Nancy Spero  (American, 1926-2009) 

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Nancy Spero (American, 1926–2009) was a Figurative artist and feminist who expressed her dissatisfaction with racism, violence, and sexism through her artworks. Spero was born in Cleveland, OH, but grew up in Chicago, IL. She studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she met her furture, Leon Golub, a young World War II G.I. who was also a painter. After receiving her BA in Fine Arts, Spero continued to study painting at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts in Paris, where she met the Cubist painter André Lhote (French, 1885–1962). He became her teacher and critic.

In 1950, Spero returned to the United States, married Golub, and settled in Chicago. The Vietnam War and pervasive exploitation of human rights apparently affected Spero's work. From 1966 to 1970, she created her War Series, a group of gouache paintings, collages, and ink paintings done on paper. The series included Male Bomb and Female Bomb (1966) and Kill Commies/Maypole (1967). In 1971, Spero developed her signature scroll paintings known as Codex Artaud, a series that merged images and text. In these paintings, she directly quoted the work of French playwright Antonin Artaud, whose mockery of human folly reflected her condemnation of a sexist world. By this time, Spero was already an active member of the Art Workers Coalition.

In 1972, she helped found A.I.R or Artists in Residence, the first all-women cooperative gallery in SoHo. Her unapologetic feminism showed more on the scroll paintings Torture in Chile (1974) and Torture of Women (1976), both of which depict the historical oppression of women. From 1976 to 1979, she worked on Notes in Time on Women, a 20-inch by 210-foot paper scroll depicting women in bodily hieroglyphics from prehistoric times to the present. This was followed by The First Language (1979–1981), a 20-inch by190-foot paper scroll.

In later years, Spero illustrated women more as heroic free agents than fragile victims. In the early years of her career, she received little attention from the art world, but in the late 1980s, she received international status in the United States and United Kingdom as a preeminent feminist and Figurative painter. She transformed her scroll paintings into wall murals, and, in 1988, she developed her first wall installations. Throughout the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Spero gained visibility because of her adaptation of Minimalism, Pop, and Color Field paintings. She held her first solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, in 1988, and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1992. Spero and her husband often exhibited two-person shows.

Spero settled and worked in New York until her death from heart failure in October of 2009. Her works have been exhibited in the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the MIT List Visual Arts Center, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

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Nancy Spero, War, Birds of Prey

 

Nancy Spero
War, Birds of Prey
1966

Galerie Lelong - New York
Nancy Spero, Male Bomb

 

Nancy Spero
Male Bomb
1966

Galerie Lelong - New York
Nancy Spero, Bomb, Canopic Jar, Victims

 

Nancy Spero
Bomb, Canopic Jar, Victims
1967

Galerie Lelong - Paris
Nancy Spero, Picasso and Frederick's of Hollywood

 

Nancy Spero
Picasso and Frederick's of Hollywood
1990

Galerie Lelong - New York
Nancy Spero, The Underworld

 

Nancy Spero
The Underworld
1997

Galerie Lelong - New York
Nancy Spero, Peace

 

Nancy Spero
Peace
1968

Galerie Lelong - New York
Nancy Spero, Maypole: Take No Prisoners

 

Nancy Spero
Maypole: Take No Prisoners
2007

Galerie Lelong - New York
Nancy Spero, Hanging Totem II

 

Nancy Spero
Hanging Totem II
1986

Anthony Reynolds Gallery
Nancy Spero, Untitled

 

Nancy Spero
Untitled
1986

Anthony Reynolds Gallery
Past auction results (64)  View All
Nancy Spero, Le Couple

 

Nancy Spero
Le Couple
oil on canvas

 

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Nancy Spero, Fleeing Woman/Irradiated

 

Nancy Spero
Fleeing Woman/Irradiated, 1985
gouache, screenprint, paper collage, pencil and adhesive on paper

 

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Nancy Spero, Chorus line

 

Nancy Spero
Chorus line
hand printed collage on paper

 

