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Life on Mars: Nancy Graves and Mary Beth Edelson

Degree Critical - Art Review - March 29, 2019

In 1974, the United States fissured metaphorically, divided in so many ways by an onslaught of political and cultural crises coming to a head. As troops withdrew from Vietnam, Americans were only beginning to reckon with the war’s failure, not to mention so much of the needless devastation the mission had wrought. Public exposé of the Watergate scandal was in full swing; 1974 would see the unprecedented resignation of a sitting U.S. president. The Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements were unraveling social paradigms that had held sway for generations. Five years before, in 1969, the pictures and video of Buzz Aldrin’s and Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk had briefly united the nation in a sense of wonder—that even amidst riots and war and assassinations, humanity was capable of such an awe-inspiring feat. It reminded people that the questions of how and where we—both as individuals and as a nation—fit within the universe were questions that have been repeatedly asked and answered in countless ways. Humanity continually tries to reconcile its veritable smallness within the cosmos with its self-perceived importance in the material world. And in that interim between a moonwalk and a mass betrayal by government of its citizens, two artists completely independent of each other looked to cosmology. With very different approaches they began important bodies of their work, which attempted to make sense of their current moment and what it might mean in the greater schema. In New York, these bodies of work are now on view in “Nancy Graves: Mapping” at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, and “Shape Shifter,” a solo exhibition of work by Mary Beth Edelson at David Lewis Gallery. With Graves taking a scientific approach while Edelson a more spiritual path, the exhibitions show two women grappling with these ponderous questions at a critical historical moment.


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