Martha Edelheit, Another Postwar Talent Left Out of Art History’s Storyline

THE DAILY PIC: In the Grey gallery's 'Inventing Downtown' show, Martha Edelheit proves that the 1950s talent pool went deeper than art's big names.

THE DAILY PIC (#1724): Imagine if, in the late 1950s, Martha Edelheit had managed to attract the attention that went to figures like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Our art history textbooks might have ended up looking a whole lot more colorful and lively—and strange—than they do. Today’s Pic is Edelheit’s Frabjous Day, a wonderfully titled work from 1959 by an artist who also made truly prescient feminist works. (This might also count as one.)

Frabjous Day is in the landmark exhibition called “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965,” at the Grey Art Gallery of New York University. In this enthralling show, curator Melissa Rachleff demonstrates what a torrent of creativity there was in New York’s artistic culture in the years to either side of 1960, and how widely and deeply it ran. I’m not saying that art history’s grand narrative is simply wrong to celebrate the acknowledged “greats” of that moment, who really were pretty amazing. It’s just that the story ends up much duller when it leaves out figures like Edelheit and all the other talents—especially women and people of color—whom we haven’t chosen to include in our main storyline.

And here’s something from the show that really put a knot in my connoisseur’s brain: The 1958 work below, called Coney Island Pinball, is not by Edelheit, as I immediately assumed when I saw it, but by another underknown artist named Renée E. Rubin. It looks as though there were two godmothers of the vitally goofy style that Elizabeth Murray ran with in the 1980s. (Photos by Lucy Hogg)


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