The artist's death brings a tragic end to a career empowered by both a punk-rock rebelliousness and pop-culture kitsch. Kelley famously filled art spaces with sculptures and unorthodox objects, and his solo exhibit "Catholic Tastes" at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York," which provocatively combined dolls, drawings and other objects, established him as a major figure in the art world in 1993.
"His work was widely collected and exhibited internationally," said Stephanie Barron, senior curator of modern art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "He had a voracious appetite for all kinds of art. He was enormously curious and worked incredibly at his craft. He was never afraid to think really big. Artists like that don't come around very often."
Bartl said authorities went to Kelley's home Tuesday after a concerned family friend went to the residence, and then called 911. The friend told investigators that Kelley had been depressed after recently breaking up with his girlfriend, but no note was found, Bartl said.
Kelley's work will be included in the upcoming 2012 Whitney biennial in New York.
In addition to "Catholic Tastes," other major solo exhibitions included 2004's "The Uncanny" at the Tate Liverpool in the United Kingdom and 2006's "Profondeurs Vertes" at the Louvre in Paris.
Born in Detroit, Kelley was with the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles and studied at CalArts.
ArtInfo has posted a retrospective slide show online, calling Kelley the "legendary artist."