Nancy Spero - Editions Southampton New York Saturday, June 25, 2022 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Gift of the artist

  • Catalogue Essay

    Over her decades-long career, American feminist artist and activist Nancy Spero (1926-2009) created her own“ alphabet” of printed female images appropriated from across historical periods and cultures which she assembled in large-scale, horizontal scroll-like installations on Sekishu (Japanese) rice paper sheets. Spero selected active and emotionally-charged images of women from a wide range of photographic reproductions and traditions that challenged stereotypes of them as passive, weak, and vulnerable. ArtNews Magazine aptly dubbed Spero “the High Priestess of Hieroglyphics whose lifework is the visual equivalent of an epic poem” in 2009, shortly before her death.

    Using various reproductive printmaking techniques such as reversal, opposition, and variation to create her visual lexicon and non-narrative installations, Spero bypassed naturalistic representation and perspectival space and instead emphasized surface, flatness, and the mutability of the printed image. Her love of the printed page, the book, the manuscript, and the scroll-like codex were all formats that underpinned her graphic sensibility as a “painter.” Likewise, her fascination with representations of the human body in all its permutations offered a pathway to exploring grand themes of universality and specificity. In a 1991 interview Spero commented that “. . . to me the human body is the most interesting conceptual tool, the most complex, with unlimited variations and differences, a means for overturning prevailing modes—subversive of the mainstream.”

    These two unique, hand-printed collage works— Crawling Woman (1984) and Goddess Nut and Torture Victim (1991) — as well as the benefit print We Are Pro Choice (1992) appropriate both idealized and real female forms from a photographic and printed sources. Crawling Woman is derived from a late 1960s Life Magazine photograph of a wounded Vietnamese woman shielding her baby. Printed as a single image on a single sheet, Crawling Woman represents one “hieroglyph” in Spero’s alphabet that she recycled in numerous larger works during the 1980s and 1990s. In Goddess Nut and Torture Victim, the “Ideal” and the “Real” registers of imagery are starkly juxtaposed: the ancient Egyptian goddess protectively arches over the corpse of a young Guatemalan woman tortured to death during the height of the civil war in that country sourced from an Amnesty International newsletter. A feminist avant la lettre, Spero was also a committed activist who supported, among many political causes, the Pro-Choice Movement since Roe v. Wade became U.S. law in 1974. As the ‘cast’ of female characters from prehistory to the present in We Are Pro Choice suggests, women have attempted to assert their right to control their own bodies for millennia.

    —Amy Ingrid Schlegel, Ph.D


Goddess Nut and Torture Victim

Hand-printed linocut in colors with collage, on rice paper, the full sheet.
S. 19 1/4 x 24 in. (48.9 x 61 cm)
Signed, titled and dated in pencil, framed.

$1,500 - 2,500 

Sold for $2,394

Contact Specialist

212 940 1220

Editions Southampton

New York Auction 25 June 2022