Mary Beth Edelson: Goddess Tribe (1974-75) and Artist Book, The Thunder Perfect Trickster (1978-1984)

Shape Shifter installation shot (2019) by Mary Beth EdelsonThe Feminist Institute

Goddess Tribe (1974-75)

The most recent exhibition of Mary Beth Edelson’s 1970s work entitled "Shape Shifter" was held at David Lewis in New York City (2019) and included private performance photographic work and the installation "Goddess Tribe" constructed from life-sized painted plywood cutouts.

Shape Shifter installation shot (2019) by Mary Beth EdelsonThe Feminist Institute

These photographs of the "Goddess Tribe" at the gallery also include the individual pieces "Gloria Sun", "Ishtar", and "Passage", although they were meant to be installed as a collective work first exhibited in 1975 at the Henri Gallery in Washington, D.C. Each sculptural painting references an ancient goddess, or a powerful female figure and the space creates an atmosphere of goddesses rising.As Edelson described this atmosphere: “When the tribe surrounded you their bonding and physical presence suggested communications: sounds, whispers and chants” (Edelson, Seven Cycles: Public Rituals, 20). The tactile surfaces of each figure include marks, scratches, and text such as the words “The new sun rising, your 5,000 years are up” near the base of "Gloria Sun" anticipating her forthcoming performance "Mourning Our Lost Herstory" and the installation "Your 5,000 Years Are Up!" of 1977.

Passage by Mary Beth EdelsonThe Feminist Institute

Ishtar by Mary Beth EdelsonThe Feminist Institute

Gloria Sun by Mary Beth EdelsonThe Feminist Institute

Thunder Perfect Trickster (1978/1984) by Mary Beth EdelsonThe Feminist Institute

Artist Book, The Thunder Perfect
Trickster, 1978-1984

Throughout her career Edelson created numerous artist books often unique and sometimes in parallel with other art projects, as script books or a collection of drawings, photographs, and texts related to an existing work. "The Thunder Perfect Trickster" (1978-84) book captures her old friend the “Trickster Muse,” a figure that allows her to imagine the unimaginable for women in the 1970s. She explains in Trickster speak: "Trickster makes it up as she goes along, and owns her own story(ies). Trashed myths re-made, remembering what never happened, crushed-codification re-purposed for new tricks, a pipeline drilled with holes, into a re-mix, re-mash, un-trivialized and still not seen, delivered up, and still not seen, indigestible sans context, unverifiable, strategically: eats backlash and shits it out, cross cultural crossed again, dream-time revisited, shoved off the tectonic plate, out of place, assertiveness training workshops, unrestrained by theory, in your face, up your nose, in your space, falling outside surreal, un-harmless, uneasy mark, uneasy on the eye, un-quiescent antics, tactically re-positioning building up again, shamelessly independent" (typed statement received from the artist, 3 April 2009). The Trickster Muse acts as a facilitator for Edelson, a risk-taking guardian and trouble maker who disregards all boundaries.

Thunder Perfect Trickster artist's book (1978) by Mary Beth EdelsonThe Feminist Institute

Thunder Perfect Trickster artist's book by Mary Beth EdelsonThe Feminist Institute

Thunder Perfect Trickster artist's book by Mary Beth EdelsonThe Feminist Institute

Thunder Perfect Trickster artist's book by Mary Beth EdelsonThe Feminist Institute

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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