Mobile Homestead

Mike Kelley

Detroit, USA
NOW 24 September 2010 - ongoing
Visitor information

Mobile Homestead is a full-scale replica of Mike Kelley's suburban childhood home: a public sculpture conceived and made for Detroit, where the artist was born and raised.

This single-storey ranch-style building is incongruously located in mid-town Detroit in a symbolic reversal of the “white flight” from the city centre which followed the race riots of 1966. The project began in 2010, less than two years before the artist’s untimely death in January 2012.


This project began in September 2010 when the front facade of the house was attached to a trailer and driven around Detroit, offering various socially useful services, such as food distribution, book lending, a needle exchange or blood bank.


In July 2013, a full replica of the house opened. It operates – as Kelley had desired – as a locus for both public and more secretive activities. The facade remains removable and can be driven around the city, offering public services on its travels.

Beneath the public rooms on the ground floor of the homestead, a double-layer basement area mirrors the floor plan of the original Kelley family home. Its intricate network of ladders, corridors and rooms were intended by the artist as a place for various concealed counter-cultural activities hidden from public view.

Mobile Homestead grew out of my initial desire to buy the actual house that I was raised in. The plan was to empty the house of furnishings and turn it into a neighborhood art gallery while, at the same time, I would secretly dig an underground tunnel system that would, in a haphazard manner, weave under the adjacent properties. – Mike Kelley

The space has been used by a wide range of Detroit-based arts and community groups for meetings, projects and exhibitions. The public programmes are coordinated by the Department of Education and Public Engagement of the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Up-to-date information is available via MOCAD's website

Mobile Homestead has been temporarily closed during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Image: Mobile Homestead travelling through Detroit (2010). Photograph: Corine Vermeulen

Video: (excerpt) Going West on Michigan Avenue from Downtown Detroit to Westland (2010–2011)

3 minutes 5 seconds
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Videos: Mobile Homestead trilogy

The maiden voyage of Mobile Homestead took place in September 2010. Over the course of the next year Kelley worked with a local crew to record the mobile homestead travelling up and down Michigan Avenue, a major highway leading from the old centre of the city out to the suburbs. 

The video crew recorded interviews with a wide range of people who lived and worked on Michigan Avenue; shop-owners, bikers, policemen, prostitutes. A portrait of his native city, a trilogy of Mobile Homestead videos was the final work completed by Kelley before his untimely death in 2012. The soundtrack of the videos features Kelley's reworking of Detroit City, a song made famous by Bobbie Bare in the 1960s.

Featured video: (excerpt) Going West on Michigan Avenue from Downtown Detroit to Westland (2010–2011)

The first Mobile Homestead video documents the journey of the replica back to the original homestead. Through interviews we meet residents from the wealthy area of Dearborn, the impoverished black neighbourhoods of Inkster and the white working-class outskirts of Wayne and Westland. Their personal stories and memories track the city with which the artist shares an ambivalent past. The video left is available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

Duration of full video: 1 hour 16 minutes 15 seconds © Estate of Mike Kelley. All rights reserved. Courtesy of the MIke Kelley Foundation for the Arts.

Video: (excerpt) Going East on Michigan Avenue From Westland to Downtown Detroit (2010–2011)

In the second Mobile Homestead video, the artwork returns to the city centre, reversing the so-called "white flight" that occurred in the wake of the notorious riots of 1967. As with the first video, interviews with local residents are underscored by Kelley's characteristically dark humour and biting commentary and offer a bleak but revelatory take on life in the Midwest. This video is also available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

Duration of full video: 1 hour 6 minutes 17 seconds © Estate of Mike Kelley. All rights reserved. Courtesy of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts.

Video: (excerpt) Mobile Homestead Christening Ceremony and Launch, September 25, 2010 (2010–2011)

The final in the trilogy, this video documents the launch of the mobile section of the homestead, in which speeches and performances by local poets and musicians are captured with Kelley’s lifelong sense of sceptical realism. This excerpt video is available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

Duration of full video: 55 minutes 1 second © Estate of Mike Kelley. All rights reserved. Courtesy of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts.

Image: Production still, Mike Kelley, Mobile Homestead (2010-2011). Photograph: Corine Vermeulen

Audio: Mike Kelley in conversation with James Lingwood

25 minutes 41 seconds
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Audio: Mike Kelley in conversation with James Lingwood

In 2013, on the occasion of a permanent installation of Mobile Homestead in Detroit, Artangel released this full interview between Mike Kelley and Artangel director James Lingwood, originally conducted in 2010. 

This conversation is also available to listen to on Soundcloud.

Parts of it are also included in the podcast episode on memory, alongside reflections by artists Clio Barnard and Susan Philipsz.

Image: Mobile Homestead permanently installed, Mike Kelley, 2013. Photograph: Jason Sudak. Courtesy of MOCAD

Writing: Detroit bites but good

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Living in this border town is like learning to live with a brooding dragon. We have acclimated to the city’s bites. — Toby Barlow

Detroit bites but good, by Toby Barlow, November 2010

Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead trailer began its scheduled journey at 2:05 pm on September 25. On the trailer sat a large recreation of Mr. Kelly’s childhood house. It planned to travel down Detroit’s Woodward Avenue and take a right onto Michigan Avenue. Then, after cruising past the strip joints, biker haunts, supermercados and Slows Bar-B-Q, the caravan would arrive at the site of the original home.

