Martha Nilsson Edelheit, lives and works at Svartsjö, outside of Stockholm
Tattooed Torso, Mixed Media Sculpture. Collection of Dr. Irv and Zola Schneider.
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.
Martha, Svartsjö, Sweden 2020
Tattooed Lady, 1962,
oil on canvas.
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.
Interview by Helena Lund Ek 03.11.20
‘Being an artist was sort of like being God’
Martha Edelheit is a feminist pioneer who moved from New York to an island outside of Stockholm. Today, her work is being rediscovered by a younger generation.
b. New York, NY, 1931
1956 B.S., Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY
1955-56 School of General Studies, Columbia University, New York, NY
1954 New York University, New York, NY
1954-56 Michael Loew (Studio Classes)
1949-51 University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2021 Martha Edelheit, The Naked Truth, Larsen Warner Gallery, Stockholm
2018 Martha Edelheit Flesh Walls: Tales From the 60’s, Eric Firestone Gallery, New York, NY
2014 Artifcat Gallery, New York, NY
2009 Piteå Konsthall, Piteå, Sweden
2008 SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
2007 Villa Landes, Kimito, Finland
2007 SARKA Museum, Loimaa, Finland
2007 Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland
2004 Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland
2004 Galleri Cupido, Stockholm, Sweden
2003 Konstpaus, Ekero, Sweden
2002 Galleri Strömbom, Uppsala, Sweden
2001 Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden
2000 Medborgarhuset, Smedstorp, Sweden
1999 Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland
1999 Galleri Hovet, Gamla Ishovet, Stockholm, Sweden
1998 Watterling Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden
1996 Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland
1992 Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland
1991 SOHO20 Gallery, New York, NY
1991 Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland
1988 SOHO20 Gallery, New York, NY
1987 Atelier 2000, Vienna, Austria
1987 Galerie Carinthia, Klagenfurt, Austria
1986 SOHO20 Gallery, New York, NY
1984 Women’s Interart Center, New York, NY
1984 A.I.R. Gallery, New York, NY
1982 Rutgers University, Douglass Library, NJ
1975 Wilson College, Chambersburg, PA
1974 Evanston Art Center, Evanston, IL
1973 Artists Space, New York, NY
1966 Byron Gallery, New York, NY
1964 OK Harris, Provincetown, MA
1961 Judson Gallery, New York, NY
1960 Reuben Gallery, New York, NY
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2022 Jouissance, OPENART2022, Örebro Konsthall, Örebro, Sweden
2021 13 AMERICAN ARTISTS: A CELEBRATION OF HISTORIC WORK, Eric Firestone Gallery, New York
2021 A Body Apart, Larsen Warner Gallery, Stockholm
2020 Resilience, Västmannagatan 52, Stockholm
2020 Selected Works, February 1 - March 1, Eric Firestone Gallery, New York
2019 What About The Human Figure?, Eric Firestone Gallery, New York, October 10 -December 14
2019 The Pleasure Principle, Maccarone, Los Angeles, September 21 - December 1
2019 Go Figure! Curated by Beth Rudin DeWoody, Eric Firestone Gallery, East Hampton, NY
2018 Currents: Abortion, A.I.R. gallery, New York, NY
2017 Annual Exhibition, SOHO20, Brooklyn, NY
2017 Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965, Grey Gallery, New York University, New York, NY
2016 Annual Group Exhibition: Part 2, SOHO20, Brooklyn, NY
2016 The Sister Chapel: An Essential Feminist Collaboration, Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, NJ
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 Art in Boxes 2012, AG Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
2012 Always/Never, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
2011 Folles d’Hiver, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
2011 Cluster-A Group Exhibition: Object and Space (Alexis Duque, Martha Nilsson Edelheit, Peter Janssen), AG Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
2011 Groundbreaking: The Women of the Sylvia Sleigh Collection, Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, NJ
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 FallOut, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
2005 Small Works, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
2004 SELF_ISH, Kazuko Gallery, New York, NY
2004 Member Artists Group Show, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
2003 Member Artists Group Show, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
2002 Member Artists Group Show, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
2001 Member Artists Group Show, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
2000 Member Artists Group Show, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
1999 Member Artists Group Show, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
1998 Member Artists Group Show, SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY
1997 Konst Massan, Galleri BE’19, Sollentuna, Sweden
1996 Helsinki Art Hall, Helsinki, Finland
1984 BLAM! Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
1979 The Sister Chapel, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY
1978 The Sister Chapel, P.S.1, Long Island City, New York
1975 Sons and Others, Queens Museum, Queens, NY
1975 Three Centuries of the American Nude, New York Cultural Center, New York, NY
1975 Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
1975 Campbell Gallery, University of Houston, TX
1975 Works on Paper, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
1973 Women Choose Women, NY Cultural Center, New York, NY
1972 Artist Space, JB Cobb, Martha Edelheit, Ree Morton, New York, NY
1972 Erotica Show, New School Art Center, New York, NY
1972 Humor, Satire, and Irony, New School Art Center, New York, NY
1965 Box Show, Byron Gallery, New York, NY
1965 11 from the Reuben, Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
1964 Figure Show, Byron Gallery, New York, NY
1961 New Forms, New Media, Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, NY
Martha Edelheit, “Georgia O’Keeffe: A Reminiscence,” Painters on Paintings, August 6, 2015, https://paintersonpaintings.com/martha-edelheit-on-georgia-okeeffe-a-reminiscence/
Martha Edelheit, “Georgia O’Keeffe: A Reminiscence,” Women Artists Newsletter 3, no. 6 (December 1977): 3, 8–9.
