Mary Beth Edelson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Mary Beth Edelson
Born Mary Beth Johnson
East Chicago, Indiana
Nationality American
Alma mater DePauw University, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Known for Painting, collage, performances
Movement Feminist art movement

Mary Beth Edelson (born 1933) is an American artist and pioneer in the Feminist art movement, deemed one of the notable "first generation feminist artists." She was also active in the civil rights movement. She has created paintings, photographs, collages, murals, and drawings. Edelson is a printmaker, book artist, photographer, creator of performance art, and an author. Her works have been shown at museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Personal life[edit]

Mary Beth Johnson was born in East Chicago, Indiana, in 1933 to parents who were involved in their community. They nurtured her interest in art and activism,[1] which started when she was about 14.[2] She had two children: a daughter from her second marriage and a son from her third marriage to Alfred H. Edelson, who was the CEO of Rytex. Robert Stackhouse, also an artist, lived with Mary Beth Edelson for 27 years in her live/work loft in Soho following the end of her third marriage.[3]

She lived in New York from the mid-1950s, then lived in Indianapolis, IN and owned an art gallery until 1968, when she moved to Washington, D.C. She returned to New York in the 1970s.[3][4]


From 1951 to 1955, Edelson attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, during which time she also studied at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago (1953–1954). Her works were exhibited in 1955 at an exhibition for senior-year students. One of her paintings was deemed unseemly for "ministers and small children." Her works were asked to be pulled from the show by angry faculty members, which resulted in protests at the university.[1]

After her School of the Art Institute graduation, she moved to New York, where she enrolled in a graduate program at New York University. In 1958 she received her Master of Arts degree.[1]

Feminist and civil rights movements[edit]

In the second half of the 1950s she was active in the emergent feminist movement as well as the civil rights movement.[3] In 1968 she established the country's first Conference for Women in the Visual Arts in Washington, D.C.[3] Edelson presented her first feminist speech at the Herron Art Museum’68, Misses NYC.[5]

Chrysalis and the Heresies Collective, including the Heresies publication, were founded in part due to her efforts. She has worked with the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion and the Women's Action Coalition,[1] where she was one if its leaders between 1992 and 1994.[6]

Edelson was a member of the Title IX Task Force, formed to increase the presence of women artists' paintings and sculpture in museums, based upon the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bans federally funded organizations from sex discrimination. The group, formed in 1998, filed a complaint with the National Endowment for the Arts against the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.[7]

She has been active in both movements throughout her adult life and continues to be active in the feminist movement.[2]


Edelson created Feminist and Conceptual art by making bronze sculptures, paintings, collages, prints, story gathering boxes, and sketches. Her paintings include portraits and murals. She is also a photographer, book artist, and creator of performance art.[1][3] She often would have lectures at museums and universities all over North America.[8]

Feminist art movement[edit]

She is considered one of the "first-generation feminist artists," a group that also includes Rachel Rosenthal, Carolee Schneeman, and Judy Chicago. They were part of a movement in Europe and the United States to develop feminist writing and art.[9] In the 1970s her paintings, collages, and performances represented her interest in the Feminist art movement. Common themes included questioning men's power and authority and exploring women's societal role.[1] A feminist art gallery, A.I.R. Gallery, founded in 1972, held exhibits of Edelson's work, including participation in the Heresies Collective, from its early days of operation.[6][10] She helped create the Heresies Collective and was a member of the feminist gallery.[3]

She was involved in the 2007-2009 "WACK! Art of the Feminist Revolution" traveling exhibition, which was curated by Connie Butler.[3]

Some Living Women Artists / Last Supper[edit]

In 1972 Edelson used an image of Leonardo da Vinci’s mural to create Some Living Women Artists / Last Supper. She used collage to add notable women artist's heads to the men in Da Vinci's painting, which quickly became "one of the most iconic images of the Feminist Art movement." John the Baptist's head was covered by Nancy Graves and Christ by Georgia O'Keeffe.[nb 1] It confronted the role that society and religion has had in women's "subordination." Proposals for: Memorials to the 9,000,000 Women Burned as Witches in the Christian Era, a 1977 performance piece, had the same objective.[1] New York's Museum of Modern Art acquired the original work made by Edelson, along with the four other original collage posters of this series.[3][11]

Story Gathering Boxes[edit]

Story Gathering Boxes, an ongoing, participatory artwork, was initiated in 1972. Each piece in this series consists of a box with four chambers made out of poplar wood. The chambers contain wooden tablets or paper cards. The wooden tablets display imagery and themes centered on spirituality, gender and goddess-based narratives. The imagery is created out of mixed media like paint and leather. The paper cards contain prompts, inviting viewers to contribute personal stories on various topics, such as gender, domestic violence, and immigration. This series democratizes access to art by allowing all viewers to participate in the creation of a collective narrative.[12][13]

