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Guide to the Martha Wilson Papers, 1950-2019 (bulk 1964-2006) MSS.175

Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 998-2596

Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Lydia Brawner (2011); Finding aid completed by Rachel Greer (2012).

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on February 07, 2020
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Updated by Rachel Searcy to reflect the incorporation of 2017 accretion Updated by Jasmine Larkin to include materials from accession numbers 2010.175, 2011.175, 2013.175.001, 2013.175.002, and 2015.175. In addition, the finding aid was edited for compliance with DACS and ACM Required Elements for Archival Description. Updated by Anna McCormick to include bibliographic materials formerly separated from the collection. Updated by Rachel Searcy to reflect 2020 accretion  , April 2017 , May 2018 , August 2019 , February 2020

Biographical Note

Martha Wilson is an artist and the Founding Director of Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc., a multifaceted arts organization active from 1976 to the present. Born in Philadelphia in 1947, Wilson attended The George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania and graduated from Ohio's Wilmington College in 1969. She attended graduate school at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia where she received her M.A. in English Literature in 1971. She completed one year of doctoral studies at Dalhousie (leaving after a dispute with her dissertation advisor) and taught English at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NASCAD) from 1972-1974. Wilson began her work as a performance and conceptual artist in Nova Scotia and found early recognition when her piece "Breast Forms Permutated" (1974) was included in Lucy Lippard's show of conceptual art by women, c. 7500, at the California Institute of the Arts.

Wilson moved to New York City in 1974 and performed at venues such as The Kitchen, The Whitney, Hallwalls (Buffalo), and P.S. 1. In 1976 Wilson founded Franklin Furnace in her loft on Franklin Street in TriBeCA as a space for the display of artists' books. In 1978 Wilson joined DisBAND, an all-female conceptual band with artists Ilona Granet, Donna Henes, Ingrid Sischy, and Diane Torr (at various times also including Barbara Ess, Daile Kaplan, and Barbara Kruger.) During this time Franklin Furnace was developing not only as a place for artists' books, but for temporary installation art and performance art, eventually presenting artists such as Ida Applebroog, Eric Bogosian, David Cale, Patty Chang, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Ann Hamilton, Murray Hill, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Liza Lou, Robbie McCauley, William Pope.L, Paul Zaloom, and three of the so-named NEA 4: Karen Finley, Holly Hughes, and John Fleck. The Furnace's performance space was closed in 1990 after a citation for being an "illegal social club" leading to its first season  "in exile" at Judson Memorial Church. In 1993 Franklin Furnace's collection of artists' books from 1960 on, at the time the largest such collection in the world, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. In 1997 The Furnace sold its loft space in TriBeCa and became a  "virtual institution" existing primarily on the Internet.

In her own art work Wilson is known for her satirical portrayals of Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Tipper Gore. Wilson received National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in Performance Art in 1978 and 1983, the Skowhegan School Governor's Award for Service to the Arts in 1991, an Obie Award in 1992 for "commitment to artists' freedom of expression" and a Bessie for  "commitment to artists' freedom of expression" in 1992. In 2001 Wilson received a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship in Performance Art. More recently her work has been seen at venues such as White Columns in New York (  "Gloria: Another Look at Feminist Art in the 1970s," 2002) and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (2007  "WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution" ).


Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance: Live Art, 1909 to the Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1979.

Jones, Amelia, editor. Sexual Politics: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party in Feminist Art History. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996.

Lippard, Lucy R. The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Feminist Essays on Art. New York: The New Press, 1995.

Reckitt, Helena and Peggy Phelan. Art and Feminism: Themes and Movements. London: Phaidon Press, 2001.

Rosen, Randy, and Catherine C. Brawer. Making Their Mark: Women Artists Move into the Mainstream, 1970-1985. New York: Abbeville Press, 1989.

Stiles, Kristine and Peter Selz, eds. Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Wark, Jayne, "Martha Wilson: Not Taking It at Face Value," Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture and Media Studies. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001.

---"Conceptual Art and Feminism: Martha Rosler, Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, and Martha Wilson": Woman's Art Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1 Spring - Summer, 2001.