Martha Edelheit, “Some Thoughts about My Work and My Self,” in Art: A Woman’s Sensibility, ed. Miriam Schapiro (Valencia: California Institute of the Arts, Feminist Art Program, 1975): 19.
Martha Edelheit, “The Loves of Rosa Bonheur” (1976, unpublished), lecture presented at College Art Association, Chicago, IL, Jan. 1976; Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD, Oct. 1976; A.I.R. Gallery, New York, NY, Nov. 1976.
“Hats, Bottles and Bones: A Portrait of Sari Dienes,” 1977, 16mm, 22 min.
“Sno-White Crimson,” 1974, 16mm, 7 min.
“The Albino Queen and Sno-White in Triplicate,” 1973, S8, 22 min.
“Camino Real,” 1973, 16mm, 3 min.
SELECTED FILM SCREENINGS
2019 “Hats, Bottles, & Bones,” We Will Pluck our Magic Twangers, Whitechapel Gallery, London
2019 Maria Lassnig. Zum 100. Geburtstag Symposium und Filmprogramme, Filmmuseum and the Albertina, Vienna
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,” Petzel Gallery, New York, NY
2015 “Hats, Bottles & Bones,” RARE, New York, NY
1981 “Hats, Bottles & Bones,” distributed and screened in the AFA program
(Shown regularly since its first screening in 1977)
1980 Anthology Film Archives
Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Museum of the City of New York, NY
1977 Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY
International Culture Center, Vienna, Austria
1975 University of California, San Diego, CA
Portland Museum, OR
Rutgers University, NJ (solo show)
1974 Graz Museum, Graz, Austria
Museum of 20th Century, Vienna Austria
2020 Art Basel, Miami
2020 Frieze Art Fair, New York, NY
2020 The Armory Show, New York, NY
2019 Upstairs Art Fair, Amagansett, NY
2018 The Tattoo art show at the Art Fair in Munich
Martha Edelheit, The Naked Thruth, Larsen Warner
Martha Nilsson Edelheit: Erotic Circus, Artifact Gallery, New York, NY, 2014
Essay: Rachel Middleman
Martha Nilsson Edelheit, Konsthallen Piteå, Sweden, 2009
Essays: “Grannens flock med Gotlandsår” by Christian Chambert and “Martha Nilsson Edelheit in Sweden” by Andrew D. Hottle
Martha Nilsson Edelheit, Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland, 2007
Essay: “Martha Nilsson Edelheit’s Vibrant Pastures” by Andrew D. Hottle
Martha Nilsson Edelheit, Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm, 2000
Essay: Sara Lidman
Martha Nilsson Edelheit, Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland, 1999
Essay: Bengt af Klintberg
Martha Nilsson Edelheit: Paintings and Drawings, 1988–1998, Heland Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm, 1998
Martha Nilsson Edelheit, Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland, 1996
Essay: “Between Heaven and Earth: About Weightlessness in Martha Edelheit’s Pictorial World” by Ragnar von Holten
Martha Ross Edelheit: String Masks and Paintings, Galleria BE’19, Helsinki, Finland, 1996
Essay: “Masks of Beauty and Despair” by Leena-Maija Rossi
Martha Edelheit, Eric Firestone Gallery, Tales From The 60s, Melissa Rachleff-Burtt 2018
Middleman, Rachel, Amelia Jones, Andrea Jahn, and Richard Meyer, In the Cut: The Male Body in Feminist Art (Bielefeld, Germany: Kerber, 2019)
Saltz, Jerry, “See Martha Edelheit: Flesh Walls: Tales from the 60’s” New York Magazine (Vulture), November 7, 2018
Middleman, Rachel, Radical Eroticism: Women, Art, and Sex in the 1960s (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2018)
Krasinski, Jennifer, “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
Gopnik, Blake, “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
Budick, Ariella, “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
Cotter, Holland, “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
Rachleff, Melissa, Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965 (New York: Grey Art Gallery, New York University, 2017).