Goddess metaphor[edit]

The goddess emerged in her works in the late 1970s, representing women's power to take control of their lives. She used an image of herself to create new, powerful, real or fictitious characters. In 1975 she created Goddess Head, one of her photomontages. The National Museum of Women in the Arts' biography of her states: "Her site-specific performances or 'rituals' which kept investing both private and public spheres strove to create a new feminine spirituality with its own values and iconography."[1] To memorialize "9,000,000 Women Burned as Witches in the Christian Era," and empower the visiting women, she used fire ladders and fire circle rituals at the A.I.R. Gallery. She used these rituals in other galleries in New York.[3]

Primordial archetypes, like the goddess, warriors, and tricksters that Edelson uses in her works represent a contrast to women of formalized, patriarchal societies.[6] Sandra Sider wrote in her biography of Edelson: "Recurring themes throughout her career have been female identity, how women are portrayed in art and the media, and women’s recognition as artists. By helping to create a new feminist aesthetic, Edelson has contributed to the transformation of art history." One of these was the Hindu goddess Kali, who represents destruction and renewal.[3][nb 2]

Nude women's bodies[edit]

Edelson has made works of nude women's bodies to address the ways in which they have been "exploited and underrepresented in the history of art." She has used black-and-white photographs of herself nude in indoor and outdoor open spaces as the canvas to make paintings. "By presenting herself so self-possessed and unapologetically unclothed, she hoped to help loosen the centuries-old grip that male artists held on the passive female body," wrote the !Women Art Revolution.[6] She created performance art using photographic works that involved body art, including O’Kevelson, shown in 1973, where her self-portraits were changed until they resembled Louise Nevelson or Georgia O'Keeffe using a china marker.[3]


The book The Art of Mary Beth Edelson was published in 2002 after several years of collection of information and images of her works. It includes conversations with artists and essays by her colleagues. In her essay about Edelson, "Shifting Signs," Laura Cottingham described "her engagement in producing images of female representation that seek to disrupt and transform the patriarchal pictorial codes that define and limit female identity."[3]

The National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, D.C., has held exhibitions of the artist books she's made in "Book as Art" shows.[3] In 2002, The Last Temptation of Lorena Bobbitt showed an image of Bobbitt holding the severed penis of her husband.[3]

Oral history project[edit]

Edelson was interviewed for the Archives of American Art Oral History Program in the first half of February 2009 at her New York studio by former Independent Curators International (ICI) executive director Judith Olch Richards. The program has interviewed artists, critics, historians, and others since 1958 to record visual arts history.[4]


DePauw University gave her an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts in 1993.[1] She received grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts,[3] the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in 2000, and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2000 and 2006.[1][3] She received a residency to Yaddo.[3]



  • Shaking the Grass, gelatin silver print mounted on board, 1980, Walker Art Center[15]
  • Seven Cycles: Public Rituals, offset lithograph on paper, 1980 Walker Art Center[15]


  • Firsthand: Photographs by Mary Beth Edelson, 1973-1993 and Shooter Series. Seven Cycles; 1 January 1993. ISBN 978-0-9604650-4-0.
  • Forgrening: en inbjudan till att fläta grenar. Malmö Konsthögskola; 2000.
  • Home made root beer. Malmö Konstmuseum; 2000.
  • Phases of the Loon. 1986.
  • Seven Cycles: Public Rituals. A.I.R.; 1980. ISBN 978-0-9604650-0-2.
  • Seven Sites: Painting on the Wall. Mary Beth Edelson, 1988. ISBN 978-0960465026.
  • To Dance: Paintings and Drawings by Mary Beth Edelson with Performance in Mind : Published to Accompany an Exhibition of the Same Title Organized and Circulated by Patrick King Contemporary Art. Patrick King Contemporary Art; 1984. ISBN 978-0-9604650-1-9.
  • Woman Rising. 1975. (Exhibition)
  • Linda Aleci, Paul Bloodgood, Laura Cottingham, Alissa Friedman, E. Ann Kaplan, Mary Beth Edelson. The Art of Mary Beth Edelson. Seven Cycles; 2002. ISBN 978-09604650-6-4.
  • Mary Beth Edelson; Henri 2 (Firm). Bed .... Henri 2; 1971.
  • Mary Beth Edelson; Hewlett Gallery. Mary Beth Edelson: new work : an ancient thirst and a future vision : [exhibition] Hewlett Gallery, Carnegie-Mellon University, College of Fine Arts, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Gallery, 1983.
  • Mary Beth Edelson and Amelia M. Trevelyan. The Art of Mary Beth Edelson. New York, N.Y.: Seven Cycles, 2002. LCCN 82046025. ISBN 978-0960465071.
  • Mary Beth Edelson, Mel Watkin, Adam D. Weinberg, and Sam Yates. Shape Shifter: Seven Mediums. New York, N.Y.: M.B. Edelson, 1990. ISBN 0960465030.
  • Gayle Kimball, Carey Lovelace, Mary Beth Edelson, et al. Women's Culture in a New Era: A Feminist Revolution? Scarecrow Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-8108496-1-7.
  • Margaret Randall, Pat Oleszko, Kossia Orloff, Mary Beth Edelson, Linda Montano Dona Ann McAdams. Heresies 17 - Acting Up! Women in Theater and Performance. New York: Heresies, 1984.


