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Dr Alyce Mahon MA, PhD

Dr Alyce Mahon, MA, PhD

Reader in Modern and Contemporary Art History

Fellow of Trinity College

Director of Studies in History of Art, Trinity College

Office Phone: 01223 332980 (dept.) or 765132 (Trinity office)

Research Interests

Alyce Mahon is the department's specialist in Modern and Contemporary Art History. She studied the History of Art & Architecture and Modern English at Trinity College Dublin, graduating with a double first and gold medal for exceptional academic achievement. Awarded both Chevening and British Academy scholarships for doctoral studies she moved to London to pursue a PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She received her doctorate in 1999 and took up her position at Cambridge in 2000.


Dr Mahon specialises on the dynamic between the body and the body politic in modern and contemporary art, photography, film and exhibition practice - from dada, Surrealism and the Sixties counter-culture to feminist and performance art. Her current research and publication projects include the avant-garde 'cult' of the Marquis de Sade and his aesthetic of transgression, the Happening's artist Jean-Jacques Lebel (b 1936) and his 'Festival of Free Expression' in France from 1964-67, the art and herstory of Carolee Schneemann (1939-2019), and on the art and writings of Surrealist Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012). 

She is the curator of the first major retrospective of American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012),  exhibited at the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid (Oct. 3, 2018-Jan. 6, 2019) as  Dorothea Tanning, Behind the Door, Another Invisible Door and currently on show at the Tate Modern London as Dorothea Tanning (Feb 28 - June 9 2019)


She was also the curatorial advisor and author for the first retrospective exhibition of Surrealist Leonor Fini, titled Leonor Fini: Theater of Desire, 1930-1990, on show at the Museum of Sex, New York, from Sept. 28, 2018 - March 4, 2019.


Mahon has contributed to the accompanying catalogues for, and often acted as curatorial advisor to, major exhibitions on modern and contemporary art throughout her career. In recent years these include: Dreamers Awake (White Cube Bermondsey, London, 2017), No Place Like Home (Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2017), Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge 2014 & Musée Bourdelle, Paris, 2015 ), The Institute of Sexology (Wellcome Collection, London, 2014), Le Surréalisme et l’objet (Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2013), Leonora Carrington (Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2013), Matta. Fiktionen (Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg 2012), and Donna: Avanguardia femminista negli anni ’70 (Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna, Rome, 2010).

She was awarded a British Academy/ Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship for 2017-2018, and has been a Distinguished Scholar for the Hong Kong Li Ka Shing Foundation's Scholars Exchange Programme with the University of Cambridge (2004), giving a series of academic and public lectures across China; a Research Fellow at the Columbia University Institute for Scholars, Reid Hall, Paris (2005); a Visiting Scholar at Princeton University (2006-07); and an Andrew Mellon Teaching Fellow at CRASSH, Cambridge (2009). 


At undergraduate level, Mahon teaches a Part II option The Poetics & Politics of Surrealism which addresses the long history of Surrealism (1924-69) as well as its impact on the counter-culture and its legacy in contemporary art. She convenes, and contributes lectures and seminars on modern and contemporary art to core BA papers including  Part I 'Paper 1: Objects' and 'Paper 2/3: The Making of Art' , and Part IIB 'The Display of Art: The Politics of Display'. She also contributes lectures to the core, team led paper  'Approaches to the History of Art' .

At graduate level, Mahon supervises students and teaches on the team taught MPhil degree. Topics she covers include Symbolism, the livre d'artiste, Surrealist art and writing, the 'informe' in inter-war Paris, 1960s performance art and contemporary feminist art, film and photography. Dr Mahon has supervised 7 doctoral students to completion (working on aspects of American, French, British and Czech Surrealism; inter-war art in France and America; and contemporary French photography) and currently supervises 3 more. She welcomes enquiries from prospective PhD students interested in fields related to her specialisms - notably dada, Surrealism, performance art, and contemporary feminist art practice in Europe and the United States.

Selected Publications:


* The Marquis de Sade and the Avant-Garde (forthcoming Princeton University Press, 2020), an exploration of Sade's 'philosophy of the boudoir' and its legacy in modern and contemporary art, film, literature and performance.

* Surrealism and the Politics of Eros, 1938-1968 (Thames & Hudson, 2005; trans. Surrealismo Eros y Politica, Alianza Barcelona 2009), in which she documents extensively the ground-breaking international Surrealist exhibitions held in Paris in 1938, 1947, 1959 and 1965, seeking to re-assert the importance of French Surrealism after World War II through a focus on the Surrealists' radical spatial and installation practice.

* Eroticism & Art (Oxford University Press, 2005, republished as part of Oxford History of Art Series, 2007), a comprehensive and controversial study of erotic painting, sculpture, photography, and performance art from the Enlightenment to the present day.

Edited Books:

* Dorothea Tanning, Behind the Door Another Invisible Door, Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 2018 & Tate Modern, 2019 with two essays by Mahon , "Dorothea Tanning: Behind the Door, Another Invisible Door" and "Life is Something Else: Chambre 202, Hôtel du Pavot".


* Jean Jacques Lebel: Barricades, co-authored with Axel Heil and Robert Fleck, Köln: Walther König, 2014

Recent published essays include:

* "Leonora Carrington", in Michael Richardson (ed.),  The International Encyclopedia of Surrealism, Vol.2, London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019, pp.149-155.

* “Dorothea Tanning: Behind the Door Another Invisible Door” and “Life is Something Else: Dorothea Tanning’s Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202”, in Dorothea Tanning, Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia & London: Tate Enterprises Ltd., 2018, pp.15-35 and pp.53-67, respectively.

* “Comme une Fête du Soleil: Le Festival de la Libre Expression”, in Jean-Jacques Lebel, L’Outrepasseur, Paris: Editions du Centre Pompidou/ Editions Dilecta, 2018, pp.63-72

* "Unica Zürn/ Hans Bellmer” and “Dorothea Tanning/ Max Ernst” in Couples Modernes, Paris: Gallimard, 2018, pp98-100 and pp. 206-208

* "The Domestic as Erotic rite in the Art of Carolee Schneemann", Oxford Art Journal,  2017,  40 (1), pp 49-64

* "I Do Not See the Woman Hidden in the Forest: Surrealism and the Feminine", in Dreamers Awake, London: White Cube, 2017, pp.2-15.

*  "The Home, Place of Intimacy”, in No Place Like Home, Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 2017, pp 24-36

* “The Assembly Line Goddess: Modern Art and the Mannequin” in Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish, Yale University Press, 2014, pp.191-221 and 246-248.

 * “Sexology and the Artistic Avant Garde”, in The Institute of Sexology,  London: The Wellcome Trust, 2014, pp.36-49

* “She Who Revealed: The Celtic Goddess in the Art of Leonora Carrington”, in Leonora Carrington, Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art & New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2013, pp. 126-153.

* “La Feminité Triomphante: Leonor Fini and the Sphinx”, Dada/Surrealism, Special Issue on ‘Wonderful Things: Surrealism and Egypt’, Issue 1, no. 19, December 2013 (