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Nancy Spero 'Works of the 1980s'    Jan 27 - Mar 26, 2011

To the Revolution
Nancy Spero
To the Revolution, 1981
El Salvador
Nancy Spero
El Salvador, 1984-1985
Female Symbols
Nancy Spero
Female Symbols, 1981
Gestures III
Nancy Spero
Gestures III, 1983
Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen - Oskar Kokoschka 1911
Nancy Spero
Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen - Oskar Kokoschka 1911, 1979
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Works of the 1980s

Opening reception with Christopher Lyon, author of Nancy Spero: The Work, Prestel 2010
Thursday, 27 January 2011, 7 - 9 p.m.

Our exhibition features significant works from the 1980s by Nancy Spero which occupy a central position within the artist’s oeuvre. Through them, Spero discovered the path to her inimitable figurative vocabulary. She replaced the close correlation between text and image — primarily characterized by the 1970s period — with expressive female figures, the sole bearers of meaning. They function as hieroglyphs, into which all ideas are inscribed.

Thanks to the socio-cultural changes in the 1980s, Spero’s determinedly feminist engagement was finally acknowledged. She was finally recognized as an artist. To the Revolution (1981) is an impressive attestation of a new understanding of the self. Framed by images of pagan fertility symbols, a procession of nude dancers gambols weightlessly across the long panel. Spero takes female figures from the treasure trove of pictorial history and makes them her own, reconfigures them, emphasizing qualities and essential features, creating her own universe of female protagonists. In allusions to antique temple friezes and Egyptian papyrus scrolls, figures are lined up either horizontally or vertically, as is the case with Female Symbols (1981) and Gestures (1983), which follows the order of Indian totem poles.

The image of the woman as victim threads throughout Spero’s body of work, and is an expression of her constant political activity. El Salvador (1984), her reaction to the American intervention in Central America, turns figures of fleeing women into an image that creates profound compassion for their suffering. The elementary prototype of the victim appears for the first time in the gouaches from the War Series, dating from the 1960s, and here, it is used again as a stamp.

In the 1980s Spero optimized her method of making prints by hand. Her own drawings, and other visual material she acquired — some of which was retouched and reworked — were turned into masters for prints and stamps. A cornucopia of distinctive motifs was the result. Diverse color palettes, combined with cut-out, gouache collages, enhance the many facets and expressiveness of the figure, which always appears in front of an open background. Artistically, this style culminated in the four-part work, Sky Goddess (1985). In six panels, Spero renders homage to the beauty, power, and strength of woman — triumphant, floating, and in harmony with her own body.

At the moment, one year after her death, the Centre Pompidou in Paris is honoring Spero with an in-depth retrospective. At the same time, Prestel is publishing Christopher Lyon’s extensive monograph, Nancy Spero: The Work, an eloquent, sensitive introduction to the complexity of Spero’s art.

Nancy Spero, born 1926 in Cleveland, Ohio, died 2009 in New York. Upon the gallery’s recommendation, Spero’s work was first shown in Europe at the Villa Stuck Museum in Munich in 1986. Followed by solo shows with catalogues at institutions such as the ICA, London (1987), the Haus am Waldsee, Berlin (1990), the Glyptothek, Munich (1991), the Ulmer Museum (1992), the Kunsthalle Kiel (2000), De Apple Art Center, Amsterdam (2008), MACBA, Barcelona and the Reina Sofia, Madrid (2008/2009), the Centre Pompidou, Paris and Serpentine Gallery, London (2010/2011).

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