Dolls and Discontents

A show at the Whitney Museum highlights the flailing adolescent outlook and weird confessional talent of Mike Kelley

Every so often the American art world labors and gives birth to a buzz word or an ism. The latest one -- originating in Los Angeles and current for a couple of years now -- is "patheticism."

You might say that patheticism stands to notions of high culture (an ever imperiled growth in the United States) rather as the antics of Ren, Stimpy, Beavis, Butt-head and their pals do to those Edwardian gents in four-button ecru linen jackets who are seen contemplating San Miniato in Merchant-Ivory movies. To be a patheticist is to have more or less given up. It is...

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