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Nancy Spero

(1926 - 2009)

Nancy Spero was a Jewish American artist.

Spero was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1926. After attending the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1944-1945, she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1949. From 1949 to 1950, Spero continued her education at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, where she later lived from 1959 to 1964. Her first solo exhibit was in Paris in 1962.

Upon returning to the United States in 1964, Spero was confronted with the horrors of the Vietnam War and the behavior of the United States in that war. In response to these experiences, the artist’s work became radicalized. She no longer used the traditional media of oil on canvas, and instead used other techniques and materials (including gouache on paper, collage, writing, and ancestral and mythological figures). It was at this time that Spero’s work turned largely to political and social themes, as she attempted to express the human tragedy, suffering, and exploitation she recognized in the world.

Spero sought to break away from the dominant artistic currents at the time, which were created by men, and find her own individual expression. In turn, she developed a provocative style, which focused on individual freedoms. Her first focus was sexual freedom. Since 1974, Spero’s art has focused exclusively on images of women, many of whom are Jewish.

Spero’s commitment to the empowerment and greater acceptance of female artists made her a leading figure in the feminist movement of the 1990’s. She is a member of the Women Artists Revolution (WAR) and was a founding member of the A.I.R. Gallery, an all women’s cooperative gallery that opened in 1971. Spero also participated in numerous projects and events that addressed political issues, including The Peace Tower, Los Angeles (1966), Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam (1964-72) and Artists’ Call Against US Intervention in Central American (1984).

Spero had her first exhibitions in New York at the A.I.R. Gallery. She has had solo exhibits at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Her first retrospective exhibition was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1987 and her first touring exhibition was in 1990. Spero’s work can be seen at the 66th Street/Lincoln Center 1/9 Subway station in New York, where Spero’s mosaics are embedded in the walls. Her work is also featured at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Jewish Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem and The Museum of Modern Art.

In 1995, Spero received the Skowhegan Medal for Works on Paper and in 1996, Spero and her husband, Leon Golub, a visual artist, were jointly awarded the 3rd Hiroshima Art Prize.

Spero died at age 83 in 2008 in New York City.

Sources: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Arizona State University Art Museum, ArtNet, National Foundation for Jewish Culture, Wikipedia