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1926   Born in Cleveland, OH
1944 - 1945   University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
1945 - 1949   Bachelor of Fine Arts, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
1949 - 1950   Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France
1951   Marries Leon Golub, New York, NY
1971   Founding member of the A.I.R. Gallery, New York, NY
1976 - 1977   CAPS Fellowship, New York State Council on the Arts, New York, NY
1977 - 1978   National Endowment for the Arts Grant
1991   Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
1995   Skowhegan Medal for Works on Paper
1996   Hiroshima Art Prize, Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art and Hiroshima City, Japan
The 1996 Printmaker Emerita Award, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV
1997   Cityarts, New York, 29th annual award (jointly with Leon Golub)
2001   Artists Space, 2001 Spring Benefit Honoree
2008   Women’s Art: Women’s Vision Honoree, National Women's History Project
2009   Died in New York
2010 - 2011   Exposition au Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
  Lived and worked in New York, NY
2011   “Nancy Spero: Works from the 1980s,” Barbara Gross Galerie, Munich, Germany (solo)
2011   “Abstract Expressionism and its Discontents,” Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2011   “Heroínas,” Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Fundación Caja Madrid, Spain
2010   “Woman in Motion,” Galerie Lelong, Paris, France (solo)
2010   “Nancy Spero,” Musée National d'art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France. Traveled through 2011 to Serpentine Gallery, London, England (solo)
2010   “Love in Vein: Editions Fawbush projects and artists 2005–2010,” Gering & Lopez Gallery, New York, New York
2010   “Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism,” The Jewish Museum, New York, New York
2010   “Bearing Witness: Works from the Collection,” Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver B.C., Canada
2010   “Signs of Life: Ancient Knowledge in Contemporary Art,” Kunstmuseum Luzern Museum of Art Lucerne, Lucern, Switzerland
2010   “Babel,” FRAC Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand, France
2010   “Signs of Life: Ancient Knowledge in Contemporary Art,” Kunstmuseum Luzern, Luzern Germany
“Diabolique,” Galerie de L’UQAM, Université du Québec à Montréal, Quebec, Canada
“The Visible Vagina,” David Nolan Gallery, New York, New York
“Face History,” Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London, England
2010   “Breathless Days 1959 – 1960: A Chronotropic Experiment,” Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
2010   “Ni Una Mas (Not One More): The Juarez Murders,” The Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2009   Back to Earth: Revisiting Magiciens de la Terre,” Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
"And Other Essays," Center for Curatorial Studies and Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
“Kiki Smith, Nancy Spero, Nalini Malani,” Galeria Estiarte, Madrid, Spain
“The Sacred Feminine: Prehistory to Post Modernity,” Museum of Art and Archeology, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri
“Diabolique,” Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, Canada
"elles@centrepompidou: Women Artists in the Collections of the National Modern Art Museum," Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
“Lest We Forget: The Voice of Art,” Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, North Carolina
“Time as Matter. MACBA Collection. New Acquisitions,” Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
“Blue,” Studio Stefania Miscetti, Rome, Italy (solo)
The Woman as Protagonist, Herbert-Boeckl-Preis 2009 for International Painting, Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria
“Unbuilt Roads,”e-flux project space, New York, NY
“Un Coup de Dent,” Galerie Lelong, New York, NY (solo)
“What’s the Word: Words and Symbols from the Lyman Allyn Art Museum,” Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, CT
2008   Spero Speaks, de Appel Arts Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (solo)
Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London, UK (solo)
“Nancy Spero,” Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London, UK (solo)
“Dissidances,” Museu d`Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), Barcelona, Spain; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville, Spain (solo)
“Reflections,” Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL
“Close Encounters: Facing the Future,” American University Museum, Washington D.C.
“Women of a Certain Age and Beyond,” Gallery of Contemporary Art, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT
