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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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New York

Mike Kelley
1954-2012
AH...YOUTH
each: stamped with the artist's initials and numbered 10/10 on the reverse
Cibachrome photographs, in eight parts
overall: 24 1/4 x 136 in. 61.6 x 345.4 cm.
Executed in 1990, this work is number ten from an edition of ten plus two artist's proofs.
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Provenance

Metro Pictures, New York
Private Collection, Los Angeles
Skarstedt Fine Art, New York (acquired from the above)
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2000

Exhibited

New York, Metro Pictures, Carroll Dunham, Mike Kelley, Cindy Sherman, February - March 1991 (edition no. unknown)
Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Zeitsprünge: Kunstlerische Positionen der 80er Jahre, January - February 1993, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Durham, Duke Museum of Art, Soho at Duke IV: In Search of Self, May 1993, p. 45, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes, November 1993 - August 1994, pp. 178-179, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Prato, Museo Pecci, L'Immagine Riflessa, April - May 1995, p. 131, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Barcelona, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Malmö, Rooseum, Center for Contemporary Art; Eindhoven, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Mike Kelley 1985-1996, January - August 1997, pp. 66-68, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
San Diego, Museum of Contemporary Art, 1-5 California: Four Decades of Contemporary Art, March 2001 (edition no. unknown)
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Self Portraits, October 2005 (the present example)
St. Barthélemy, Me.di.um Gallery, Mike Kelley: 1975-1994 Works, December 2005 - January 2006, cat. no. 17, n.p., illustrated in color and n.p., illustrated in color (in installation) (edition no. unknown)
Chicago, Chicago Cultural Center; Huntington, Huntington Museum of Art; Lafayette, Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum, Slightly Unbalanced, January 2008 - December 2009, pp. 22-23, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Miami, The Sender Collection, Home Alone, November - December 2011 (the present example)

Literature

Ralph Rugoff, "Dirty Toys: Mike Kelley Interviewed," XXI Century, Winter 1992, pp. 4-11, illustrated in color and on the cover (edition no. unknown)
Exh. Cat., Athens, Athens School of Fine Arts "The Factory"; Copenhagen, Museum of Modern Art, Everything That's Interesting is New: The Dakis Joannou Collection, 1995, p. 138, illustrated in color (another example)
Exh. Cat., Hamburg, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Family Values: American Art in the Eighties and Nineties, The Scharpff Collection at the Hamburg Kunsthalle, 1996, pp. 42-43, illustrated in color and p. 98 (text) (another example)
Elizabeth Janus, ed., Veronica's Revenge: Contemporary Perspectives on Photography, Zurich, 1998, pp. 128-135, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Exh. Cat., Toronto, Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery at Harbourfront Centre, American Playhouse: The Theatre of Self-Preservation, 1998, pp. 94-95, illustrated in color and on the back cover (detail) (another example)
Exh. Cat., Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, The Anderson Gallery (and travelling), Presumed Innocence, 1998, n.p., illustrated in color (another example)
Exh. Cat., Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum (and travelling), Mike Kelley, 2012, p. 164, illustrated in color (another example)
Randy Kennedy, "A Maverick as Student and Teacher: A Mike Kelley Retrospective Fills MoMA PS1," The New York Times, October 10, 2013, illustrated in color (in installation at MoMA PS1, 2013) (another example)

Catalogue Note

The late Mike Kelley was a true shape-shifting maverick, an art-world anarchist who found international acclaim over the past quarter-century for his riotously eclectic, stinging inquiries into class, psychological trauma and popular culture in Middle America. In its darkly unsettling portrayal of stuffed toys, Ah…Youth from 1991 quintessentially captures Kelley’s career-long examination of adolescent repression and his psychoanalytic reconsideration of childhood memories in the light of adult experiences. Cementing its principal significance at the summative heart of Kelley’s oeuvre, another edition of the present work is prominently included in the acclaimed retrospective of Kelley’s work that is currently travelling the globe, now at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art after having made popular stops at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and MoMA PS1 in New York City.

Ah…Youth presents a sequence of eight framed cibachrome prints arranged horizontally, a frieze of panels depicting Kelley’s collection of used stuffed animals found by the artist in a local thrift shop. The series of children’s toys is interrupted only by Kelley’s high school yearbook photo, an image that sees the artist as a grungy, pimpled adolescent—hair greased back and beige shirt buttoned to the collar, his expression vividly conveys the awkward angst of a troubled teenager. The portraits proceed from left to right like mug shots, Kelley and his toys arranged in a police lineup before the arresting glow of the camera’s flash. In this harsh focus and removed from their contextual bearings, the typically innocent, beloved toys are opened up to a range of subversive associations. As viewers, we see the crocheted animals in a radically new light compared to when we first encountered their warm companionship as children—juxtaposed against Kelley’s own immobile gaze, the toys appear at once demonic and pitiful, a menagerie of sinister creatures whose battered skins, missing features, and forlorn expressions merely reflect our own adult perversions and accumulated traumas.

According to Kelley, “The handmade objects I found in thrift stores were, most likely, not sold. I started hoarding them; I had never really looked at dolls or stuffed animals closely before. I became interested in their style—the proportions of them, their features. That’s when I realized that they were monstrosities. But people are not programmed to recognize that fact—they just see them as generically human. Such objects have signifiers of cuteness—big eyes, big heads, baby proportions. You can empathize with those aspects of them. But when I blew them up to human scale in paintings they were not so cute anymore; if you saw something like that walking down the street, you’d go in the other direction. I became interested in toys as sculpture. But it’s almost impossible to present them that way, because everybody experiences them symbolically. That’s what led to my interest in repressed memory syndrome and the fear of child abuse. This wasn’t my idea—I was informed by my viewers that this is what my works were about. I learn a lot from what my audience tells me about what I do.” (the artist quoted in Glenn O’Brien, “Mike Kelley,” Interview Magazine, December/January 2009)

Interested in the communication of fractured and fabricated narratives, much of Kelley’s assumed biography and childhood trauma is in fact invented by the artist—we are unable to disentangle the layers of factual and fictional psychological anxieties that imbue the work with immeasurable complexity. Growing up in Detroit, Kelley was fascinated by the many dissident and alternative subcultures lurking in Middle America. The artist is both a participant and a commentator in the cultural conventions and constructions that he navigated through his labyrinthine body of artwork. A member of several punk bands throughout his youth, Kelley brought this interest in subversion with him to graduate school at Cal Arts in 1978, where he absorbed the school’s dogmatic focus on Conceptual art and theory under the guidance of teachers like John Baldessari, Laurie Anderson and Douglas Huebler.

The present work achieved mainstream recognition when the American alternative rock band Sonic Youth used the image of the orange bug-like animal as the cover of their hit 1992 album Dirty, featuring the remainder of the work in the CD’s insert. Re-infiltrating the very underground punk culture that spawned him, Kelley’s work proved its iconographic resonance. Ah…Youth moved further away from kitschy adolescent nostalgia toward its powerful present evocation of rapt psychological unease.  

Since his tragic death at the beginning of 2012, Kelley’s influential body of work has been widely re-evaluated and revisited for its lasting impact on Conceptual art. Ah…Youth, notable for its perfect encapsulation of Kelley’s primary themes amidst the artist’s heterogeneous cache of diverse forms, is a profoundly moving and visually stirring paradigm of Kelley at his most raw and immediate self. 

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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New York