Mary Beth Edelson

Selected Wall Collages


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Not on display
Mary Beth Edelson born 1933
Off-set and laser prints, marker, graphite, correction pen, wax crayon, and glitter on paper, mounted on canvas
Dimensions variable
Purchased using funds provided by the 2017 Frieze Tate Fund supported by WME | IMG 2018


Selected Wall Collages is a wall-based installation of 146 collages that explores the representation of women across time and culture. The collages, made between 1972 and 2011, vary in size with the smallest measuring approximately 100 millimetres in height and the largest about one metre in height and width. The display of this set of collages should echo the original triangular wave-like arrangement that was originally conceived for the solo exhibition The Devil Giving Birth to the Patriarchy at David Lewis Gallery, New York in March 2017 and developed further at Frieze London in 2017. Individually the collages depict imaginary beings derived from a range of different sources that include ancient mythology, art history, popular culture, nature and photographs of the artist and her peers. Many of the images come from Edelson’s career-long research into the figure of the goddess as a bridge between nature and humanity. Most of the works were made in 1972, at around the same time that Edelson created her best known work Some Living American Women Artists / Last Supper 1972 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). In this collage she replaced the heads of the figures in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper 1495–8 (Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan) with photographs of living women artists, which at the time included Georgia O’Keefe (1887–1986) and Lee Krasner (1908–1984). Subsequently a number of these figures appear in Selected Wall Collages, but other additions include the ancient Greek trickster-goddess Baubo, Botticelli’s Venus (Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus c.1482–5, Uffizi Gallery, Florence), the model and singer Grace Jones, Uma Thurman in the film Pulp Fiction (1994), the conical bra of singer Madonna, and most recently former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.

In an interview with the artist Carolee Schneemann, Edelson stated that in the 1970s her main interests were in ‘claiming the right to control, define, and enjoy my own body … delving into the sacred … [and] working toward social change in an asymmetrical culture making the political aspects of identity and the female body visible.’ (Quoted in Cottingham, The State University of New York 2002, pp.170–1.) Selected Wall Collages brings the past and the present together to chart different strands of feminist thought and representation. Edelson plays with scale and repeats the same motif to create the impression of a multiplying entity. This viral quality became self-evident when, in the 2000s, Edelson began to back the collages with raw canvas and pin them directly to the walls of the gallery in decorative and loose formations.

Selected Wall Collages can be connected to Edelson’s performance works, such as the series Woman Rising from 1973. This involved the artist enacting rituals in rural settings, performances that were documented by photographs which she later reworked with paint. Through the modification of pre-existing images she creates a world that stretches from the depths of time to the present to uncover unexpected histories and visual forms. The art historian Lucy Lippard has written that Edelson’s ‘symbolic images, like her participatory rituals, restore forgotten feelings and ideas. Her forms and structures make them familiar to us in contemporary contexts while at the same time acknowledging the bonds that lead back to the past, down into the unconscious change in character of art in society.’ (Lippard 1983, p.6.)

Further reading
Lucy R. Lippard, ‘Fire and Stone: Politics and Ritual’, in Mary Beth Edelson, Seven Cycles: Public Rituals, Michigan 1983.
Laura Cottingham, The Art of Mary Beth Edelson, exhibition catalogue, The State University of New York 2002.
Debra Lennard, ‘Mary Beth Edelson’, Frieze, published online, 17 March 2017,, accessed October 2017, and in print, issue 187, May 2017.

Fiontán Moran
October 2017

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