Over the course of his four-decade career, Mike Kelley (1954–2012) critically questioned aesthetic conventions and examined all forms of culture. The approximately 100 Memory Ware and associated works were made during the first decade of the 21st century; all are reproduced in this catalog. Named for a genre of North American folk art in which everyday utilitarian objects such as vases are coated with a claylike substance and then embedded with small objects including shells, beads and buttons, Kelley’s Memory Ware series consists both of wall-hung works (known as Memory Ware Flats) and freestanding pieces. The artist’s appropriation of this folk tradition eliminates recognizable underlying objects and expands the original method to include a wider variety of keepsakes. The Memory Ware sculptures, by contrast, juxtapose dense clusters of found objects with minimally or undecorated areas and reintroduce an overall structure.
A new essay by Ralph Rugoff considers the place of personal and collective memory in the artist’s oeuvre as well as reading the Memory Ware series in its entirety from both visual and art historical standpoints. Kelley’s own essay on the project, with revisions by John Welchman, is reprinted and offers direct insight into the artist’s thinking and methodology.