"Unmonumental Picture,” The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY
2007   Multiplex: Directions in Art, 1970 to Now, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Unmonumental: The Object In The 21st Century, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, Inaugural exhibition, New York, NY
27th Biennial of Graphic Arts, Centre of Graphic Arts, Lubljana, Slovenia
“WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” Geffen Center, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, New York, NY
“Think with the Senses – Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense,” 52nd International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
“New Hangings of the Modern Collection,” Musée National d'art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
“Nancy Spero: The Paris Black Paintings,” Galerie Lelong, Paris, France
2006   "Twice Drawn,” Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, NY
“Nancy Spero,” Francosoffiantino Artecontemporanea, Torino, Italy
“femme brut(e),” Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, CT
“Couples Discourse,” Palmer Museum of Art, University Park, PA
2005   “Toward the Future: Through the Eyes of the Artists Awarded the Hiroshima Art Prize,” Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima, Japan
“Cri du Coeur,” Galerie Lelong, New York, NY
“Tattoo,” Overtones, Los Angeles, CA
“Along the Way: MTA Arts For Transit, Celebrating 20 Years of Public Art”, UBS Gallery, New York, NY
“Persistent Vestiges: Drawing from the American-Vietnam War", Drawing Center, New York, NY
2004   The War Series, Galerie Lelong, Paris, France
“Esprit,” Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris, France
“Weighing the Heart Against a Feather of Truth,” Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
2003   The War Series, Galerie Lelong, New York, NY
Other Worlds, with Kiki Smith, Baltic Mill Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK
2002   Nancy Spero: A Continuous Present, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Kiel, Germany (solo)
“Azur,” Galerie Lelong, New York, NY
2001   Barbara Gross Galerie, Munich, Germany
“Codex Artaud,” University of Massachusetts, MA
Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
"Open Ends: Contemporary Art from 1960 - 2001", The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
2000   "Kwangju Biennale 2000", Art and Human Rights Section, South Korea
"The Perpetual Well: Contemporary Art from the Collection of the Jewish Museum", Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
"The American Century, Art and Culture, Part II 1950-2000", The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
1998   "Matrix/Berkeley: 20 Years", The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, CA
"Nancy Spero", Crown Gallery, Brussels, Belgium (solo)
"Black and the Red III", Galerie Montenay-Giroux, Paris, France
"Nancy Spero NEUE ARBEITEN", Barbara Gross Galerie, Munich, Germany
"Nancy Spero", IKON Gallery Birmingham, UK (solo)
Leon Golub/Nancy Spero, Museo Jacobo Borges Carcas, Venezuela
Contemporary Art: The Janet Wolfson de Botton Gift, Tate Gallery, London, UK
Matrix/Berkeley: 20 Years, The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, CA
Nancy Spero NEUE ARBEITEN, Barbara Gross Galerie, Munich, Germany
1997   Documenta X, Kassel, Germany
"Art in Chicago 1945-1995", Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Figured, Associated Americain Artists, New York, NY
Partners in Printmaking: Works from SOLO Impression, The National Museum of Women in the Arts Washington, DC
4 Decades, PPOW, New York, NY
A Game of Chance, Printworks Gallery, Chicago, IL
1996   "Deformations: Aspects of the Modern Grotesque", The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
"Leon Golub • Nancy Spero - Contemporaries", The Elaine L. Jacob Gallery, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
1995   After Hiroshima, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan
1993   "Torture of Women, The First Language' & 'The Hours of the Night", National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa, Canada
1992   "Codex Artaud", Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1991   "Works on Paper 1981-1991", Salzburger Kunstverein, Künstlerhaus Salzburg, Austria
Josh Baer Gallery, New York, NY
  Selected Public Collections:
  Allen Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Tate Gallery, London, UK
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
2004    NANCY SPERO: Weighing the Heart Against a Feather of Truth. Spain: Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, 2004
1998    Sosa, Ana Teresa. Nancy Spero/Leon Golub. Caracas, Venezuela: Museo Jacobo Borges, 1998 (catalogue)
   Nancy Spero: The Work, Christopher Lyon, Editions Prestel