Writing in Artworld Salon, Catherine Spaeth reflects on political nostalgia and Nancy Spero’s legacy:
“Nancy Spero’s death the Sunday before last invites reflection upon what it means for an artist to be politically engaged at this time. Today the New York artworld appears to be more at home with the post-feminism of Lisa Yuskavage, Marylin Minter and Vanessa Beecroft. It may well be that, above all, it is Nancy Spero’s importance in the history of political engagement and feminism for which she will be remembered.”
Read the full piece here.
Late yesterday word that artist Nancy Spero had passed away at the age of 83 began circulating on Internet art blogs. Today, there is praise from around the country for Spero’s artistic contributions and her role as an outspoken feminist and critic of war, violence, and injustice. Here’s a brief sampling of some of the earliest press coverage:
“…Although Spero received relatively little art world attention during the early part of her career, she gained visibility in the 1980s and ’90s as socially concerned art came into favor. By this time her work had gained in formal complexity and variety, with its weavings of image and text, its time-consuming techniques of painting, cutting, and stamping, and its adaptation of aspects of Pop, Minimalism, and Color Field painting, styles she had previously distanced herself from.
Kiki Smith, one of the many younger artists influenced by Spero, once said in an interview: “When I first saw Nancy Spero’s work, I thought, ‘You are going to get killed making things like that; it’s too vulnerable. You’ll just be dismissed immediately.’”
Spero herself, who experienced both being dismissed and celebrated, said simply of her work, “I am speaking of equality, and about a certain kind of power of movement in the world, and yet I am not offering any systematic solutions.”
“Nancy Spero’s death on Sunday took a great artistic conscience from the world. The last time I visited her in the LaGuardia Place studio she shared with her partner Leon Golub – Leon died in 2004 – she looked frail but indomitable, though surrounded by a galaxy of medications, and getting about only with extreme difficulty. Cursed with arthritis, over the years she had developed strategies to make her art, getting studio assistants to cut and stamp out the stencils she made, printing them on paper, on walls, and even as a maypole of severed heads. This last was one of the most memorable works at the 2007 Venice Biennale, greeting viewers as they entered the Italian pavilion where the keynote show was held. Spero said the work, Maypole/Take No Prisoners, was “all about victimage”, though its grotesque aspect was leavened by her wit.”
“More than her art, though, Spero’s legacy will be defined by her leadership in New York’s feminist art movement, both as a member of several radical groups of artists and activists in the 60s and 70s, and especially as the founder of A.I.R. Gallery, which still operates in Dumbo.”
Phoebe Hoban for ARTnews: In Memoriam: Nancy Spero (posted online today in lieu of an obituary; an excellent profile of Spero from a couple of years ago):
“It’s difficult to think of the slight, spritelike Spero as a grande dame of the art world. But apart from Louise Bourgeois, few living female artists have carved out a similarly singular niche. Both are trenchant woman warriors who have invented powerful pictorial vocabularies that are simultaneously idiosyncratic and universal. If Bourgeois is Spider Woman, a provocative weaver of monumental webs, Spero is the High Priestess of Hieroglyphics whose lifework is the visual equivalent of an epic poem. Bourgeois has mostly made her mark with objects that forcefully occupy space, but Spero has chosen a more ephemeral path, often using mere paper to create mythic scrolls, collages, and “Maypoles,” that explore her ongoing quest, the eternal feminine.”
From Edward Winkleman we learn the very sad news that artist Nancy Spero has passed away at the age of 83. Spero earned a B.F.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1949, and lived in Chicago with her husband, the painter Leon Golub in the early 1950s (where both were associated with the Monster Ronster group of Chicago artists, which also included Don Baum and H.C. Westermann) before moving to Paris to study painting. An interview with Spero conducted by Art21 can be found here. May she rest in peace.