Seven Sites: Painting on the Wall

Reviews from Curators

FISH IN THE SKY DANFORTH MUSEUM OF ART, Boston 1985-86

FISH IN THE SKY was an invitation to join in a cosmic dance; a joyous reveling in the forces that animate our emotions and define our physical boundaries. The environment was gentle, yet insistent, and beckoned the viewer to become a participant and shed inhibition. FISH IN THE SKY can be seen as an invitation to the region of poetic consciousness and as an exuberant manifestation of the dream body.
Lasse Antosen, Curator

WAYS OF SEEING: TRACK FIRES WALTER PHILIPS GALLERY, Banff, Alberta 1986

Installation is a unique form of art, in that it simulates a dialogue with the spectator. Physically, emotionally, and intellectually involved, the viewer entirely shares the experience of the work. The setting encourages exploration and replaces passive contact with the artwork. In “Track Fires”, painting interplays with bas-relief, sculpture mingles with drawing and frames lose their usual function to become unleashed and significant spaces. Walls actually become props, directly painted upon, while architectural and functional elements are drawn into the work; traditional painting is freed from spatial constrains. Access is firsthand and easily identified, the signs, however, cannot be read independently or separate from one another. Only a global view ensures adequate understanding of the multiple levels of meaning. In the same way, Edelson’s works are related to the position of the spectator, related to the unity which arises from a circuit of images, forms, and meanings.
Manon Blanchette, Curator

WAYS OF SEEING: DIAGRAMS FOR THE JOURNEY LONDON ART GALLERY London, Ontario 1987

Many artists may feel daunted working under strict limitations and expansive wall space especially if they have not seen the site before. Mary Beth Edelson viewed these constraints as an opportunity for immediacy and to extend the scale and surface of her drawing. Ironically, gallery walls themselves are resistant to being seen as art because we are accustomed to thinking of them as receptacles for art. This irony is particularly true when it comes to working with the architecture of the London Gallery. Twenty-foot-high barrel-vaulted ceilings, which create a chapel-like space, tend to give most objects placed near them a “holier-than-thou” aspect. When observed head-on, the 159-foot-long gallery space tends to look like two tunnels. Edelson responded to this architecture directly by featuring these tunnels and one side wall. The physical divisions of the three walls emphasized the narrative character of the components of her piece, while the awe-inspiring feeling inherent in the space was worked to advantage in her depictions of a spiritual journey. The side wall provided the “key” to the stock of characters participating in the venture. Alchemical minerals evolved into higher forms, and ancient spiritual goddesses danced besides creatures. The power, the scale, the gestures of this journey come from one who knows how to use the language of drawing to conjure layers of spiritual meaning. What I found most incredible about the whole process was watching Edelson herself in action. High on scaffolding, her arms became sweeping arcs as she trajected across and up and down the wall, using her whole body as a ground for her gesture. It was an embracive movement, literally to reestablish the wall surface as the space of drawing. When finished, her exhausted figure seemed to me to suggest what her work was all about – the struggle of an individual body for a universal space and identity within a culture and history.
Marnie Fleming, Curator

WAYS OF SEEING: CRITICAL BIFURCATION POINT MUSEE DU QUEBEC Quebec, Quebec 1987

The theme of Critical Bifurcation Point is part of an ongoing series that is based on a scientific term for a set of given circumstances in which a system may be upset to such a degree that behavior becomes less predictable, while randomness increases until it reaches “a critical bifurcation point,” at which time the system has the capability to transform itself into something completely different. Using this theory as metaphor for the potential of our times to replace the status-quo linear thinking with self-organizing and interrelated processes that are more compatible with a new vision, I tried to visualize through this wall painting what such a process might look like. Mary Beth Edelson The artwork originates in the bodily movement of the artist, who has transformed the walls of the alcove by large, sweeping, energetic gestures, fusing colors together to establish, in a paradoxical manner, cosmic spaces and earthly places. There is a physical commitment resulting from the interaction of this energy. Critical Bifurcation Point allows us to anticipate the change that can occur from the tension created by the energy.
Louise Dery, Conservatrice

WAYS OF SEEING: DEAR CORRESPONDENT MENDEL ART GALLERY Saskatoon, Saskatchenwan 1988

Mary Beth Edelson’s Dear Correspondent held out the allure of permanence to its viewers. All – surrounding, yet intimate, Edelson’s installation declared her desire for an art of enduring relevance for its audience – a relevance which could long outlive its six-week life at the Mendel Art Gallery. That Dear Correspondent was realized within a public art gallery in Saskatoon is doubly significant. Its presentation added to a program of exhibitions critical of the art gallery’s perceived role in a process of market validation. It questioned the artwork as a discreet containable object while affirming it as a provocative idea, an affirmation of both marginalized experience and symbolic language. These anonymous stories(gathered from the Story Gathering Box) became part of the content of Dear Correspondent. Their placement in the midst of the work, played upon the possibilities inherent in Edelson’s wall painting. They record participation, activity, and response. Much like the seemingly random symbolic language of the pictographs, they take form as a collage of meaning, bound together in the ritual, if not the moment, of their creation.
Matthew Teitelbaum, Curator

DEAR ATHENA, QUEENS MUSEUM New York City 1988

Mary Beth Edelson presented a unique perspective of the myth of Medusa that inventively weaved aspects of history, psychology and spirituality. Discussing the proposed work with the artist helped me to further define several issues that subsequently became important to the context of the exhibition. I was impressed by Edelson’s knowledge of and affinity for mythology, as well as the drama and energy of her style. The tunneling perspective of a passageway into the underworld, furies winging their way across the ceiling and wall, and her Battle of the Greeks and Amazons from Mausoleum at Halicarnassus ambitiously paralleled the scope and grandeur of ancient art. As Dear Athena unfolded along the wall of The Queens Museum, the private nature of the creative process became bolder and more public. While watching Edelson complete her site-specific work during a five-day period, the acts of painting, transforming, reevaluating and redefining assumed their own forms of drama.
Barbara C. Matilsky, Curator