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Is the Art World Entering the Age of ‘Anti-Woke’ Backlash? Here’s Why Today’s Reaction Will Look Very Different From Decades’ Past

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We are in a backlash period—or, at least, the early stages of it, with new consensus about the “excesses” of the social justice movements of the past few years percolating through the discourse. Whether this backlash will look like previous ones is what I have been asked to comment on in this article.

The nostalgia cycle is about 30 years—long enough for the past to feel fresh again as a new generation ages (hence: That ‘90s Show). There is also an edgier kind of political nostalgia cycle. Contemporary debates about representation in the museum are experienced as a repeat of debates over “multiculturalism” from the 1990s, themselves experienced as a return to the combative confrontations of the 1960s. Indeed, so much of the politics of the present feels like a kind of replay of the ‘90s—alt-right “culture wars” as an even darker reboot of Pat Buchanan’s classic ‘90s version; the debates over “wokeness” replaying early-‘90s panics over “political correctness,” etc.

The Trump administration touched off dramatic debates, changing the texture of the conversation within the U.S. art world. Blue-chip galleries added Black artists to their programs, important overlooked female artists have been rediscovered at a brisk clip, museums shook up their schedules, and biennials reversed polarities so that the once-drastically overrepresented white Euro-American male demographic has been rendered a near non-presence in almost every such recent survey, from New York to New Orleans, and from Arkansas to Italy.

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Video by Dawoud Bey at the Historic New Orleans Collection. Photo by Ben Davis.

Video by Dawoud Bey at the Historic New Orleans Collection during Prospect New Orleans. Photo by Ben Davis.

Yet from the beginning, all this has been haunted by an awareness that backlash is incoming. For art observers looking at the intense focus on identity in recent biennials, the obvious reference is the 1993 Whitney Biennial, the so-called “identity politics biennial” (in fact, the recent 2022 Whitney Biennial self-consciously returned to many of the artists from 1993). This event remains a touchstone, having surfaced a large number of non-white, queer, and feminist voices. The ’93 biennial caught the angry zeitgeist of a liberal art world at the end of 12 years of Reaganite rule, in the wake of the most intense period of the AIDS crisis and the ‘92 conflagration in L.A. (VHS footage of Rodney King being beaten by the LAPD was included in the show.)

It was a watershed. But it was also a high-water mark, signaling the inflection point after which backlash officially took the wheel.

The ’93 biennial was panned by critics. Conceptual artist Daniel J. Martinez produced a series of pins given to Whitney visitors that read “I Can’t Imagine Ever Wanting to Be White.” In Who We Be, Jeff Chang’s history of the rise and cooption of multiculturalism, he quotes Martinez on what came next: “’93 was the last shot of the war. We lost right at the moment we thought we were winning.” Coco Fusco, another star of that show, remembered recently the shift that marked the second half of the decade: “In the art world of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s there was a shift away from the moral argument about empowerment and civil rights, which was widespread in the 1980s and early ‘90s, to an emphasis on visual talent and success.”

Daniel Joseph Martinez created these entry badges for the Whitney Museum of American Art's 1993 biennial exhibition.

Daniel Joseph Martinez created these entry badges for the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1993 biennial exhibition.
Photo courtesy the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York.

What can we learn from this moment? How is today different or the same?

An uncomfortable fact is that periods of advance tend to coincide with moments when the kinds of cultural liberals who make up the base of the art world feel that they are in crisis, politically. The spectacle of conservatives in power puts more pressure on culture, as rage at political disempowerment is channeled into gestures of cultural activism and symbolic atonement. The ’90s wave came out of the anger with Reagan and Bush, just as the recent climate grew out of reaction to Trump’s election. (There was some of this vibe under Bush II, but 9/11 and the Iraq War really defined the politics of that period in a different way.)

