Made between 1999 and 2010 Mike Kelley’s series ‘Memory Ware’ pays tribute to the material minutiae of everyday life. Named after the Canadian folk art practice in which common household objects such as bottles, picture frames and ashtrays are embellished with sentimental keepsakes, from buttons and beads to charms and badges, the works revitalize cast-off objects or as the artist playfully said he ‘gave new life’ to unused items. Kelley referred to the ‘Memory Ware Flats’ as paintings.
In ‘Memory Ware Flat #14 (2001), tightly packed buttons and beads fill the surface of Kelly’s painting in a non-compositional approach, providing a chaotic optical effect. Kelley’s assemblage encourages new ways of perceiving the insignificant, the banal, and the abandoned. The work inspires new dialogues between the conglomerated articles, instigating a quasi-archaeological approach to memory and to how we view and understand works of art.
With its potent combination of high and low brow media, Kelley’s work frequently demonstrated his preference for objects commonly found in domestic settings. Kelley’s artistic output can be interpreted as an assault on the masculine stereotypes surrounding Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism. Combining the chaotic composition of an abstract expressionist painting with commonplace objects, Kelley highlights the formal properties of the work. Yet each tactile item remains firmly rooted in the material world, invoking myriad psychological associations for the captivated viewer.
Mike Kelley is widely considered one of the most influential artists of our time. Originally from a suburb outside of Detroit, Kelley attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, before moving to Southern California in 1976 to study at California Institute of the Arts from which he received an MFA in 1978. In much of his work, Kelley drew from a wide spectrum of high and low culture, and was known to scour flea markets for America’s cast-offs and leftovers. Mining the banal objects of everyday life, Kelley elevated these materials to question and dismantle Western conceptions of contemporary art and culture.