Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead

Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead

Mobile Homestead is a permanent artwork by the late artist Mike Kelley, located on the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit grounds. The sculpture is a full-scale replica of the 1950’s ranch-style home where Kelley was raised. It is the only work of public art ever made by Kelley and the first major installation of his work in his hometown.

Following Kelley’s wishes, the ground floor rooms of the home are a community gallery and gathering space featuring exhibitions and programs created by and for a diverse public that reflect the cultural tastes and interests of the local community. The white clapboard facade and front room of the home are designed to detach from the rest of the structure and travel as a trailer into communities throughout Detroit on missions in service of the public good. In contrast to its public side, the Mobile Homestead has a private side – a series of underground tunnels and rooms forty feet below the home. Kelley specified that this subterranean area is to be off-limits to the public and “reserved for secret rites of an anti-social nature.”

According to Kelley: “Mobile Homestead covertly makes a distinction between public art and private art, between the notions that art functions for the social good and that art addresses personal desires and concerns. Mobile Homestead does both: it is simultaneously geared toward community service and anti-social private sub-cultural activities. It has a public side and a secret side…”

Rather than projecting ideas out into the world, the Mobile Homestead invites the community to contribute ideas. Visitors to the house are encouraged to suggest programs, projects, and exhibitions. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved with Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, stop by or drop us a note at: mobilehomestead@mocadetroit.org.


Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead is commissioned by Artangel in association with MOCAD, LUMA Foundation, and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts with the generous support of the Artangel International Circle. Support for Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead is provided by the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts.


The Mobile Homestead was born from ideas that Mike Kelly (b. Detroit, 1954, d. Los Angeles, 2012) developed over a lengthy period. Though based in Los Angeles, Kelley’s birthplace of Detroit has always been a locus of his practice. In 1995, he realized Educational Complex – a model of the schools he attended and the house where he grew up created from memory. For Kelley, this work marks the beginning of a series of projects involving memory, autobiography, and the reinterpretation of previous pieces.

For years, Kelley entertained the idea of buying the home where he spent his childhood located on Palmer Road in Westland, a suburban neighborhood of Detroit that primarily housed workers for the Big Three automakers: Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. When the current owner refused to sell, Kelley decided to produce a facsimile of the house on wheels. In collaboration with MOCAD and Artangel, the first phase of the Mobile Homestead project was completed in 2010.

Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead made its maiden voyage from the grounds of MOCAD in Detroit to the ‘mothership,’ his original home in the suburbs. Symbolically, the return trip reverses the ‘white flight’ of the 1960s when the decline of the automobile industry and increasing racial tensions caused an exodus of the middle-class from the city to the surrounding suburbs. On its way down Michigan Avenue, one of Detroit’s main arteries and passageway to the western suburbs, the Mobile Homestead passed through some of the city’s most historic neighborhoods such as the old Irish area of Corktown; Dearborn, the home of the Ford Motor Company, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village (Ford’s personal collection of homes and structures associated with great Americans such as Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Rosa Parks); Inkster; Wayne (where Kelley attended Catholic school); and finally Westland where the former Kelley family home still stands.

Kelley filmed the entire round-trip voyage, making stops along the way resulting in a video trilogy screened at the 2012 Whitney Biennial. Mobile Homestead Christening Ceremony and Launch, September 25, 2010; Going West on Michigan Avenue from Downtown Detroit to Westland; and Going East on Michigan Avenue from Westland to Downtown Detroit, are documentary-style videos chronicling the ordinary lives and communities of people who live and work along Michigan Avenue, capturing a moment when the city is questioning its post-industrial prospects.

By the time the films screened, plans for phase two of the Mobile Homestead project were already well underway as Kelley had attended to the details up to the final days of his life in January 2012. The attention he devoted to the Mobile Homestead and the timing of his final approval of the plans made it clear that the project should move forward without him. Construction of the permanent part of the Mobile Homestead began on-site at MOCAD as Kelley had directed, and the project was completed in April of 2013.

Since its completion, the Mobile Homestead has hosted countless exhibitions and public programs planned by and for the local community, as Kelley intended. It serves as a common meeting place for a broad range of groups, and the mobile portion continues to travel off-site to communities throughout Detroit on missions in support of the public good.

Mobile Homestead ready to hit the road, 2010Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead ready to hit the road, 2010, Photo: MOCAD

“He had a conflicted relationship with his hometown, as many people do and he became really interested in producing a displaced version of the house he grew up in. And then in the idea of it being displaced to the city itself.”
– James Lingwood, Artangel’s co-director.

The Mobile Homestead in front of the original Kelly home on Palmer Road in Westland, Michigan, 2010The Mobile Homestead in front of the original Kelly home on Palmer Road in Westland, Michigan, 2010, Photo: MOCAD

Hatch inside of the Mobile Homestead leading to the subterranean tunnels, 2017Hatch inside of the Mobile Homestead leading to the subterranean tunnels, 2017, Photo: MOCAD

“No other film in the Whitney Biennial had the complexity and gravity of Kelley’s Mobile Homestead movies … They are a study of depression economics and of a nearly stereotypical midwestern resilience in the face of loss. They are also landscape, cityscape, and skyscape movies, amazing to behold.”
– Amy Taubin, Artforum, 2012.

Quilting Bee program inside of the Mobile Homestead, 2014Quilting Bee program inside of the Mobile Homestead, 2014, Photo: MOCAD

“The world mostly comprises hidden lives, people who work hard, then pass away without notice. More often than not, people don’t get their white picket fence or their secret lair. That Kelley recognized the importance of what George Eliot called “unhistoric acts,” that he knew there was a world outside of celebrity and wealth and museum retrospectives and that it was big and interesting even if it went largely unmentioned, made him the kind of artist who comes around maybe once in a generation”
– M.H. Miller, Observer, 2012.

Mobile Homestead on a mission in support of literacy, 2014Mobile Homestead on a mission in support of literacy, 2014, Photo: MOCAD


SEPTEMBER 29, 2023 – MARCH 10, 2024