Conversely, while it flatters the liberal art world to focus on right-wing culture warriors as the driver of regression, it was actually Bill Clinton’s ascent to power in 1992 that was the harbinger of the quietist turn in 1990s cultural discourse. He and the Democratic Leadership Council had made it their mission to represent the Democratic party as pro-business, distancing it from unions and social movements. Toni Morrison may have quipped that Clinton was “the first Black president” in the New Yorker, but during the campaign, Clinton staged his own version of the “culture wars” on Democratic party terrain, deliberately baiting Jesse Jackson into a battle over rapper Sister Souljah and making a big show of condemning “anti-white” rhetoric to prove that he was the safe hand for mainstream (read: white, pro-business, and business-as-usual) America.

As a parallel, more recent talk of a “vibe shift” in culture following the #Resistance moment coincides with the election of Joe Biden, who literally promised on the campaign trail that, were you to elect him, you wouldn’t have to think about politics too much anymore. “The 2010s were such a politicized decade that I think the desire people have to be less constrained by political considerations makes a lot of sense,” Sean Monahan, whose blog 8Ball touched off the “vibe shift” talk, told New York Magazine.

Claire Govender adds the 20,000th book to "Ben Ben Lying Down with Political Books" by Marta Minujin, Photo: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire.

Claire Govender adds the 20,000th book to “Ben Ben Lying Down with Political Books” by Marta Minujin, Photo: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire.

The Burns Halperin Report shows just how vulnerable to rollback recent advances in representation may be. Permanent collections, they show, are not so deeply affected by the social justice zeitgeist—indeed, they are little affected (although contemporary museums seem to be making solid progress towards gender parity in collecting, at least). As one mechanism for this inertia, the report points to the fact that 60 percent of the objects that enter museum collections come from gifts or bequests; these, in turn, presumably form the basis of exhibition programs. Among other things, the blockage thereby represents the embedded malaise and biases of wealth, and its accumulated power (a point theorist Nizan Shaked also argues in her important treatise from this year, Museums and Wealth).

Researching the 1990s backlash, I found this quote from David Lang, the cofounder of the Bang on a Can festival: “If you’re giving an organization $10,000, you can say, ‘In return to that we expect you to have a social face.’ If you’re cutting them from $10,000 to $1,000, you can’t say, ‘Oh by the way for this $1,000 we’d like you to change your organization.’” Lang was speaking about how arts funding cuts took the wind out of the sails of diversification efforts in the mid-‘90s, but the line could also apply to the contemporary challenge of turning arts institutions around despite the considerable reputational and commercial incentives to do so. Compared to the 1990s, even big museums today are actually much more crisis-ridden, symbolized by the last year of protests and strikes over barely livable conditions for ordinary staff.

Without money behind social justice demands, you are left with fleeting gestures and moralistic browbeating, ultimately preparing the ground for cynicism and backlash.

The United States is much less white than it was in 1990s, meaning there is more of a self-interested business case for institutions to change. But on the other hand, inequality is much worse than in the 1990s. Private wealth has today accumulated much more power and is thus even more arrogantly disconnected from the experiences of ordinary people and convinced of its own rightness. How these two dynamics interact is going to shape what the future of what museums look like. My feeling is that they point to an intensified fragmentation of the arts rather than a return to the ideological status quo.

The long-term movement towards a more diverse country is a fact. Even if you are very cynical, it is not impossible to think that bequest patterns will evolve, with a time lag to account for changing generational sensibilities. Since the huge Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, it does feel as if diverse cultural consumption has been firmly established as a virtue for high-status individuals (whether it is embedded remains to be seen).

The Sex and the City revival 'And Just Like That' has us wondering how the art world will appear? Courtesy of HBO Max.

The Sex and the City revival ‘And Just Like That.’ Courtesy of HBO Max.

Last year’s strange, guilt-ridden Sex in the City reboot, And Just Like That…, had the merit of unintentionally underlining this newly mainstream mindset for premium cable consumers. Erstwhile gallery owner Charlotte proves her good ally status—and relieves the anxiety she and her husband Harry feel at a dinner where they are the only white people—when she explains to her friend’s critical mom that the Black artists her daughter collects are truly investment quality (including “an early Derrick Adams!”)

Still, there is a very real limit to guilting patrons into “Doing Better” on voluntaristic moral grounds. It alienates as many would-be patrons as it moves.

