Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Obituaries of Note: Nancy Spero

Nancy Spero, an artist whose political and moral conscience had a lasting and profound effect on the art world, died at age 83 on Sunday, October 18, 2009.

memorial art death ritual
Detail and full view of Azur -2, 2003
feminism art obituaryHere is an excerpt from her NY Times obituary by Holland Cotter:

Born in Cleveland in 1926, Ms. Spero studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and there met her husband, the painter Leon Golub, to whom she was married for 53 years until his death, in 2004.

The couple moved to Paris in 1959, where Ms. Spero steeped herself in European existentialism and produced a series of oil paintings she had begun in Chicago on the themes of night, motherhood and eroticism. When they settled in New York City, which became their permanent home, in 1964, the Vietnam War and the social changes it was creating in the United States affected Ms. Spero profoundly.

To come to grips with these realities, Ms. Spero, who always viewed art as inseparable from life, developed a distinctive kind of political work. Polemical but symbolic, it combined drawing and painting as well as craft-based techniques like collage and printmaking seldom associated with traditional Western notions of high art and mastery.

And from Adrian Searle's article in the Guardian:

Nancy Spero's death on Sunday took a great artistic conscience from the world. ……Spero's work was determined and unerring. During the 1960s she focused on the Vietnam War: helicopters whined overhead, bombers emptied their loads on an undefeated populace. She developed a cast of characters and a repertoire of images which she repeated and recombined in different ways every time they were shown. … Her figures danced and raved around the walls of galleries and museums worldwide, swarming in a cacophonous, mischievous, floor-to-ceiling choreography.

…. Her art could also be riotously funny and sexy as well as macabre, and she made many works which dealt with female jouissance and eroticism, pleasure and pain. Spero was a spearhead of feminist art in the 1960s, calling for greater recognition of women artists and women in the New York art world.

Spero was a vital, energetic artist. She never lost her curiosity in the world, nor her sense of anger at its injustices, and she found a way of making work which combined the graphic with installation, relevance and timelessness.

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Detail and Full view of Black and the Red 111
memorial art funeral

So, can an artist make a significant contribution to society? I would say so.

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