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Social Work

Mary Kelly

Installation view: Mary Kelly,  Interim, 1984-1989, solo exhibition,  New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 1990. Courtesy: the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London; photo:  Fred  Scruton

Installation view: Mary Kelly,  Interim, 1984-1989, solo exhibition,  New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 1990. Courtesy: the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London; photo:  Fred  Scruton

Informed by feminism and psychoanalysis, Mary Kelly’s project-based work addresses questions of sexuality, identity and collective memory. Often incorporating elements of text and narrative, Kelly’s large-scale installations unveil the personal experiences of women in an attempt to visualise the formative effect of historical events and social reality on everyday life.

In the words of art historian Amelia Jones, Kelly’s Corpus (1984-85) can be considered as ‘the single most important feminist artwork from the 1980s.’ The installation comprises 30 parts, 12 of which are on show at Frieze, and brings together images and texts highlighting the interim stage between maternity and old age. Kelly disrupts the notion of the body as being solely definitive of what it means to be a woman - either as a mother or as a desired object. By shifting the focus from looking to listening, Kelly gives voice to the unheard experiences, both physical and psychological, of women encountering middle age.

Over the past fifty years, Mary Kelly (American, b. 1941) has radically shaped the conversation around feminism and conceptualism. Kelly first came to prominence in the 1970s with her seminal installation Post-Partum Document (1973-79), a six-year exploration of the mother-child relationship. Her work is in the collections of Tate, London; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, amongst many others. In 2017, the Getty Institute, LA, announced its acquisition of Mary Kelly’s archive.