Burns and Halperin write, “At the current rate of change, it may be a simpler task to build entirely new museums and market structures than to create the necessary change within the existing systems.” Melissa Smith has reported on one of the most intriguing developments of the past years: Black artists, experiencing an unprecedented market windfall, are putting funds into building up their own alternative institutions, from Titus Kaphar’s NXTHVN to residencies from Derrick Adams and Mcarthur Binion.

Founder of NXTHVN and artist Titus Kaphar. Photo by John Dennis, courtesy of NXTHVN and Gagosian.

Founder of NXTHVN and artist Titus Kaphar. Photo by John Dennis, courtesy of NXTHVN and Gagosian.

But alternative institution-building is also happening on a much bigger scale—and it is not necessarily progressive. As Georgina Adam writes in her recent book The Rise and Rise of the Private Art Museum, the major trend of the past decade around the world has been stagnation in public museums, and the parallel creation of new personal founder-driven museums (the so-called “ego-seum”), born out of “a distrust of public institutions, and in some cases more problematic aims: self-aggrandizement, hyping the value of their collection, getting better access to desirable art and getting whopping tax breaks.”

Here’s a case study for the limits of the moral appeal to patrons in an age of runaway inequality. Back in 2008, billionaire Eli Broad first backed L.A. MOCA when it needed a bailout, prompting fears, from New York Times critic Roberta Smith, that he would merge “the museum’s exemplary collection of art with his own, more predictable, market-driven one.” That turned out not to be what happened at all. After debates over the museum’s direction, Broad simply withdrew from supporting L.A. MOCA to build his own glitzy Broad Museum across the street—with free admission and Jeff Koonses galore.

Jeff Koons’s tulips sculpture at the Broad. Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images.

The new political demands on culture from one direction are likely to produce new cultural moves that are equally unprecedented in the other. Until very recently, you used to be able to assume that Silicon Valley was a lock for liberals. But the kinds of new tech fortunes that the art industry has been unsuccessfully courting for over a decade—the bulk of new wealth creation, before the recent tech downturn—now seem to be flirting with reaction. In opposition to the Bernie Sanders-style social-democratic wave, Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo, techie libertarianism seems to be mutating into a turbo-charged Nietzschean neo-monarchism, militantly hostile to traditional liberal institutions, creating a new political bloc with the alt-right trolls.

Contemporary cultural backlash may not look like a return to a cozy, oblivious cultural center. It may take its cues more from Elon Musk buying Twitter to “defeat the woke mind virus” or Peter Thiel funding an “anti-woke” downtown film festival out of his pocket change.

When art observers think of backlash in the 1990s, they often think of the 1995 Whitney Biennial. It is often considered a “return to beauty” biennial, where representation snapped back towards the historical norms after the aberration of ‘93. The Guerrilla Girls printed fliers and posters summing up the feeling, declaring ironically, “Traditional Values and Quality Return to the Whitey [sic] Museum.”

A translation of the Guerrilla Girls’ banner. Photo: Courtesy Guerrilla Girls.

But the more relevant example of culture-wars backlash for today possibly came one year later: the 1996 founding of Fox News. Its boss Roger Ailes had served as a media guru to George H.W. Bush in the period of the infamous, race-baiting Willie Horton ad. He officially ejected himself from politics after Bush’s defeat in the 1992 election. And yet, all that reactionary political energy, instead of being neutralized, deflected into the cultural sphere. In Fox News, Ailes masterminded the creation of a free-standing ideological universe, one that openly challenged the idea that you could assume a mainstream “liberal media bias.” We know what its effects have been.

Given this potential shape of backlash and the structural flaws at the heart of the traditional art system, where to look for hope for real progress? I’ll give the last word to Cornell West. In his 1990 essay on “The New Cultural Politics of Difference,” West described the “double bind” of cultural producers within academia and museums, critical of institutions that they were nevertheless materially dependent on.

