Mary Kelly was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, USA, in 1941. After an initial education in the United States, she continued her studies in Florence, and then at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. In 1987, she moved to New York City where she taught at the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program until 1996. Participation in Documenta 12 in Kassel. Currently, Kelly is professor of art and critical theory at the Art Department of the University of California in Los Angeles.
In two early projects, the film "Nightcleaners" (1975) and the exhibition "Women and Work" (1973-75; with Margaret Harrison and Kay Hunt), Kelly became involved with documenting the working conditions of women and changes in the labor process during the implementation of the Equal Pay Act. The six-year project "Post-Partum Document" (1973-1978) focuses on the processes of socialization and intersubjectivity in the first few years of life. Influenced by Lacan’s psychoanalysis, the seven individual sections address the mother/child relationship from a feminist perspective for the first time in art history. Since its scandal-riddled initial presentation in the 1970s, "Post-Partum Document" has been shown frequently; through collections in the U.S. and Canada, Australia, Switzerland, and Great Britain it ultimately reached Austria. In 1998, the first complete presentation of all sections of "Post-Partum Document" took place at the Generali Foundation in Vienna. The book of "Post-Partum Document," which had been out of print, saw a new edition at the behest of the Generali Foundation, making a renewed acquaintance with this extraordinary work possible. As a photographic complement, "Primapara," "Manicure / Pedicure Series" (1974/96) and "Bathing Series" (1974/96), capture the physical contact between mother and infant and so reflect their complex reciprocal relationship. Mary Kelly's thematic concentration on desire and identity in works such as "Interim" (1984-89) set new standards in terms of how women artists think about themselves and their relationships to others. By placing an interrogation of the personal at the center of her work, Kelly has extended the parameter of conceptualism to include the women artist’s (and her) own sexuality, economic conditions, origins, and history. (Hemma Schmutz)