Mike Kelley - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 16, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Metro Pictures, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Metro Pictures, Mike Kelley toward a utopian arts complex, October 21 – November 25, 1995
    Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Malmö , Rooseum, Center for Contemporary Art; Eindhoven, Holland, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Mike Kelley 1985-1996, January 24 – August 31, 1997, no. 31, p. 137 (Metro Pictures installation view illustrated, p. 110; illustrated, p. 111)
    Brussels, Wiels Contemporary Art Centre; Bozen/Bolzano, Italy, Mike Kelley: Educational Complex Onwards 1995-2008, April 12, 2008 - April 19, 2009, no. 5.5, p. 303 (Rooseum, Malmö installation view illustrated, no. 4.10, p. 80; Metro Pictures installation view illustrated, no. 4.11, p. 80; illustrated, p. 89)
    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Paris, Centre Pompidou; New York, MoMA PS1; Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Mike Kelley, December 15, 2012 – July 28, 2014, p. 194 (Metro Pictures installation view illustrated, p. 195; illustrated, p. 198)

  • Literature

    John C. Welchman, Isabelle Graw, Anthony Vidler, Mike Kelley, New York, 1999, p. 134 (Metro Pictures installation view illustrated)
    John C. Welchman, Mike Kelley Minor Histories, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 274, 318
    John Miller, Mike Kelley, Educational Complex, London, 2015, no. 1, p. 109 (Metro Pictures installation view illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Presenting a surreal reconstruction of an everyday welcome sign one might find on the outskirts of a small American town, Mike Kelley’s Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) exemplifies the artist’s deft use of appropriation and tongue-in-cheek subversion to explore the vicissitudes of memory. Standing out as one of the largest and formally most complex wall-mounted works in the artist’s practice, Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) is comprised of a large number of circular plaques—some in gendered pastels and others with logos of American culture both real and imagined—that cluster toward a city name obfuscated like the sanctioned defacement of offensive graffiti. These visual markers coalesce to create a composition that the artist has stated “was determined by a genealogical chart of my immediate family” (Mike Kelley, Mike Kelley: Minor Histories – Statements, Conversations, Proposals, Cambridge, 2004, p. 318). While Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) importantly alludes to backstories and scenarios that could realistically serve as explanations of his artistic motivations, it also brilliantly encapsulates Kelley’s manipulation of the constructed nature of his biography to draw attention to the pervasiveness of repression in contemporary culture.

    Conceived in the aftermath of Kelley’s seminal participation in the 1992 Documenta in Kassel and his first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1993, Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) was executed the same year as Kelley’s landmark exhibition towards a utopian arts complex at Metro Pictures, New York. It was in that show that the artist presented a pivotal group of multi-media works that heralded a major shift in his practice, including Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) and the tabletop sculpture Educational Complex, 1995, a large architectural model of a miniature version of every school Kelley had attended, that is now held in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. This 1995 show at Metro Pictures was the artist’s first major exhibition to present works which explicitly engaged with the notion of fabricated biography vis-à-vis questions of memory and trauma – a key theme that would go on to characterize the last decade of Kelley’s practice. Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) arguably stands as one of the art historically most significant works from this series still in private hands. Indeed, it was notably singled out by the artist as one of the most important works of the series when he highlighted it “as a concretization of the Educational Complex” (Mike Kelley, quoted in Educational Complex Onwards 1995 – 2008, exh. cat., WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, 2008, p. 12). Since its debut, Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) has been featured in many of the artist’s most significant exhibitions, including his first major European mid-career retrospective in 1997 and his major touring retrospective that opened at MoMA PS1, New York, in 2012.

    In the course of a multi-disciplinary career that spanned 35 years and was brought to an end by an untimely death in 2012, Kelley drew on a staggering array of stylistic genres, media and disciplines to interrogate systems of cultural identity, power, production and belief. Emerging on the Los Angeles art scene in the late 1970s with a series of pioneering performances and his legendary “anti-rock” band Destroy All Monsters, Kelley was a trailblazing art-world anarchist who imploded the notion of high art from within by ingeniously combining concepts from art theory, psychology, and philosophy with craft art, popular culture, juvenile puns and the abject materials of the American lower middle-class. Following Kelley’s breakthrough series of found sculptures, Half a Man, 1987-1993, the works exhibited in towards a utopian arts complex characterize the increased physical scale and conceptual scope that Kelley began utilizing in the early to mid-1990s and which would culminate in such epic installations as Day Is Done, 2005, and the posthumously completed Mobile Homestead, 2006-2013. Building on his earlier incorporation of materials related to his self-proclaimed lower-middle class background, towards a utopian arts complex heralded Kelley’s first large-scale conceptual engagement with his own biography. The exhibition took Repressed Memory Syndrome as a point of departure, a now widely contested psychological theory that maintained the existence of repressed memories related to severe trauma, especially those of child sexual abuse. Prompted in part by what he perceived to be a misguided psycho-pathological critical interpretation of his earlier found stuffed animal sculptures, Kelley ingeniously incorporated the implied notion of psychic trauma into his practice. As he tellingly explained, “I decided…to embrace the social role projected on me, what people wanted me to be: a victim. Since I am an artist, it seemed natural to look to my own aesthetic training as the root of my secret indoctrination in perversity, and possibility as the site of my own abuse…My education must have been a form of mental abuse, of brainwashing” (Mike Kelley, “Educational Complex”, 1996, in Educational Complex Onwards 1995 – 2008, exh. cat., WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, 2008, p. 22). At the same time, as he notably emphasized, “despite the fact that my biography might be fabricated, it’s not ahistorical” (Mike Kelley, quoted in Isabelle Graw, “Interview”, Mike Kelley, London, 1999, p. 39).

    Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) is testament to Kelley’s creative stream-of-consciousness process, which saw him develop his ideas in a series of notebook sketches and writings while drawing on a rich repository of academic, popular culture and personal references and associations. Notebook sketches related to this work visualize the complex creative process underlying its formal composition, showing how Kelley recasts his genealogical chart into a pseudo-psychological mapping of his family. Starting with his maternal and paternal grandparents at the very top, each circular plaque correlates to a relative and vary between blue and pink color on gender. While referring to each relative by name at first, Kelley at a later stage recasts individuals with often derogatory qualities, such as “repressed”, “destructive”, or in his own case, tellingly, as “victim”. The obscured sign appears to mark the entry to the imaginary city of Tross that Kelley had referenced in his pun and wordplay-filled poem Goin’ Home, Goin’ Home: “At the crossroads of life. At Tross City limits” (Mike Kelley, “Goin’ Home“, 1995, in John C. Welchman, Mike Kelley: Minor Histories – Statements, Conversations, Proposals, Cambridge, 2004, p. 75). Read phonetically as “atrocity limits“, the phrase references the controversial post-apocalyptic experimental novel Atrocity Exhibition by British writer J.G. Ballard, whose writing Kelley greatly admired. Published in 1970 to widespread controversy, the novel explored the invasion of the mass media and the splintering of the private mind through a protagonist who experiences a mental breakdown and subsequently surrenders to a world of psychosis. In much the same way, Kelly uses Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) as a platform to perform his own pseudo-psychological reckoning with the traumas of his past.

    While building his biography as “victim” into the very structure of the work, Kelley ultimately denies the viewer full access to its latent biographic history by either covering the plaques with appropriated emblems and monuments of specifically American culture or leaving them blank – most notably those plaques representative of his parents. Kelley’s explanation for the empty sections in the companion work Educational Complex, 1995, is illuminating with regard to the significance of the blank plaques in this work: “The blank sections are supposed the result of some ‘trauma’ that occurred in those spots, which has caused me to repress them. However, it’s obvious that there are formal considerations at play in the organization of these blank areas – these point towards my formalist education itself as the possible ‘trauma’” (Mike Kelley, quoted in Isabelle Graw, “Interview”, Mike Kelley, London, 1999, p. 19). Indeed, while the signs offer iconographic interpretations – the clover of the 4-H symbols a reoccurring motif in his oeuvre that plays on his Irish-American heritage – it is arguably above all their formal qualities that that speak to the "trauma“ of Kelley‘s artistic education. Seen in this light, Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) points to Kelley’s tongue-in-cheek reckoning with his formative experience pursuing a master’s at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Los Angeles between 1976 and 1978 during its heyday of Conceptualism. While he had entered the art world through counterculture, where it was common practice to lift material from mass culture, CalArts faculty members such as Michael Asher were staunchly opposed to making reference to mass or popular culture in any way. By fusing what Kelly termed CalArts’ dominant signifiers – maps, diagrams and simple typography – with appropriated material from American culture, Kelley essentially distilled the conflict between his own idiosyncratic, cross-genre approach and the Conceptualist aesthetic that dominated CalArts. In doing so, as Kelley put in a nutshell, “mass culture is scrutinized to discover what is hidden, repressed, within it” (Mike Kelley, quoted in Eva Meyer Hermann, “Interview with Mike Kelley”, 2011, in Mike Kelley, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2012, p. 371).

    Demonstrating the unprecedented conceptual complexity of Kelley’s idiosyncratic mature practice, Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) is testament to an artist who unapologetically exposed the systems of belief underlying the self and society at large. Ingeniously performing the imperfect nature of memory while exposing the pervasive culture of victimization, Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) marks the very moment in which the autobiographical dimension would begin to take center stage for the last decade of the artist’s short life. Ultimately, as Kelley crucially pointed out, while works such as the present one take the fabrication of his biography as “its ostensible subject…its true meaning comes from how things don’t add up” (Mike Kelley, quoted in Isabelle Graw, “Interview”, Mike Kelley, London, 1999, p. 39).


Entry Way (Genealogical Chart)

acrylic on board and steel frame, in 2 parts
upper element 63 1/8 x 114 7/8 x 3 1/8 in. (160.3 x 291.8 x 7.9 cm.)
lower element 40 x 62 x 3 1/8 in. (101.6 x 157.5 x 7.9 cm.)
overall 103 1/8 x 114 7/8 x 3 1/8 in. (261.9 x 291.8 x 7.9 cm.)

Executed in 1995.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 2017