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Museé: Kali Exhibition Review

Raised in Long Island, New York, Joan Marie Archibald (b. 1932) shed the garb of a thirty-year-old all-American housewife––wed then divorced with children––and headed to Los Angeles to don that of “Kali,” an artographer creating visions of psychedelia. Staley-Wise Gallery’s KALI is the late artist’s first major exhibition. It comprises a collection of largely unseen works, the discovery of which incidentally began by her daughter, Susan Oddo, and former son-in-law, photographer Len Prince, in 2017 while assisting Kali’s move into a nursing home, and which continued posthumously after her death following her battle with Parkinson’s in 2019. 

KALI moves through three junctures in the artist’s artography––the manipulation and recontextualisation of photographs into visual ‘objects’ more generally. The first juncture which the exhibition paves way to and which dominated Kali’s early work in the 1960s is a series of mostly hand-dyed prints created in the master bath and swimming pool of her Palm Springs house. It is an acid-trip version of the idiomatic rose-coloured glasses: we see Kali’s subjects (people, pets and places originally shot in black and white) behind a prismatic, polychromatic haze through which the nostalgia of groovy L.A. bohemia is seen and crystallised into something much like a piece of stained glass window. Some images are left un-dyed in black and white and, instead, made cinematically haunting through double exposures and glaring projected light––a precursor to the treatment of her later Polaroids.

Moving through the gallery, we land at Kali’s second juncture: Polaroids from the 1970s, namely wide-eyed portraits of herself and her new Californian comrades, including one young Cindy Sherman, that, when seen altogether, reveal a carnival of colour and dark, phantasmic silhouettes. 

This phantasmagoria reaches its apex at Kali’s third juncture, the exhibition’s final stop: Kali’s investigation into her lifelong fascination with UFOs from the early 2000s. Displayed are the artist’s personal notebook pages of writings and sketches describing the amorphous shapes and flickering lights Kali observed at her property in Pacific Palisades, accompanied by security cameras images of these happenings that serve to confirm Kali’s observations. Kali made herself an obsessive student in the study of the paranormal, and her images, for the sceptic, might just be proof of it. 

Walking through the exhibit a final time, it becomes evident that Kali’s fixation with the inexplicable is threaded throughout her work, even before her effort to formally document it in her later years. The orbs of blue clocks in Clockwork Orange 1, Palm Springs, CA 1970, the disruptive pink splatter in Maine Landscape Pink Swirl, 1967––this astral thematic remained compulsively on her mind, motivating her, leading her visualisation of the world through her alternative photography. Although Kali kept her work to herself in her own lifetime, this exhibition emanates from the mesmerisation and pride of a child in her mother’s visual poetry. 

KALI can be viewed at Staley-Wise Gallery, located at 100 Crosby Street, New York, NY from September 30 to December 4, 2021, as well as in the new four-volume book survey KALI Ltd. Ed, by Len Prince. 

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