Summary of Mary Kelly
At her very first solo show in London in 1976, Mary Kelly caused a media sensation. The tabloid headline including "dirty nappies" will always be associated with this iconic Feminist and her career-defining work Post-Partum Document (1973-79), in which she incorporated the messes of her everyday domestic life, in this case, the soiled diapers of her newborn son, causing a momentary sensation but changing art forever. Kelly went on to become one of the foundational figures of Conceptual and Feminist art not only through her wide-ranging artistic practice but also her equally important work as an educator and writer. Coming of age during the transformational 1960s, she radically re-framed the modes of traditional artistic representation she had learned as a student of painting. She established herself as a ground-breaking postmodernist and committed activist who preferred a multi-year, project-based art inspired by socially-relevant ideas.
- In her art, Mary Kelly lived the famous Feminist slogan, "the personal is political." Instead of the intentionally cool, detached, and depersonalized approach taken by some of her male counterparts of Conceptual art, Kelly believed in making art based on her everyday life and the use of ordinary materials with the aim of effecting change and "dealing with the most elusive, imprecise things, like feelings and emotions," she has said. By inflecting Conceptualism with personal, autobiographical content, Kelly had an enormous impact on Feminist art and on the breaking down of barriers between fine art and popular culture.
- Kelly believed in a complex, layered process for making her idea-based art. Having been inspired by a concept, she researched it, personalized it, and then strategically interspersed elements of her data-rich study into the very fabric of her large-scale, mixed-media installations. In her use of information as both form and content, she expanded the accepted norms for artistic media and presentation well beyond the framed oil on canvas that characterized her formal training.
- In re-thinking the ways of making art and representing imagery, Kelly's use of materials was wide-ranging, a free and open way of working that allowed her to effortlessly cull from her own experience as she did from her in-depth, academic style investigations. By embracing the flotsam and jetsam of her daily life - like her ingenious use of lint collected from her own laundry room dryer - she opened up a new form of visual vocabulary, a fresh world of metaphors that made powerful associations and continued to erode the boundaries separating high and low art.
- In addition to her ground-breaking art, Kelly has actively produced important theoretical articles and essays over the years that have helped define Conceptual art, Feminism, and Postmodernism. And, starting with her teaching post at the influential Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1989, she has gone on to become one of the leading art educators of her generation. At the University of California, Los Angeles, she pioneered the Interdisciplinary Studio as an essential educational tool, establishing a creative laboratory that deliberately combines artistic production and directed research for the purposes of teaching students to make multi-faceted, site-specific works.
Biography of Mary Kelly
Mary Kelly was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1941, just months before the United States entered the Second World War. While the trauma of the war would haunt her as an adult, it fed into her creative practice. "When I was growing up amid the echo of the Second World War," Kelly has said, "we thought our parents had totally failed to prevent the holocaust." Artistically inclined from an early age, she left Iowa for Minnesota in 1959, to attend the College of Saint Teresa, a Catholic women's teaching institution in the small town of Winona, where she majored in visual art and minored in music, graduating with a B.A. in 1963.