Mike Kelley

More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin

On view
Floor 6



Stuffed fabric toys and afghans on canvas with dried corn; wax candles on wood and metal base

Overall: 120 3/4 × 151 3/4 × 31 3/4in. (306.7 × 385.4 × 80.6 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee

Rights and reproductions
© The Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid is a chaotic assemblage of handmade dolls and blankets that Mike Kelley found in thrift stores. Kelley does not designate to whom more “love hours” are owed, but simply puts forward the condition of loving something too much, or of receiving too little in return—like the cast-off items that make up the sculpture. The title also conjures associations of guilt: when parents and relatives create these toys and blankets, are the countless hours of stitching, knitting, and crocheting a kind of penance, and for what? Do we expect children to repay the time and love lavished on them? Using Jackson Pollock’s large drip paintings as his compositional model, Kelley transformed the orphaned handicrafts into a swirling mass of unrequited affection that is beyond human reciprocation. Similarly, the collection of melted candles in the related work, The Wages of Sin, becomes an altar to the power of teen angst and implies a child’s rite of passage into the adult worlds of labor, debt, and atonement.


  • America Is Hard to See

    Mike Kelley, More Love Hours than Can Ever Be Repaid and Wages of Sin, 1987

    Mike Kelley, More Love Hours than Can Ever Be Repaid and Wages of Sin, 1987


    Narrator: Mike Kelley’s work More Love Hours than Can Ever Be Repaid is made out of stuffed animals, afghans, and other craft objects.

    Mike Kelley: They were all used items that I bought at thrift stores and yard sales. And they're all handmade objects. So they're not the kind of objects that would generally be sold—they’re the kind of objects that would be given away. 

    Narrator: The work’s surface is tightly packed with objects, suggesting an almost compulsive desire to fill the picture plane. Kelley was interested in the huge amount of time it took people to make all of these craft objects. 

    Mike Kelley: It had an accumulative effect. If you saw these things as representing love, then it was a massive amount of love. If you saw the things as being inducers of guilt or repayment, then it was more than you could ever pay back. So depending on your point of view, you either see it as super-lovable or super-creepy. And you know, so people tend to see it either way. Like, some people are really repulsed by it, and some people love it to death.

    Narrator: Kelley paired this work with the piece on the floor, called Wages of Sin. More Love Hours than Can Ever Be Repaid, Wages of Sin is a massive accumulation of a material we don’t usually associate with high art—candle wax.

    Mike Kelley: [It’s] like the kind of sculpture that a teenager would make in their pot smoking room or something like that. And by titling it The Wages of Sin, it gives this kind of morbid overtone, you know, some pseudo-ritualistic kind of thing. 

    Narrator: In the 1960s, many artists became interested in repetition and accumulation as almost mechanical techniques that downplayed the role of individual expression. In More Love Hours than Can Ever Be Repaid and Wages of Sin, Kelley questions that impulse. With the materials he uses, accumulation doesn’t result in just more of the same. Instead, it creates layers of association, feeling, and meaning. 

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