Her works have been shown at:[3]

"A Life Well Lived: A Retrospective of Mary Beth Edelson's Work" was assembled at the Malmo in 2006 and traveled to the Migros Museum in Zurich.[3]


  1. ^ The artists portrayed in Some Living Women Artists / Last Supper are Lynda Benglis, Louise Bourgeois, Elaine de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Nancy Graves, Lila Katzen, Lee Krasner, Georgia O'Keeffe, Louise Nevelson, Yoko Ono, M. C. Richards, Alma Thomas, and June Wayne.[2]
  2. ^ In Objections of a 'Goddess Artist', Edelson says that she see the goddess as "an internalized, sacred metaphor for an expanded generous understanding of wisdom, power, and the eternal universe... and embodies the unity of mind-body-spirit, and a wholeness that includes our dark sides."[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Mary Beth Adelson". Clara - Database of Women Artists. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "Mary Beth Edelson". The Frost Art Museum Drawing Project. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Joan M. Marter. The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art. Oxford University Press; 2011. ISBN 978-0-19-533579-8. pp. 136–137.
  4. ^ a b "Oral history interview with Mary Beth Edelson, 2009 Feb. 1-16". Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  5. ^ "Mary Beth Edelson | Time Line". 
  6. ^ a b c d "About Mary Beth Edelson". Digital Collections:  !Women Art Revolution. Stanford University. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  7. ^ David E. Bernstein (2003). You Can't Say That!: The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws. Washington, DC: Cato Institute. p. 38. Retrieved 11 January 2014.  via Questia (subscription required)
  8. ^ "Mary Beth Edelson | Time Line". 
  9. ^ Thomas Patin and Jennifer McLerran (1997). Artwords: A Glossary of Contemporary Art Theory. Westport, CT: Greenwood. p. 55. Retrieved 8 January 2014.  via Questia (subscription required)
  10. ^ "A.I.R Gallery". A.I.R Gallery. Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Smith-Stewart, Amy. "Mary Beth Edelson: Six Story Gathering Boxes (1972–2014)" (PDF). The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  13. ^ Edelson, Mary Beth; Trevelyan, Amelia M. (2002). The art of Mary Beth Edelson. New York, NY: Seven Cycles. ISBN 0960465065. 
  14. ^ Thomas Patin and Jennifer McLerran (1997). Artwords: A Glossary of Contemporary Art Theory. Westport, CT: Greenwood. p. 61. Retrieved 8 January 2014.  via Questia (subscription required)
  15. ^ a b "Mary Beth Edelson". Walker Art Center. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • M. S. Armstrong, A. Conley, K. C. H. Nahum. Original Visions: Shifting the Paradigm, Women’s Art 1970-1996. Exhibition catalog. Chestnut Hill, MA: McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, 1997. ISBN 978-0964015364.
  • G. Battcock and R. Nickas. The Art of Performance: A Critical Anthology. New York: E.P. Dutton 1984. ISBN 9780525480396.
  • N. Broude and M. D. Garrard, ed. The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s. Harry N. Abrams, 1996. ISBN 978-0810926592.
  • E. Heartney. "Mary Beth Edelson at A/C Project Room and Nicole Klagsbrun." Exhibition review. Art in America. 81 October 1993, pp. 128–129.
  • It's Time for Action (There’s no Option) About Feminism, Migros Museum, Zurich. Distributed Art Pub Incorporated, 2007. ISBN 978-3905770537.
  • G. Kimball. Women's Culture in a New Era: A Feminist Revolution. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. 2005. ISBN 978-0810849617.
  • L. Lippard: Overlay. Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983. ISBN 978-0394711454.
  • Percy Martin; Washington Project for the Arts (D.C.); Mary Beth Edelson. Dream on: Three Contemporary Artists Working with Myth: Mary Beth Edelson, Judy Jashinsky, Percy Martin. Washington Project for the Arts; 1989.
  • H. Robinson. Feminism-Art-Theory: An Anthology 1968-2000. Malden, MA: Wiley, 2001. ISBN 978-0631208501.
  • C. Spretnak, ed. The Politics of Women's Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power Within the Feminist Movement. New York: Anchor Books, 1982. ISBN 978-0385172417.
  • WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution. Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007.
  • J. Wark. Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art. Montreal:McGill-Queen's Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0773585232.
  • J. Wark. Gender Battles. Santiago da Compostela, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, 2007.