505
505
Mike Kelley
MEMORY WARE FLAT #12
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Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
1,500,0002,000,000
LOT SOLD. 1,820,000 USD
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505
Mike Kelley
MEMORY WARE FLAT #12
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
1,500,0002,000,000
LOT SOLD. 1,820,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction

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New York

Mike Kelley
1954 - 2012
MEMORY WARE FLAT #12
signed, dated 2001 and numbered #12 on the reverse
mixed media on wood panel, in artist's frame 
70 1/4 by 46 1/4 by 4 in. 178.4 by 117.5 by 10.2 cm.
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Provenance

Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001

Exhibited

Paris, Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot, Mike Kelley: Memory Ware, October - December 2000

Literature

Exh. Cat., New York, Hauser & Wirth, Mike Kelley Memory Ware: a Survey, 2017, pp. 90-93, illustrated in color 
Marianne and Pierre Nahon, Dictionnaire amoureux illustré de l’Art moderne et contemporain, Paris 2018, pp. 178-179, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

A vibrant and highly tactile composition of collaged thrift shop trinkets, Memory Ware Flat #12 from 2001 is a striking example of Mike Kelley’s acclaimed Memory Ware series in which he appropriated the folk art "memory ware" technique of covering certain vessels such as jars, vases and pitchers with small personal keepsakes in memory of a family member or loved one. Kelley first encountered examples of this craft form at the Toronto antiques fair in 2000, where he purchased a memory ware bottle and consequently conceived of an entire series based on the technique. Over the course of a decade (2000-2010), Kelley went on to create 60 Memory Ware Flats and more than two dozen associated Memory Ware sculptural works. The present work, as number 12 in the series, is thus considered an important early example from this critical body of work, which was the artist's last major output before his untimely death in 2012. In its mesmerizing array of accumulated found materials, the present work boldly reveals Mike Kelley’s fascination with recontextualizing icons of memory in a manner that engages, blurs, and ultimately negates certain normative boundaries between ‘high’ and 'low’ forms of art. Both the conceptual rigor and technical expertise revealed in Memory Ware Flat #12 point to Kelley's unattested legacy as one of the most influential and highly regarded American artists of the past quarter century. 

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 that he amassed in bulk from flea markets. Intricately encrusted in a dispersed array of brightly colored, seemingly "low" culture items such as pins, timepieces, and sparkling plastic beads, Memory Ware Flat #12 produces an intensely psychedelic, swirling effect in the exhilarating topography of its dense relief. At varying shapes, scales, and concentrations, Kelley’s clusters avoid compositional focus and instead opt for a dynamic, abstracted surface that alludes to certain art historical movements. From a distance, the all-over nature of the composition suggests a style straddling Pointillism and Abstract Expressionism—as if a hybrid of a Georges Seurat and Richard Pousette-Dart—however, upon closer inspection, one becomes engrossed by the individual micro elements and in turn focuses on the utterly kitsch nature of each of Kelley’s found objects.

The present work’s notable inclusion of plastic buttons and pins bearing platitudinal sayings (“If you don’t have your breasts examined, you should have your head examined” / “Between you and me you’re as special as can be”) emphasize the work’s deadpan evocation of cultural clichés and hackneyed social customs as seen in linguistic habits. Furthermore, taking notice of the many destination-themed keepsakes scattered throughout the composition (“Western Pacific Feather River Route” / “Largemouth Bass”), the cultural preoccupation with low-brow souvenirs gathered from sightseeing or road trips emerges as a secondary theme in the present work. In mining these keepsakes and discarded memorabilia purely for their pictorial potential, Kelley thus subverts the emotional value of memory that people imbue in inanimate objects. Ultimately these objects function as a satirical critique exploiting the saccharine underpinnings of nostalgia and the banality of culture.

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 death in 2012, Kelley’s influential body of work has been widely reevaluated and revisited for its lasting impact on Conceptual art. Memory Ware Flat #12, 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. The present work asserts Kelley’s genius as a radical shape-shifting maverick and 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. Persistently reveling in between the boundaries of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, Kelley’s Memory Ware works powerfully interrogate perceptions of value and are thus considered one of the most significant series of the artist’s prolific career. 

Contemporary Art Day Auction

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New York