Nancy Spero: Towards Liberation

Read a review of this exhibition in Style Weekly here.

September 6-December 9, 2013
Opening Friday, September 6, 5-7 pm

Nancy Spero’s groundbreaking career as an artist and anti-war activist spanned more than fifty years. This exhibition features over two dozen rarely seen collages from the 1980s and 90s that reveal Spero’s innovative approach to printmaking in scroll-like expanses of paper, as well as her lifelong engagement with contemporary political, social, and cultural issues. When an earlier version of the exhibition appeared at New York’s Galerie Lelong in January, it constituted the first solo presentation of her work in the U.S. since her death in 2009.

Spero decided to make women the sole subject of her artwork from 1976 onwards, drawing from different cultures, histories, and mythologies to create a heterodox pantheon of female archetypes. By transferring her images to zinc plates and hand-printing them, she was able to shuffle and recompose her figures in countless variations. This also allowed her to expand the expressiveness of a single figure, its changing appearance due to shifts in color, tone, density, and placement as she printed and reprinted it. In Vietnamese Women, for example, Spero transformed a single image taken from a photograph of a war survivor into a veritable cadre of figures intently striding across the 14-foot length of the composition. Eventually, she amassed over 400 characters in her “stock company,” many of whom populate the works in this exhibition.

During the period addressed here, Spero continued to pay special attention to women as victims of war, furthering the investigation she began so powerfully in her War Series (1966-1970). In one group of works, she unflinchingly probes the torments resulting from oppressive regimes in Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and South Africa. Spero’s work from the 1990s, however, acquires a greater sense of agency and optimism as she removed her figures from historical contexts of suffering and subordination, transforming them into resilient, celebratory protagonists through color, rhythm, and humor. Writing in Art in America, David Markus observes, “The exhibition celebrate[s] women as emblems of strength and self-sufficiency even as it expose[s] a narrative of subjection that is no less relevant this century than it was in the last.”

About the artist

Spero’s best known works include her politically-charged War Series and Artaud Paintings of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and such extensive scroll works as the Codex Artaud (1971-1972) and Notes in Time on Women (1979). Her installation Maypole/Take No Prisoners was featured in the Venice Biennale in 2007, and her last monumental scroll work Cri du Coeur was shown in the 2010 Bienal of Sao Paolo. Spero was also represented in the Gwangju Biennale (2000), Whitney Biennial (1993), and Documenta X (1997). Major monographic exhibitions of her work have been presented by the Museo d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, Santiago de Compostela, Spain; de Appel Arts Centre, Amsterdam; Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Germany; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Spero’s most recent retrospective was organized in 2010 by the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; the following year, it traveled to the Serpentine Gallery in London.

Special thanks to Mary Sabbatino and the staff of Galerie Lelong for their generous assistance.