New York, b.1931

Martha Edelheit

Martha Edelheit was born New York City in 1931, where she lived until moving to Sweden in 1993. She currently lives outside of Stockholm. She is known as a pioneering feminist artist whose work of the 1960s addresses female desire, the body, and skin as a double “canvas” for tattoo imagery.

Edelheit studied at the University of Chicago, New York University and Columbia University in the 1950s. Important teachers included artist Michael Loew and art historian Meyer Schapiro. She established herself in the center of the downtown avant-garde, becoming a member of the Tenth Street artist-run space, the Reuben Gallery, where her first solo show was held in 1960. She, like other members Jim Dine, Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenberg, and Robert Whitman, were pushing at the boundaries and definitions of...

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Biography

Martha Edelheit was born New York City in 1931, where she lived until moving to Sweden in 1993. She currently lives outside of Stockholm. She is known as a pioneering feminist artist whose work of the 1960s addresses female desire, the body, and skin as a double “canvas” for tattoo imagery.

Edelheit studied at the University of Chicago, New York University and Columbia University in the 1950s. Important teachers included artist Michael Loew and art historian Meyer Schapiro. She established herself in the center of the downtown avant-garde, becoming a member of the Tenth Street artist-run space, the Reuben Gallery, where her first solo show was held in 1960. She, like other members Jim Dine, Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenberg, and Robert Whitman, were pushing at the boundaries and definitions of sculpture, painting, and art-making through Happenings and experimental objects. Edelheit exhibited her “extension” paintings which break the frame of the work and utilize utilitarian objects. Her second solo show, in 1961, was held at another significant nucleus of experimental art, the Judson Gallery.

By 1962, Edelheit began to explore the subject of tattooing in her work. She related to the writings of Claude Levi-Strauss. In his 1955 memoir, Tristes Tropiques, Levi-Strauss speculates that tattooing was the first art, before cave art, and that the human body was the first canvas. The flesh of the figures Edelheit depicts become places where the dreams and fantasies of the models emerge. Edelheit’s paintings of tattooed figures led to her depictions of circus performers, which have a frank sexuality; the contorted bodies and body parts, along with their costumed appearance, suggest sadomasochistic play.

Edelheit’s erotic works on paper, and her series of monumental “Flesh Wall” paintings were exhibited at the Byron Gallery in the mid-1960s. This work prompted Allan Kaprow to write an article for the Village Voice addressing the significance of women’s contemporary erotic art. Edelheit became an essential voice whose work implicitly challenged social expectations of women as well as formalist paradigms and traditional notions of figurative painting and the nude.

Artworks

3

Circus Tree, 1961

Related Categories

20th Century Art / 21st Century Art / American Art / Art after World War II / Art of the 1960s / Art of the 1970s / Art of the 1980s / Art of the 1990s / Art of the 2000s / Art of the 2010s / Canvas / Face/Body (Human Figures) / Female Identity / Feminist Art / Figurative Painting / Film/Video Art / Gender Issues / Ink / Ink and Watercolor on Rice Paper / Ink on Paper / New York / Nude / Oil on Canvas / Oil Paint / Oil Painting / Painting / Performance / Reality and Fantasy/Illusion/Imagination / Rice Paper / Sexuality / Stockholm / Sweden / Tattoing / United States / Watercolor / Watercolor on Paper / Watercolor Painting / Women Artists / Works on Paper

Curriculum Vitae

Education

  • 1956

    B.S., Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY

  • School of General Studies, Columbia University, New York, NY

  • Michael Loew (Studio classes)

Solo Exhibitions

  • 2018

    Flesh Walls: Tales from the 60s, Eric Firestone Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2014

    Artifact Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2009

    Piteå Konsthall, Piteå, Sweden

Group Exhibitions

  • 2019

    Go Figure!, Eric Firestone Gallery, East Hampton, NY

  • 2018

    Currents: Abortion, A.I.R. Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2017

    Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965, Grey Gallery, New York University, New York, NY

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Curriculum Vitae

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Education

  • 1956

    B.S., Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY

  • School of General Studies, Columbia University, New York, NY

  • Michael Loew (Studio classes)

  • 1954

    New York University, New York, NY

  • 1951

    University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Solo Exhibitions

  • 2018

    Flesh Walls: Tales from the 60s, Eric Firestone Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2014

    Artifact Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2009

    Piteå Konsthall, Piteå, Sweden

  • 2008

    SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2007

    Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland

  • SARKA Museum, Loimaa, Finland

  • Villa Landes, Kimito, Finland

  • 2004

    Galleri Cupido, Stockholm, Sweden

  • Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland

  • 2003

    Konstpaus, Ekerö, Sweden

  • 2002

    Galleri Strömbom, Uppsala, Sweden

  • 2001

    Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden

  • 2000

    Medborgarhuset, Smedstorp, Sweden

Group Exhibitions

  • 2019

    Go Figure!, Eric Firestone Gallery, East Hampton, NY

  • 2018

    Currents: Abortion, A.I.R. Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2017

    Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965, Grey Gallery, New York University, New York, NY