Hottle, Andrew D., The Art of the Sister Chapel: Exemplary Women, Visionary Creators, and Feminist Collaboration (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2014).
Middleman, Rachel, “A Feminist Avant-Garde: Martha Edelheit’s ‘Erotic Art’ in the 1960s, Konsthistorisk tijdskrift/Journal of Art History (2014): 1–19.
Kozloff, Joyce, “Maria Lassnig in New York, 1968–1980,” Hyperallergic, November 8, 2014.
Levin, Gail, “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.
Meyer, Richard, “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.
Arbeiter, Joan, “Chance and Change in the Art of Sari Dienes,” Woman’s Art Journal 7, no. 2 (Autumn 1986–Winter 1987): 27–31.
Glueck, Grace, “Artist and Model: Why a Rich Tradition Endures,” New York Times, June 8, 1986.
Haskell, Barbara and John G. Hanhardt, Blam! The Explosion of Pop, Minimalism, and Performance, 1958–1964 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1984).
Golden, Eunice and Kay Kenny, “Sexuality in Art: Two Decades from a Feminist Perspective,” Woman’s Art Journal 3, no. 1 (Spring–Summer 1982): 14–15.
Semmel, Joan and April Kingsley, “Sexual Imagery in Women’s Art,” Woman’s Art Journal 1, no. 1 (Spring–Summer 1980): 1–6.
Langer, Sandra L., “The Sister Chapel: Towards a Feminist Iconography, with Commentary by Ilise Greenstein,” Southern Quarterly 17, no. 2 (Winter 1979): 28–41.
Stein, Judith E., “Women Artists ’78,” Art Journal 37, no. 4 (Summer 1978): 332–333.
Orenstein, Gloria Feman, “The Sister Chapel: A Traveling Homage to Heroines,” Womanart 1, no. 3 (Winter/Spring 1977): 12–21.
Brodsky, Judith K., “Notes from the Women’s Caucus for Art,” Art Journal 35, no. 4 (Summer 1976): 396–398.
Lukk, Tiiu, “Profiles,” Super-8 Filmmaker 3, no. 5 (October 1975): 46.
Crawford, Lynda, “Sitting on Botticelli’s Face,” Bitch 1, no. 2 (March 1974): 8–9, 23.
Frank, Peter, “On Art,” Soho Weekly News, December 13, 1973.
Holder, Maryse, “Another Cuntree: At Last, a Mainstream Female Art Movement,” Off Our Backs 3, no. 10 (September 1973): 11–17.
Kuspit, Donald B., et al., “The 61st Annual Meeting of the College Art Association of America,” Art Journal 32, no. 3 (Spring 1973): 271–283.
Mayer, Rosemary, “Martha Edelheit,” Reviews: New York, Arts Magazine 47, no. 6 (April 1973): 75.
Gollin, Jane, “Martha Edelheit,” Reviews and Previews, Art News 65, no. 4 (April 1966): 15.
Feller, Colta, “Martha Edelheit,” In the Galleries, Arts Magazines 40, no. 10 (June 1966): 49.
1984 2nd Prize, Juried Invitational, Lehigh University, Bethelhem, PA
1978-86 NYSCA Grant, The New York State Vouncil on the Arts, New York, NY
1974-77 NYSCA and NEA Matching Grants, The New York State Council on the Arts, New York, NY and the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C.
SELECTED PUBLIC COLLECTION
The Modern Museum, Stockholm, Sweden
New York Public Library, New York, NY
Piteå Commune, Piteå, Sweden
Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, NJ
Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN
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)