Nancy Spero, Marduk, 1986, Ink, handprinting, and collage on paper, 60.90 x 914.40 cm, Courtesy of Collection G. & R. Mayer.

Nancy Spero, Merde, 1960, Gouache and ink on paper, 43.2 x 55.9 cm, Collection G. & R. Mayer.

Borrowings, Disguises, and Hommage – Nancy Spero

Nancy Spero, Maypole: Take No Prisoners II, 2008, detail of nstallation view, Serpentine Gallery, London, (March 3-May 2, 2011), © 2011 Jerry Hardman-Jones.

Nancy Spero, Artaud Painting: Then There Will Be…, 1969, Gouache, encre, peinture et collage suur papier, 63.5 x 53.3 cm, Courtesy of Estate of Nancy Spero and Galerie Lelong.

Nancy Spero, Female Bomb, 1966, Gouache and ink on paper, 86.4 x 68.6 cm, Collection of Barbara Lee, Cambridge, MA, USA.


Serpentine Gallery
Kensington Gardens
+ 020 7402 6075
Nancy Spero
March 3-May 2, 2011

Artist and activist Nancy Spero (1926-2009) was a leading pioneer of feminist art. During her 50-year career, she created a vibrant visual language constructed from the histories and mythologies of past and present cultures.

Trained in the figurative tradition, Spero was greatly influenced not only by the enduring dialogue with her husband Leon Golub, but also by artists including Jean Dubuffet and by the objects and artefacts she discovered in ethnographic museums. Spero rejected the dominant post-war movements of formalist Abstraction and Pop Art in the 1950s, developing a more ephemeral way of working that used paper and collage, gouache and printmaking — a process she described as allowing for "all manner of processions, conflicts, interruptions and disruptions."

Spero created an identity through the acts of borrowing and disguise. In early work, texts as well as images were enlisted from a wide range of sources to express alienation, disempowerment and physical pain. Directly quoting the writing of poet and playwright Antonin Artaud, Spero voiced her anger at being exiled as a female artist to the peripheries of the art world. Spero’s often radical work made strong statements against war, male dominance and abuses of power, presenting compelling arguments for tolerance and a non-hierarchical society. Yet her work was never simplistically utopian. "Utopia, like heaven," she once remarked, "is kind of boring."

Over her lifetime, Spero’s practice grew increasingly collaborative, reflecting both her involvement in the politics of the Women’s Movement as well as the progressive physical difficulties she faced as a sufferer of chronic arthritis. During her life she remained politically active and was a founding member of the first women’s cooperative gallery, A.I.R. (Artists in Residence), in New York.

In her late work, Spero drew upon a broad range of visual sources — from Etruscan frescos to fashion magazines — to create a figurative lexicon representing women from pre-history to the present. Her work, she stated, ‘speculates on a sense of possibility and comments upon immediate events, political, sexual and otherwise’. Richly layered and vibrantly cinematic, epic works such as Azur, 2003, are celebratory tours de force reflecting Spero’s political engagement and dynamic imagination.
Nancy Spero was initiated by the Centre Pompidou, Paris, (presented October 13, 2010 to January 10, 2011), and adapted for the Serpentine Gallery.

Nancy Spero in her Studio, 71st Street, New York 1973, Pictured in background: Codex Artaud II (top), Codex Artaud I (bottom), Photograph: Susan Weiley.

Nancy Spero, Artaud Painting: This Crucible of Fire..., 1969, Gouache, ink and collage on paper, 63.50 x 50.20 cm, Courtesy of Galerie de France, Paris.

Nancy Spero, La Folie II, 2002, Ink, handprinting and collage on paper, 184.2 x 47 cm, Courtesy of Estate of Nancy Spero and Galerie Lelong.

Nancy Spero, Search and Destroy, 1967-1974, Cut-and-pasted painted paper and handprinting on paper, 43.2 x 417.8 cm, Courtesy of the Estate of Nancy Spero and Galerie Lelong.

Nancy Spero, Maypole: Take No Prisoners II, 2008, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London, (March 3-May 2, 2011), © 2011 Jerry Hardman-Jones.


Nancy Spero, Azur, detail 2002, Collage with paint and hand printing on paper, 39 panels, 64.5 x 8567.4 cm overall, Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de Création Industrielle, Paris, Loan of Harriet and Ulrich Meyer through the Centre Pompidou Foundation, 2007.

Nancy Spero, The Bug, Helicopter, Victim, 1966, Gouache and ink on paper, 19 x 23,25 cm, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Lelong, New York, © Nancy Spero, 2008.

Nancy Spero, Manhattan Dancer, 1966, Handprinted and printed collage, 50 x 125 cm, Courtesy Barbara Gross Galerie, München, © Nancy Spero, 2008.

Pioneering and Questioning Social, Political, and Cultural Authority

Nancy Spero, Artaud Painting – All Writing Is Pigshit, 1969, Left-handed writing, painting on paper, 63,5 x 50,2 cm, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Lelong, New York, © Nancy Spero, 2008.

Nancy Spero in her Studio, New York 1974, Photograph: Joyce Ravid.


Museu d'Art Contemporani
Plaça dels Angels
34 93 412 08 10 +
Nancy Spero. Dissidances
July 4-September 24, 2008

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1926, Spero is a pioneer of feminist art and a key figure in the New York protest scene in the 1960s and 70s. She can be placed among other feminist artists such as Martha Rosler and Adrian Piper, to whom MACBA has already devoted retrospective exhibitions. With a career as an artist and activist that spans more than 50 years, Spero continues even today to be an example of engagement in our current political, social and cultural scene, which she always questions and defies. The recent violent events with which her country has become involved in recent years have had the effect of bringing her work to the fore once more, with important exhibitions in Europe and the United States, the latest at the Venice Biennial.

Nancy Spero began painting on canvas in the manner of a traditional male painter, but soon realised that this was an eminently masculine medium, and as such marginalised her as an artist. From then on, she devoted all her efforts to creating a specifically feminine pictorial language to provide women with their own space in which to explore their capacity to communicate. This space, in which canvas is eschewed in favour of fragile paper, is organised around a lexicon of transhistorical and transcultural figures, real and mythological, which, reworked time and again, unmask stereotypes and revolutionise categories and hierarchies. In Spero's work, movement, rhythm and colour form a grammar that is applied directly onto the body of the woman who, strengthened and full of energy, "feminises" and conquers the masculine art space.

The retrospective exhibition focuses particularly on the artist's search to create her own language, featuring a highly significant selection from Spero's production. The intention is to range from Spero's earliest works on paper, dating to when she was still a student at the Art Institute of Chicago and had as yet shown none, to Maypole 2007, her latest presentation at the Venice Biennial. Moreover, a wall-mounted installation will be specifically adapted for MACBA in which Spero finally eliminates all obstacles between her work and the space in which it is shown.

The aim behind this exhibition is to present the artist's work as a life project in which the individual pieces form a whole as if pages in a book. This corresponds to a statement by the artist in a recent interview that writing is a crucial part of her work and that, in fact, she herself can be read like a book…

Curators of the exhibition are Manuel J. Borja-Villel and Rosario Peiró.

Nancy Spero, Maypole: Take No Prisoners in the Padiglione Italia, 2007 Venice Biennale.

Nancy Spero, Marduk, 1986, Triptych. Handprinting and typewritten collage on paper, 60,9 x 914,4 cm, Collection G+R Mayer, © Nancy Spero, 2008.

Nancy Spero, Les Anges, Merde, Fuck You, 1960, Gouache and ink on paper, 43,8 x 55,9 cm, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Lelong, New York, © Nancy Spero, 2008.