Mary Kelly (b. 1941)
Mimus II. 2012.
83 1/2 x 61 x 2 inches.
Courtesy of Postmasters Gallery, New York.
Yet there were intervals when the whole scene, in which she was the most conspicuous object, seemed to vanish from her eyes, or, at least, glimmered indistinctly before them, like a mass of imperfectly shaped and spectral images. Her mind, and especially her memory, was preternaturally active, and kept bringing up other scenes than this roughly hewn street of a little town, on the edge of the western wilderness: other faces than were lowering upon her from beneath the brims of those steeple-crowned hats.
— Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
Ruth Meyers’s 1962 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which Mary Kelly reproduces here, is full of strange allusions. Like the condemned heretics of the Inquisition, Meyers wore a steeple-crowned hat. Like The Scarlet Letter’s Hester Prynne, she was distinguished by a swath of red fabric, a color with a decidedly different symbolism during the Cold War. Even Kelly’s compositional technique alludes to the references and challenges to domesticity in the transcript. When asked about her occupation, Meyers replies, “with assurance I am a housewife.” Fittingly, Kelly renders this work in compressed lint, produced after she affixes vinyl letters to the lint screen of her dryer and allows the fibers to accumulate over hundreds of loads of laundry. When enough lint has accumulated, she removes the vinyl lettering, allowing the negative space to provide the language, and stitches the panels together. The result is a strange brand of domestic detritus that is weary, warped and fragile behind the glass.
Mary Kelly was born in Minneapolis. She studied painting in Florence and taught art in Beirut before moving to England to complete her graduate work. Kelly was catapulted to fame in 1976 when her solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London sparked a tabloid scandal: the show featured her son’s dirty diaper linings. She returned to the United States in the 1980s to join the faculty at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In the last decade she has staged major exhibitions in Mexico City, Stockholm, Manchester and New York. She is currently a professor of art and critical theory at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture.
Caleb Bissinger ’13
Gund Gallery Associate