I think invoking it here is the opposite of nostalgia—it may be even more apt in the 2020s than it was in 1990s:

Without social movement or political pressure from outside these institutions… transformation degenerates into mere accommodation or sheer stagnation, and the role of the “coopted progressive”—no matter how fervent one’s subversive rhetoric—is rendered more difficult. In this sense there can be no artistic breakthrough or social progress without some form of crisis in civilization—a crisis usually generated by organizations or collectivities that convince ordinary people to put their bodies and lives on the line. There is, of course, no guarantee that such pressure will yield the result one wants, but there is a guarantee that the status quo will remain or regress if no pressure is applied at all.

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Her Art Was Once Viewed as “Obscene.” Now Martha Edelheit’s Nudes Are Finally Gaining Acclaim After Decades in Obscurity – artnet News

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I am rooting for Martie Edelheit.

At the age of 91, she’s finally emerging from years of obscurity. Her mind is clear and her body agile enough to enjoy every small step of it all—a bustling opening, a post-opening dinner at the fashionable restaurant Il Buco—while leaning on a cane, or a friend’s arm. Small, fierce, outspoken, Martha Edelheit keeps pushing forward, with new 11-foot paintings and a planned return to New York City, her hometown.

I first encountered Edelheit in the context of another story, which explored the asymmetry of market acclaim for female artists based on the findings of the Burns Halperin Report.

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As I wrote in December: “The overwhelming majority of women, especially women of a certain age, are ghosts as far as auction sales go. The reasons for this vary, from the market’s preference for painting over conceptual and performance art to lack of access to the gallery system to individual choices to slow artistic production during child-rearing years.”

Edelheit came to my attention because she wasn’t listed among more than 2,000 women surveyed in the report. That’s because not a single one of her works has come up for auction since she started making art some 70 years ago. 

Martha Edelheit, Tattooed Lady (1962). Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody via Eric Firestone Gallery © Martha Edelheit / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Martha Edelheit, Tattooed Lady (1962). Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody via Eric Firestone Gallery
© Martha Edelheit / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

But things are changing. This week, Edelheit’s solo show “Naked City: Paintings from 1965-1980” opened at Eric Firestone Gallery in Manhattan, with prices ranging from $20,000 to $500,000. Her 1962 painting, Tattooed Lady, was a recently a star of “New York 1962-1964,” an exhibition at the Jewish Museum exploring the rise of Pop Art. A limited-edition print based on this work and priced at $2,200 just came out on Her Clique, with half of the proceeds benefiting Planned Parenthood and Doctors Without Borders. Next month Edelheit’s early abstract paintings will be part of “Action, Gesture, Paint: Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940-70,” a survey of an overlooked generation of 81 international women artists at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-2248403" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-2248403" src="https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1-1024×487.jpeg" alt="Martha Edelheit, Women in Landscape (1966-68). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.” width=”1024″ height=”487″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1-1024×487.jpeg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1-300×143.jpeg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1-1536×730.jpeg 1536w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1-50×24.jpeg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1.jpeg 1800w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”>

Martha Edelheit, Women in Landscape (1966-68). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

“A lot has happened for her in the past five years,” said Eric Firestone, listing strong sales from her first exhibition in 2017, multiple museum acquisitions, scholarly texts, and upcoming institutional shows.  

Edelheit’s figurative paintings still shock, irk, dazzle. The naked body is there to behold in all its glorious detail— every pubic hair, skin roll, and nipple—on a scale that succeeds in being both monumental and intimate. The models look relaxed as they lounge and recline, enveloped by verdant foliage or sumptuous fabrics. One canvas, Women in Landscape (1966-68), consists of three panels and measures almost 17 feet across.

“She’s taking gestures, poses, compositional framework from the Renaissance and redoing them around these concerns of the body and the self,” said art historian Melissa Rachleff, who included Edelheit in “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965,” at the Grey Art Gallery in New York in 2017. “When you look at her works compositionally, you see Dürer, you see Rubens, you see Botticelli.”

Edelheit said her interest in the naked body has been keen since childhood. She was one of those girls who immediately undressed and dismembered a new doll. “I was looking for genitals,” she said. “But all dolls were neutered.”

