle class background through their association to handmade, knitted afghans. Kelley has said that this choice was intentional, though he doesn’t want them to be interpreted as “exotic,” but rather he wants “to present these ‘poor’ materials as text themselves” (Mike Kelley, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, 1992).

Hidden beneath each afghan are objects, the outlines of which can be seen protruding through the knitted yarn—in Lumpenprole, stuffed animals are the covered forms, while in Riddle of the Sphinx, metal bowls are concealed. The bowls in Riddle of the Sphinx refer to the stages of man, as posed in a riddle to Oedipus: What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?

Bio
American, 1954-2012
Mike Kelley was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan where he earned a BFA in 1976. He moved to California to pursue graduate school, studying at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia (MFA, 1978). While still a graduate student, Kelley developed a performance style that would dominate his work until 1986 (when he stopped performing) in which he incorporated sculptural objects as props and demonstration pieces. The style of Kelley’s performances and his subsequent sculptural works have been described as perverse and adolescent, and he himself stated that the adolescent period interests him: “. . . an adolescent attitude is the attitude of the humorist, like somebody who knows the rules but doesn’t see any reason to be involved with them.” Kelley’s work has been exhibited in major museum exhibitions, including shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1993), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1993), Basel Kunsthalle in Basel, Switzerland (1992), and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC (1991).