During his last decade, Mike Kelley (1954−2012), one of the most influential artists of his generation, devoted an extraordinary amount of time and effort to a theme from Superman comics: the city of Kandor, capital of Superman’s home planet, Krypton. Before Krypton was destroyed by a chain reaction in its radioactive core, the space archvillain Brainiac shrank Kandor and put it and its live inhabitants into a bottle. Years later, the grown-up Superman wrested the bottled city away from Brainiac. Unable to restore Kandor to its original size, he kept it in his Arctic Fortress of Solitude, along with all his other memorabilia.
Mr. Kelley produced more than 100 sculptural variations on the motif of Kandor. They typically consisted of renderings of a futuristic city in colored resin covered by bell jars, which were connected by hoses to gas tanks or air compressors. (Because Earth’s atmosphere was toxic for the people in the bottle, a constant supply of Kryptonian air was required.) Illuminated by internal and ambient lights and presented on various platforms and pedestals, the Kandor works are materially sumptuous and metaphorically tantalizing.