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-2248405" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-2248405" src="https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-1024×626.jpeg" alt="Martha Edelheit, David x 2 (1971). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.” width=”1024″ height=”626″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-1024×626.jpeg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-300×184.jpeg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-1536×940.jpeg 1536w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-2048×1253.jpeg 2048w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-50×31.jpeg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-1920×1175.jpeg 1920w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”>

Martha Edelheit, David x 2 (1971). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

Her early works in the 1950s were abstract paintings that owed color sensibility and compositional patchwork to Michael Loew, an American artist who lived on the island of Monhegan in Maine. Edelheit and her first husband, psychoanalyst Henry Edelheit, visited Monhegan in the summers.

“We were sharing a house,” she recalled. “He had a studio on the first floor, and we were on the second floor. There was a balcony, and I would look down and watch him work. And I learned more about painting by watching him work than I learned any from any class. He was what they called back then a Neoplastic painter, a disciple of Mondrian.”

In New York, Edelheit was becoming part of the avant-garde scene, a member of the Tenth Street artist-run space and its offshoot the Reuben Gallery, where she had her first solo show in 1960. She was friends with Susan Sontag, the first person she met as a University of Chicago undergrad, and artists Carolee Schneemann and Rosalyn Drexler. Her male peers included Claes Oldenberg, Lucas Samaras, Jim Dine, Robert Rosenquist, and Allan Kaprow.

Installation view, "Martha Edelheit: Naked City, Paintings from 1965-1980" at Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

Installation view, “Martha Edelheit: Naked City, Paintings from 1965-1980” at Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

“As she befriended artists who were engaged in performance and happenings, those exchanges opened up a space of possibility for her to consider the body,” Rachleff said.

Despite her active exhibition history, Edelheit sold very little art and was rarely reviewed while “the boys all got galleries and moved uptown and into the museums,” she said.

It didn’t occur to her that this had something to do with gender because she didn’t see herself as a female artist—she simply thought of herself as an artist.

The feminist movement opened her eyes to gender discrimination. Initially reluctant to join it—she was “dragged in kicking and screaming,” she said—she became an active member.

“I was forced into it because of what was happening with women artists,” she said. “Not just me, but all the women artists I knew.”

The overt sexuality of her artworks—later dubbed “radical eroticism” by art historian Rachel Middleman—was also a complication.

In 1966, a New York Times critic spent more than two hours at her exhibition at Byron Gallery uptown only to inform the gallery owner that he “can’t review that obscene woman,” she recalled. “Charles Byron had a show in his office of a guy who did postcard-size landscapes. So, he did a review of that.”

An event that had a profound impact on Edelheit’s life and art took place in 1957, when her younger brother, Robert Ross, suffered a horrific motorcycle accident while on vacation in Sweden. He spent months in a coma and years in rehabilitation. A Korean War veteran, he was treated in U.S. military hospitals that were filled with crippled servicemen. What she saw there while looking after him found its way into her works on paper from the early 1960s.

Her “Children’s Games” series of ink drawings are filled with headless, limbless figures doing horrible things to themselves and each other. Masked amputees appear in her ink-and-watercolor works like Bird House With Baby (1962) and Dream of the Tattoo Lady (1961). The chains and masks in these works are suggestive of sadomasochism.

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-2248411" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-2248411" src="https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-1024×583.jpeg" alt="Martha Edelheit, Self Portrait with Tools (1975). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.” width=”1024″ height=”583″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-1024×583.jpeg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-300×171.jpeg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-1536×874.jpeg 1536w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-2048×1166.jpeg 2048w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-50×28.jpeg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-1920×1093.jpeg 1920w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”>

Martha Edelheit, Self Portrait With Tools (1975). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

“I wasn’t thinking about S&M,” Edelheit said, explaining instead that “masks were a way of not having to show the emotions of the figures represented.”

The circus, which she loved as a child, was another frequent theme.

“Back then, before you walked into the circus, there was what they called the freak shows,” she remembered. “That’s where you’d see the world’s tallest man, the world’s fattest woman, a two-headed dog or a two-headed cow.”

