Groundbreaking artist Mary Kelly, in exhibition and in person

Posted on October 01, 2019

Featured Image for Groundbreaking artist Mary Kelly, in exhibition and in person
a print
“How to use the shelter as a table”

UNCG’s Weatherspoon Art Museum has opened an exhibition of selected works by world-renowned artist Mary Kelly.

Since the 1970s, Kelly has been creating influential and groundbreaking work that weaves art and politics together and reflects on historical and personal moments through innovative forms. Her work has  appeared in a variety of cutting-edge galleries, including New York’s Whitney Museum, the Tate Modern, Musée National d’Art Moderne, and many others. She received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2015.

As Falk Visiting Artist, Kelly will speak Thursday, Oct. 10, at 6 p.m. at the Weatherspoon, with curator of the show and museum director Nancy Doll.

The current show considers military power in various manifestations. Central in one room of the exhibition is  a mock bomb shelter that, through optical illusion, descends endlessly below the floor. “Habitus: Type II” simulates the type of shelter that was mass produced during The Blitz in World War II. The cage top is blanketed by a large-print narrative “…We used to talk about what would happen if they pushed the button, where we’d go. Some said Australia. Others began to make a list – flashlight, first aid kid, toilet paper, teddy bear…”

The story Kelly tells through her work is not only reflected literally within “Habitus: Type II” but thematically around the room. One wall holds printed diagrams with a domestic flavor, “How to build an outdoor bomb shelter” and “How to use a bomb shelter as a table.”

Adjacent are rubbings of shields, created by Kelly during the first Gulf War, and meant to contemplate excessive demonstrations of masculinity, says Doll. On another wall are uplifting lightbox prints, “Peace is the only shelter,” “End the arms race not the human race,” and “We don’t want to set the world on fire.”

The next room holds pieces from the “News from home” series – large prints of handwritten letters on sheets of colorful compressed laundry lint, another link to domestic life. One oversized lint letter comes from London around the time of the 1974 bombing of the Tower of London, and another comes from Beirut just prior to the Lebanese Civil War. Both are places that Kelly has lived and absorbed history firsthand, and the letters contain both personal and political sentiment of the time when they were written, such as “Americans are too angry to handle political responsibility. It’s hard enough to survive and just keep your head.”

On the opposite wall are prints of “Seven Days,” a short-lived but influential publication born of the New Left and the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s.

Doll predicts Kelly’s passion for social and political events, as well as her artistry, will be of interest to students and the community who come to see her speak at the Weatherspoon on Oct. 10.

By Susan Kirby-Smith


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