Mary Beth Edelson: Conference of Women in the Visual Arts, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC, April 20-22, 1972

The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project

In 1972, Mary Beth Edelson organized the Conference of Women in the Visual Arts along with Josephine Withers, Barbara Frank, Yvonne Wulf, Cynthia Bickley-Green, Susan Sollins, and Enid Sanford, pictured here at the Opening Session photographed by Ruth Silverman.

Conference of the Women in the Visual Arts opening photo, 1972-04, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project
CWVA Conf Steering Comm at opening names, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project

The women in Washington organized the event as a national forum to create connections, to exchange ideas, and to promote further engagement among the participants and beyond.

Conference of the Women in the Visual Arts participants photo, 1973, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project

Held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., this first large-scale meeting of women in the visual arts met over three days with panels and lectures by artists and art historians including Elaine de Kooning, Alice Neel, Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, and Linda Nochlin.

CWVA participants photo names, Mary Beth Edelson, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project

This Conference provided the opportunity for both formal presentations and informal discussion as in this photograph of participants that includes Liza Bear, Nochlin, Sanford, and Cindy Nemser.

Conference of the Women in the Visual Arts Program Cover, 1972-04, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project
CWVA 2, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project

In this post-conference report from January 1973, Edelson wrote on the purpose, issues, activities, and outcomes of this historic event. Edelson wrote that the artists spoke of their work and art world experiences while art historians, critics, and museum professionals addressed criticism and how women artists are evaluated. This reflection noted some of the challenges in organizing such a ground-breaking conference and that “when it was time to end we were just beginning.” Her reflections at the end of the report describe the struggles and enthusiasm that many participants felt. Edelson’s early activist spirit resonates throughout as she concludes, “With our new self-awareness and constant re-evaluation we are transformed.”

CWVA 3, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project
Conference of the Women in the Visual Arts post-conference writeup, 1973, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project
Conference of the Women in the Visual Arts post-conference writeup, 1973, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project
Conference of the Women in the Visual Arts post-conference writeup, 1973, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project
Conference of the Women in the Visual Arts post-conference writeup, 1973, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project
Conference of the Women in the Visual Arts post-conference writeup, 1973, From the collection of: The Feminist Institute Digital Exhibit Project
Credits: Story

Written by Dr. Kathleen Wentrack
(c) 2019 Kathleen Wentrack

Kathleen Wentrack, PhD, is a Professor of Art History at The City University of New York, Queensborough CC and the editor of the forthcoming book "Collaboration, Empowerment, Change: Women’s Art Collectives." She recently published “1970s Feminist Practice as Heterotopian: The Stichting Vrouwen in de Beeldende Kunst and the Schule für kreativen Feminismus,” in "All Women Art Spaces in the Long 1970s" edited by Agata Jakubowska and Katy Deepwell (Liverpool University Press, 2018). She is a contributing editor to Art History Teaching Resources and Art History Pedagogy and Practice and a co-coordinator of The Feminist Art Project in New York City.

Produced by Erica Galluscio

Photography of studio space provided by Kolin Mendez Photography

Accola Griefen Fine Art exhibition photos courtesy of Accola Griefen Fine Art: Rob van Erve

Images of "Goddess Tribe" installation courtesy of David Lewis New York


Select Bibliography

Buszek, Maria Elena. “Mothers and Daughters, Sluts and Goddesses: Mary Beth Edelson and Annie Sprinkle.” In: It’s Time for Action (There’s No Option). About Feminism. Ed. Heike Munder. Zurich: Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst and JRP/Ringier, 2007, 228-61.

Edelson, Mary Beth. The Art of Mary Beth Edelson. New York: Seven Cycles, 2002.

Edelson, Mary Beth. Firsthand: Photographs by Mary Beth Edelson, 1973-1993 and Shooter Series. Essay by Jan Avgikos, “No Reverse Gear.” Mary Beth Edelson: New York, 1993.

Edelson, Mary Beth. Interview with Kathleen Wentrack. New York, 12 September 2008.

Edelson, Mary Beth. "Male Grazing: An Open Letter to Thomas McEvilley.” In: Feminism-Art-Theory: An Anthology, 1968-2000.” Ed. Hilary Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001, 592-94. First published as “Objections of a ‘Goddess Artist:’ An open Letter to Thomas McEvilley.” New Art Examiner 16, No. 8 (April 1989): 34-38.

Edelson, Mary Beth. “Pilgrimage/See for Yourself: A Journey to a Neolithic Goddess Cave, 1977. Grapceva, Hvar Island Yugoslavia.” Heresies: A Feminist Publication of Art and Politics #5, Spring 1978: 96-99.

Edelson. Mary Beth. Seven Cycles: Public Rituals. With an Introduction by Lucy R. Lippard." New York: Mary Beth Edelson, 1980.

Edelson. Mary Beth. Shape Shifter: Seven Mediums. New York: Mary Beth Edelson, 1990.

Edelson. Mary Beth. “Success Has 1,000 Mothers: Art and Activism from Mary Beth Edelson’s Point of View.” In: Women’s Culture in a New Era: A Feminist Revolution? Ed. Gayle Kimball. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2005, 27-60..

Freitag, Barbara. Sheela-Na-Gigs: Unraveling an Enigma. London: Routledge, 2004

Gimbutas, Marija. Gods and Goddess of Old Europe, 7000 to 3500 BC/Myths, Legends, and Cult Images. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

Griefen, Kat. “Considering Mary Beth Edelson’s Some Living American Women Artists.” The Brooklyn Rail, March 2019, 38-9.

Höglinger, Nora. “Mary Beth Edelson: “The Goddess is Us.” In: Feminist Avant-Garde: Art of the 1970s, The Sammlung Verbund Collection, Vienna. Ed. Gabriele Schor. Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2016, 120-25.

Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses. Ed. Vincent Hale and Vincent Croce. New York: Britannica Educational Publishing and Rosen Publishing Group, 2014.

Stone, Merlin. When God Was a Woman. New York: Dial Press, 1976.

Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution. Ed. Lisa Gabrielle Mark. Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007.

Winifred Milius Lubell, The Metamorphosis of Baubo: Myths of Women’s Sexual Energy, Nashville and London: Vanderbilt University Press, 1994

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