But this was just a spark in the greater zeitgeist. So much looms around Detroit now, filling the air with that great whooshing sound you hear as a predatory bird descends. As the trailer started up, David Byrne was just two miles away – one of 3,000 enthusiasts cycling the annual ‘Tour de Troit’. A week later Matthew Barney would stand atop the towers of an abandoned steelworks as a dismembered 1967 Imperial was melted in a burning forge. And just two days after that, Neil Young parked his 1959 Continental Convertible - reincarnated as a turbine powered electric vehicle – on the front lawn of Ford World Headquarters for an unannounced visit. All this creating a sense of some vast collective-unconscious art piece orchestrated by greater powers. Maybe. Maybe not.

It didn't matter. This is the town that eats its own. And the Kelley Kid was in for it, as if the psychic city had put a big red neon target on his back. Destiny’s black angel snipers leaned over the abandoned rooftops, angling for the kill. 

Sure enough, coming around the corner onto Michigan, Mike’s trailer popped up onto the curb, banging a massive hole in the tire. The limping caravan stopped. A truck pulled up outside the Book Cadillac to assess the damage. People mulled about. It was bad. So many metaphors colliding, issues in housing, transportation, and culture – all piling up there on the front stoop of our finest hotel. 

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About Mike Kelley

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Mike Kelley

The work of artist Mike Kelley (1954 – 2012) embraced performance, installation, drawing, painting, video, sound works, and sculpture. Referencing both high art and vernacular traditions, his works drew from historical research, mass cultural references, and psychological theory. Beginning in the late 1970s with solo performances, image/text works, and gallery and site-specific installations, Kelley came to prominence in the 1980s with a series of sculptures composed of common craft materials. His most recent work addressed architecture and filmic narrative through the theory of repressed memory syndrome, and a sustained biographic and pseudo-biographic inquiry into his own aesthetic and social history.

Mike Kelley’s work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions including, most recently, Horizontal Tracking Shots, Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009; Mike Kelley: Educational Complex Onwards: 1995-2008, WIELS Centre d'Art Contemporain, Brussels, Belgium, 2008; Life on Mars: 55th Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania , 2008; Mike Kelley: Kandors, Jablonka Galerie, Berlin, 2007; Petting Zoo at Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2007; Profondeurs Vertes at the musée du Louvre, 2006; Day Is Done, a sculpture and video installation at the Gagosian Gallery, NY, 2005; The Uncanny, a curatorial project presented at the Tate Liverpool and at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Wien in 2004; a 1993 traveling retrospective of his work that opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art; Documenta IX (1992) and Documenta X (1997), in Kassel, Germany; five appearances at the Whitney Biennial; and many other solo museum and gallery exhibitions. He was a member of Destroy All Monsters, an improvisational noise band (featuring artists Cary Loren and Jim Shaw) which performed internationally and the visual art wing of the group, The Destroy All Monsters Collective, was featured in the 2002 Whitney Biennial. He published several volumes of critical writings, Foul Perfection: Essays and Criticism (2002), Minor Histories: Statements, Conversations, Proposals (2004), and Mike Kelley : Interviews, Conversations and Chit-Chat (2005) , a collection of Kelley’s interviews with notable contemporary figures.

Mike Kelley received a BFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1976) and a MFA from the California Institute of the Arts (1978). His awards included The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, National Endowment for the Visual Arts Fellowships, the Awards in the Visual Arts grant, the Skowhegan Medal for Mixed Media, the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Michigan School of Art and Design, the Distinguished Alumnus/a Award from the California Institute of the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Mike Kelley lived and worked in Los Angeles, California.

Images: Mike Kelley christening Mobile Homestead, 25 September 2010 (left) Photograph: Ronald Thibault; (above) Photograph: Cressida Day.

In The Artangel Collection

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Mobile Homestead

Mobile Homestead is a trilogy of films that is part of The Artangel Collection. Following their presentation at the Whitney Biennial in New York in 2012, the films had their UK premiere at Tate Modern in May 2013. Since then the trilogy has been presented at Site Gallery, Sheffield in 2013, g39, Cardiff in 2016 and Dundee Contemporary Arts in 2018 'Going West on Michigan Avenue from Downtown Detroit to Westland, 2010-11' has since been screened on a floating cinema at the Olympic Park as part of the Art Moves festival. These works are presented in collaboration with the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts.

  • Artist: Mike Kelley
  • Title: Going West on Michigan Avenue from Downtown Detroit to Westland, 2010-11
  • Date: 2010-11
  • Medium: Single-channel video
  • Dimensions: Variable
  • Duration: 1 hour 16 minutes 15 seconds

  • Artist: Mike Kelley
  • Title: Going East on Michigan Avenue From Westland to Downtown Detroit, 2010-11
  • Date: 2010-11
  • Medium: Single-channel video
  • Dimensions: Variable
  • Duration: 1 hour 16 minutes 17 seconds 

  • Artist: Mike Kelley
  • Title: Mobile Homestead Christening Ceremony and Launch, September 25, 2010
  • Date: 2010-11
  • Medium: Single-channel video
  • Dimensions: Variable
  • Duration: 55 minutes 1 second



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Who made this possible?


Commissioned by Artangel in association with the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, MOCAD and the LUMA Foundation with the generous support of the Artangel International Circle. Community Programs are supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

Artangel is generously supported by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial Angels and The Company of Angels.