That’s where she also first saw tattooed people.

“I was hypnotized by them,” she said. “The idea of painting your body, of marking your body forever was really a powerful image for me.”

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-2248417" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-2248417" src="https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-853×1024.jpeg" alt="Martha Edelheit, Boating Central Park (1973). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.” width=”853″ height=”1024″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-853×1024.jpeg 853w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-250×300.jpeg 250w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-1279×1536.jpeg 1279w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-1706×2048.jpeg 1706w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-42×50.jpeg 42w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-1599×1920.jpeg 1599w” sizes=”(max-width: 853px) 100vw, 853px”>

Martha Edelheit, Boating Central Park (1973). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

She began exploring tattoos in earnest in 1962 with a series of “Tattoo Paintings.” She painted tattoos on mannequin hands, arms, and legs as well as in her “Back Paintings” of 1972 to 1975. Several of these works are now on view at Eric Firestone Gallery.  

Tattoos were not just a decorative trope, according to Jennifer Samet, who works closely with Edelheit and organized both of her shows at the gallery.

“The paintings become this arena in which she can depict not only their bodies, but their ideas and dreams,” Samet said. “She used imagined tattoos as a way to tell those dreams.”

Edelheit spent the past 30 years in Sweden, where she moved after her first husband died and she remarried. She met her second husband, Sam Nilsson, years earlier, after her brother’s accident. A budding journalist, he would go on to become the head of Swedish public broadcasting and a prominent figure in the media and culture circles. Edelheit unexpectedly found herself in a new role, attending Nobel Prize galas and having dinners with the country’s king and queen.

“It’s like someone handed me a movie script,” she said. “All of a sudden I had a closet full of evening gowns.”  

Her art had to adjust as well. She settled in a remote area on an island, with the nearest bus stop seven kilometers away. This wasn’t the kind of place where she could ask a neighbor to strip and model for her.

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-2248413" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-2248413" src="https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob-1024×757.jpeg" alt="Martha Edelheit, Seals, Central Park Zoo (1970-71). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.” width=”1024″ height=”757″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob-1024×757.jpeg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob-300×222.jpeg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob-1536×1136.jpeg 1536w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob-50×37.jpeg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob.jpeg 1786w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”>

Martha Edelheit, Seals, Central Park Zoo (1970-71). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

“I think it was Rubens who said, ‘I paint what’s in front of my nose,’” she said. “And I looked out the window and what was in front of my nose was sheep. So, I did. I’ve been working with sheep and landscape for the last umpteen years.”

She used materials she found in her environment, making canvases out of chicken wire and papier-mâché and creating a lot of wire sculptures of sheep.

Now another change is looming. Following Nilsson’s death in 2020, Edelheit wants to return to New York. She spent several months in the city coinciding with her exhibitions at the Jewish Museum and Eric Firestone.

The stay brought back the memories of all the people who used to be part of her life, the models who became her friends, the 5,000-square-foot studio at the Hotel Wales on Madison Avenue and East 92nd Street (where she paid $125 a month in rent).

Once again seeing the paintings she created in that studio has been intense.

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What to do in Burnaby in February: Art exhibition at gallery – Burnaby Now

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A new exhibition at Burnaby Art Gallery is weaving conversations of beauty, race and colonialism between fine tendrils of gold and hair.

The exhibit, Ornament and Instrument, showcases the intricate and meticulous work of Vancouver-based multidisciplinary artist Karin Jones.

Jones, who was nominated last year for the prestigious Sobey Art Award for emerging Canadian artists, studies how historical narratives shape identities.

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Her installation piece Worn, commissioned by the Royal Ontario Museum, features prominently: a bustled Victorian mourning dress created using braided hair extensions, surrounded by cotton bolls scattered on the floor below – some stuffed with Jones’ hair.

Her artist statement explains the mourning dress symbolizes sadness, “high culture,” the British Empire and the constraints of feminine beauty norms.

