About Mary Beth Edelson

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Mary Beth Edelson (b. 1933) creates works that impel viewers to confront the feminine body and the ways in which it has been both exploited and underrepresented in the history of art. One of her primary strategies has been to portray women as primordial archetypes—created before the establishment of patriarchal societies—such as goddesses, tricksters, and warriors. She demonstrated this most famously in her series of black-and-white self portraits in which she drew and painted on nude photographs of herself posed atop boulders, in the woods, or in the undefined zone of a gallery space. 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.

Another one of her tactics has been to re-present famous artworks collaged with the faces and bodies of women. In Some Living American Woman Artists/Last Supper (1972), for example, Edelson covered the faces of Da Vinci’s Last Supper attendees with images of contemporary female artists, Jesus being represented here by Georgia O’Keeffe. As with many of her works, Edelson combined humor and gravity, aiming to create an atmosphere that was subversively assertive.

Edelson has also worked in collaborative and/or political environments, participating in the early exhibitions at A.I.R. Gallery (founded in 1972), taking part in the Heresies Collective, and helping to lead the Women’s Action Coalition from 1992-94.

Further Reading

Edelson, Mary Beth. Seven Cycles: Public Rituals. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: A.I.R., 1980.

Edelson, Mary Beth and Amelia M. Trevelyan. The Art of Mary Beth Edelson. New York, N.Y.: Seven Cycles, 2002.

Edelson, Mary Beth, Mel Watkin, Adam D. Weinberg, and Sam Yates. Shape Shifter: Seven Mediums. New York, N.Y.: M.B. Edelson, 1990.