Upon walking through the narrow, white framed door of the Suzanne Geiss Gallery on Grand Street in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, an initial work spotted by Mary Beth Edelson located on a far wall in the first room, was the sweetly titled Honey Painting, 1972. The piece consists of wood, glass, nails, and a high fired ceramic bowl placed on the floor below the hanging . It is a breathing painting, where honey replaces traditional pigment. This work alone gives a delicate hint into the life and work of Mary Beth Edelson in the exhibition titled, 22 Others, 1973 which was on view from March 8th-April 20th, 2013.
Edelson, born in 1933, is based in New York City and was known in the 1970s for her activism within the feminist movement. As an artist she has been exhibited in many galleries and her work also resides in the permanent collections of museums in the United States and abroad including The Guggenheim Museum of Art, NY and the Malmö Museum in Sweden to name a few. Seeing her work in the gallery was quite a treat. In 1973, the artist then 43 years old, was making a variety of work ranging from painting, photo collage, drawing and installation. The honey painting falls somewhere in between painting and sculpture. It is both flat and dimensional, as the honey drips off the surface, leaving its sticky mark on the wall and that which may or may not end up in the ceramic bowl below. In the gallery list of works this particular piece is listed as a prompt by the Italian born American sculptor Italo Scanga who worked in Neo-Dadaist, Neo-Expressionist and Neo-Cubist circles.
For the exhibition 22 Others, 1973, Italo Scanga was one of the “others” that the artist invited to prompt her art making process. Several individuals were invited by Edelson to offer suggestions or specific ideas that she would then bring to fruition. Honey Painting is a reaction to a direct request by Scanga who proposed the artist make a painting with honey. Originally on view simultaneously at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Henri Gallery both in Washington D.C. in 1973, the exhibition was the artist’s foray into a conceptual romp inspired by Carl Jung and the collective unconscious. The artist participated in a five year seminar with a focus on Jung and in 1971 arrived at the collaborative experiment that she hoped would result in a third energy (merging her own and the invited guest), an artwork derived by a collaborative and psychological process.
The 22 resulting works vary in approach and while cohesive by way of a mostly gray color palette, they were installed in three of the gallery rooms and separated by stylistic technique. The most sizable room featured large paintings from the Passage Series: Night Passage, Dawning, and Two Clouds, all 1972-1973 acrylic on canvas. These paintings were inspired by a prompt by John Bullard, former director of the New Orleans Museum of Art from 1973-2010. The Passage Series is indeed inspired, almost timeless and without considering the date of the original exhibition it would be relatively easy to cement this work within the dialogue of contemporary painting. In two pieces in particular (also including The Waves, 1972 prompted by Bullard) the artist continued painting outside the realm of 2-Dimensional spatial margins onto folds of canvas mounted and folded over malleable foam. These particular forms are so directly related to painting today that they feel incredibly fresh, especially since they were made in 1972-73.
on canvas, foam painting 85.75×107.5 inches,waves dimensions variable. Photo Adam Reich.
Edelson worked inside and outside of surface confines. In striving to attain the collective unconscious, many of the 22 works encompass and prove to reveal a visual notation of her journey into attaining the sublime. Collaborators in her process included John Bullard, Lawra Gregory, Italo Scanga, Walter Hopps, Ira Lowe, Ed McGowin, Alice Denny and others and the exhibition at Suzanne Geiss Gallery was organized by Tim Goossens.
by Katy Diamond Hamer