The piece “underlines African hairstyles as a craft as refined as any decorative art produced in Europe; it alludes to the invisible labour of the thousands of Africans who contributed to the wealth of the British Empire,” states Jones.

Jones has also created a new iteration of the work Freed, using an early 20th-century dress from the Burnaby Village Museum’s collection.

Jones’ expertise in jewelry and goldsmithing comes into sharp relief through “Damascene inlay work on objects such as farm tools,” as she explores the intersections of beauty and race.

The exhibition’s opening reception will be Thursday, Feb. 2 from 7 to 9 p.m.

The gallery’s opening hours are Tuesday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and weekends between noon and 5 p.m.

Ornament and Instrument: Art Show in Burnaby

When: Feb. 2 to April 16
Where: Burnaby Art Gallery (6344 Deer Lake Ave.)
Cost: $5 suggested donation

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PROFILE: Christine Hager a behind-the-scenes pillar of local art

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Behind every local art event and program are those who make it all happen, and one person who works hard to make Orillia’s arts community thrive is Christine Hager.

Since moving to Orillia more than 20 years ago, Hager has found herself involved in a variety of non-profit organizations in the city.

She has volunteered full-time at Couchiching Jubilee House, served as executive director of the Sharing Place Food Centre and, for the past eight years, has worked as secretary for the Orillia and District Arts Council (ODAC).

One might think Hager, given her resumé, has had a lifelong passion for non-profit work and the arts, but her involvement in Orillia’s creative scene stems from a background in business, and her artistic career is limited to her hobby of sketching horses while growing up.

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“I am not an artist. I do not paint or sculpt anything … but I love art,” she told OrilliaMatters. “It’s part of your soul. Everything around you is art. People just need to open up their eyes and recognize that.”

Originally from Sudbury, the soon-to-be-70-year-old Hager comes from a background in inside sales. She spent much of her career working for mining companies.

She said her current path began through making connections with others.

“You get tapped on the shoulder by somebody, you go for coffee, people ask you something,” she said. “I moved down here around 2002, and that’s when I kind of fell into doing not-for-profit work.”

Her background in business and sales has helped Orillia’s arts scene grow. Most arts programs and events in the city need funding, after all, and that’s where Hager shines.

She recently stepped down from her position as secretary to take a role in revenue development for ODAC.

“That’s what we need right now. We need the stability to be sustainable. We can’t depend on grants. You have to have a diversified revenue stream,” she said. “I’m the best one to do that because I have the most contacts.”

Her transition to non-profit work happened smoothly, and it continues to bring her great satisfaction.

“It’s given me that sense of satisfaction that, when I tell someone I can understand how (they’re) feeling, it’s because I’ve been there, and I can empathize with what they’re going through,” she said. “One of my favourite things at the food bank was until you walk a mile in somebody’s shoes, you have no right to criticize them.

“It’s always teaching and educating the public. That’s all these positions have always been. The public needs to know the reality of not-for-profits and vulnerable people, homeless people, and hungry people — and the arts people, too. They are trying to make a living as well.”

When Hager joined ODAC in 2014, “the board was very thin,” she said, but the organization now boasts an array of opportunities for local artists, thanks to the work of Hager and others.

ODAC hosts numerous art exhibitions for members, local and county art projects, public events, and more, on top of advocating for its members and other local artists.

One new program rolled out through ODAC is its Helping Elders with Arts (HeARTS) program, which provides seniors with the chance to learn a variety of art styles, art history, and enjoy physical activity on a regular basis.

With all her work helping the local arts scene thrive, Hager — who said she enjoys Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles — does not take much downtime for herself.

She also volunteers with St. James’ Anglican Church through its Sunday breakfast program, social justice committee, and community garden.

While she hopes to eventually take a bit of a step back from her responsibilities, Hager said she loves connecting with people.

“It’s nice meeting people. I love meeting people and developing the network that I have,” she said. “That’s been one of my big things: just getting to know people, building relationships, and then finding opportunities.”

Looking to the future, she hopes to see ODAC gain a full-time staff member and become a true “umbrella” organization that provides opportunities and advocacy for all local artists.

More about ODAC can be found here.

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