  • Annual Group Exhibition, SOHO20, Brooklyn, NY

  • 2016

    The Sister Chapel: An Essential Feminist Collaboration, Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, NJ

  • Annual Group Exhibition: Part 2, SOHO20, Brooklyn, NY

  • 2014

    From the Other Side, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2013

    Relational Ground: Defying the Status Quo, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2012

    Always/Never, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • Art in Boxes 2012, AG Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

  • 2011

    Groundbreaking: The Women of the Sylvia Sleigh Collection, Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, NJ

  • Cluster–A Group Exhibition: Object and Space (Alexis Duque, Martha Nilsson Edelheit, Peter Janssen), AG Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

  • Folles d’Hiver, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2010

    Between the Lines: Exhibition of SOHO20 Member Artists, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2009

    INPLACE: The Annual Exhibition of SOHO20 Artists, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2006

    Self Portraits, Ideas, Images, Structures, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2005

    Small Works, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • FallOut, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2004

    Member Artists Group Show, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • The Sister Chapel: An Essential Feminist Collaboration, Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, NJ

  • 2003

    Member Artists Group Show, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2002

    Member Artists Group Show, SOHO21 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2001

    Member Artists Group Show, SOHO22 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2000

    Member Artists Group Show, SOHO23 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY

Film Screening

  • 2017

    "Hats, Bottles & Bones," Inventing Downtown: Lives of Artists, Part 2, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York, NY

  • 2016

    “The Albino Queen and Sno White in Triplicate (1973, S8, 22'),” Petzel Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2015

    “Hats, Bottles & Bones,” RARE, New York, NY

Grants/Awards

  • 1984

    2nd Prize, Juried Invitational, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA

  • 1978

    (~1986) NYSCA Grant, The New York State Council on the Arts, New York, NY

  • 1974

    (~1976) NYSCA and NEA Matching Grants, The New York State Council on the Arts, New York NY and the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC

Collections

  • New York Public Library, New York, NY

  • Piteå Commune, Piteå, Sweden

  • Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, NJ

Lectures/Talks

  • 1980

    Montclair State College, Montclair, NJ (Guest Lecturer– Film)

  • 1977

    New School, New York, NY (Guest Lecturer–Film)

  • 1976

    Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL (Artist in Residence)

  • 1975

    University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH (Artist in Residence)

  • Wilson College, Chambersburg, PA (Artist in Residence)

  • 1973

    California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA (Visiting Artist)

Publications

  • 2014

    Exhibition Catalogue, Martha Nilsson Edelheit: Erotic Circus, Artifact Gallery, New York, NY (Essay: Rachel Middleman)

  • 2009

    Exhibition Catalogue, Martha Nilsson Edelheit, Konsthallen Piteå, Sweden (Essays: “Grannens flock med Gotlandsår” by Christian Chambert and “Martha Nilsson Edelheit in Sweden” by Andrew D. Hottle)

  • 2007

    Exhibition Catalogue, Martha Nilsson Edelheit, Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland (Essay: “Martha Nilsson Edelheit’s Vibrant Pastures” by Andrew D. Hottle)

  • 2000

    Exhibition Catalogue, Martha Nilsson Edelheit, Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm (Essay: Sara Lidman)

Bibliography

  • 2017

    Jennifer Krasinski, “Exploring New York’s Century Boom of Artist-Run Galleries,” Village Voice, February 28, 2017, https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/02/28/exploring-new-yorks-midcentury-boom-of-artist-run-galleries/ MARTHA NI

  • Blake Gopnik, “Martha Edelheit, Another Postwar Talent Left Out of Art History’s Storyline,” Opinion, Artnet News, February 1, 2017, https://news.artnet.com/opinion/martha-edelheitgrey-gallery-840995

  • Ariella Budick, “When Artists Ruled: The Fearless Spirit of 1950s and 60s New York,” Financial Times, Visual Arts, January 13, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/0de70c44-d750-11e6-944be7eb37a6aa8e

  • Holland Cotter, “When Artists Ran the Show: ‘Inventing Downtown,’ at N.Y.U., New York Times, January 12, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/arts/design/when-artists-ranthe-show-inventing-downtown-at-nyu.html

  • Melissa Rachleff, Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965 (New York: Grey Art Gallery, New York University, 2017).

  • 2014

    Andrew D. Hottle, The Art of the Sister Chapel: Exemplary Women, Visionary Creators, and Feminist Collaboration (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2014).

  • Rachel Middleman, “A Feminist Avant-Garde: Martha Edelheit’s ‘Erotic Art’ in the 1960s, Konsthistorisk tijdskrift/Journal of Art History (2014): 1–19.

  • Joyce Kozloff, “Maria Lassnig in New York, 1968–1980,” Hyperallergic, November 8, 2014.

  • 2007

    Gail Levin, “Censorship, Politics and Sexual Imagery in the Work of Jewish-American Feminist Artists,” Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues 14 (Fall 2007): 63–96.

  • Richard Meyer, “Hard Targets: Male Bodies, Feminist Art, and the Force of Censorship in the 1970s,” in WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, ed. Lisa Gabrielle Mark (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007), 362–383.