AbstractsWomens Studies

Nancy Spero: printing, writing, collaging

by Andrea Ferber

Institution: University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign
Department: 0250
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: Nancy Spero
Record ID: 2060809
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/73052


This dissertation argues that works by American artist Nancy Spero made feminist interventions into the medium of painting and into exclusionary patriarchal narratives as they are presented in museums. The result is an oeuvre visualizing what Gertrude Stein called a ???continuous present,??? revealing how misogyny recurs in different ways throughout time. Spero achieved this by utilizing printmaking methods and by tying her own contemporary production to art of the past, both through appropriation of imagery and physical juxtaposition. This study is organized thematically into three chapters. Chapter One posits that Spero???s decisions to work on paper and employ printmaking methods strengthened her feminist political content. Though trained as a painter, she made a deliberate decision in 1970 to work only on paper because it is a consistently undervalued medium and surface. To her, oil painting on canvas symbolized the monolithic patriarchal art world system that showed no interest in women artists. Spero???s adoption of print matrices allowed her to repeat appropriated images dozens of times in dramatically different contexts, while at the same time providing a continuity throughout her long career. Chapter Two orients her use of language into four phases during her career: as titles, quotations, narratives, and ???hieroglyphics.??? Unlike contemporaries such as Joseph Kosuth, Spero???s use of text was not a withdrawal from the visual; indeed, she continuously altered the appearance of her text to effect meaning. Early works incorporate painted phrases, but she came to prefer printed or typed letters, and ultimately eliminated the linguistic altogether in favor of image-signs that had gained meaning for her through repetition. Chapter Three considers her connection to nineteenth-century history painting methods to create moralizing feminist narratives. I argue that she constructs a new kind of historical record within individual works, for example in her epic multi-paneled collage Notes in Time on Women (1976-79), and also through site-specific installations. In these ways Spero underscored the oppression of women through history, initially expressing outrage but later adopting a celebratory approach that sought to recognize women???s resilience and successes. In her work Spero juxtaposed images of women from the past and present, stressing the critical importance of history today. It is for this reason her oeuvre exemplifies a ???continuous present.???