Normally it makes more sense to write about an exhibition as it opens. But it may be more in keeping with the effect of of Hauser + Wirth’s Autumn show in New York of Mike Kelley’s Memory Ware Flat works that we take stock of the exhibition as it closes.
The reason is fairly simple. This is the most comprehensive and scholarly show of the Memory Ware Flat series that has ever been mounted. And Hauser + Wirth worked with the Mike Kelley Foundation to both organize the show and present it in the early days as John Welchman, the foundation’s director, and Mary Clare Stevens, who worked closely with the artist, were both available to discuss the body of work and the show at its opening.
The significance of the Memory Ware Flat show goes far beyond its scholarly thoroughness. The Memory Ware Flat series is the most commercial body of work from Kelley. It’s also the body of work with the most commercial potential. In this brief essay, we’re going to look at the market history of the Memory Ware Flats and the way in which Hauser’s recent presentation is setting up the works for what may be another market run.
Mike Kelley’s reputation as an artist has only grown in the years after his early death in 2012. Since 2015, Hauser + Wirth has represented the estate by mounting a massive Kelley installation in London and a show of Kelley’s equally ambitious Kandors in New York. (Another show of Kelley’s Kandors was also held this Fall in New York at Adam Lindemann’s Venus Over Manhattan.) His wide range of work, often in large formats or unconventional materials is difficult for the market to absorb.
The Memory Ware Flats deal with many of the important themes in Kelley’s work but also present themselves as domestically-sized, wall-friendly works of art that are both intellectually complex and visually arresting. According to Hauser, there are approximately 100 memory ware works. Some nearly two-thirds of those are Memory Ware Flats. Over the past 13 years, since the first of these works appeared at auction, public and private sales of the 60 or so works have increased in value and frequency.
In the last two years, prices for Memory Ware Flats have jumped in value to sell for prices in the $2-3m range. Through a series of four auction sales in late 2105 and early 2016, prices and so-called hammer ratios spiked briefly and then cooled. This is the second time the Memory Ware Flats have appeared on the auction market and broadcast a new level of pricing. Each of the previous runs was preceded by an influential gallery show.
From Dysfuncational Memory to Abstract Expressionism
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