- Mike Kelley
- Memory Ware Flat #29
- signed, dated 2001 and numbered 29 on the reverse
- mixed media on board
- 70 1/4 x 46 1/2 x 4 in. 178.4 x 118.1 x 10.2 cm.
Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York
New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, The Other Side, May - July 2006
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Mike Kelley: Memory Ware Flats, July - August 2007
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Mike Kelley: Memory Ware Flats, September - October 2012
Initiated in 2000, Kelley’s series of Memory Ware Flats reference the genre of Canadian folk art technique of the same name, where decorative items such as beads, buttons, shells, and pieces of costume jewelry are embedded within common household objects coated with a claylike plaster. Seeking to revitalize and personalize cast-off objects and discarded materials by assembling sentimental keepsakes, the tradition of memory ware invokes a distinctly kitsch nostalgia. In his densely layered and deeply alluring Memory Ware Flat #29 from 2001, Kelley adopts this practice and reinterprets it through his own twisted vernacular to reflect his interest in biography and memory as communicated through references to varied historical art movements. Mining such materials for their pure pictorial potential, Kelley evades the saccharine by subverting the emotional value of memory that people invest in inanimate objects and cheap kitsch keepsakes.
To construct his Memory Ware Flat paintings, Kelley filled rectangular-shaped wooden frames with a colored tile grout in which he scattered an accumulation of materials. Intricately encrusted in a dispersed array of brightly colored, garishly “low” culture items such as pins, timepieces, and sparkling plastic beads, Memory Ware Flat #29 produces an intensely psychedelic, swirling effect in the exhilarating topography of its dense relief. The present work's notable concentration of antique political campaign buttons and wristwatches emphasizes its preoccupation with time -- histories past and lives lived. At varying shapes, scales, and concentrations, Kelley’s clusters avoid compositional focus and instead opt for a dynamic all-over mosaic-like surface.
Beneath the glimmer and sheen of the painting’s surface lurks a deeper sense of alienation and psychological grit. Interested in the communication of fractured and fabricated narratives, much of Kelley’s own memory, assumed biography and childhood trauma is in fact invented by the artist—we are unable to disentangle the layers of factual and fictional psychosomatic 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 was 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.
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. Memory Ware Flat #29, notable for its phenomenal visual magnetism and perfect encapsulation of Kelley’s primary themes amidst the artist’s heterogeneous cache of diverse forms, is a profoundly moving and visually enchanting paradigm of Kelley at his most raw and immediate self.