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Nancy Spero

SPERO, NANCY (1926–), U.S. painter. Cleveland-born, feminist artist Nancy Spero studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (1945–49) and at the Atelier André l'Hote and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (1949–50) in Paris. While at the Art Institute, she met the artist Leon *Golub, whom she married in 1951.

Conceived while Spero and Golub were living in Paris from 1959 until 1964, her early Black Paintings show figures materializing from a dark background. Several of these canvases portray women segregated into stereotypical roles, such as a mother or a prostitute. In Paris, Spero had her first solo exhibition at the Galerie Breteau (1962). Following the couple's move to New York in 1964, Spero initiated The War Series (1966–70), a group of gouache drawings on paper that often show the effects of bombing by utilizing iconography that equates the male phallus with annihilation. From 1969–72, Spero worked on the Codex Artaud, her first scroll and a format she would explore for many years. Based on the writings of Antonin Artaud, Spero juxtaposes typed excerpts from Artaud's poems with painted imagery arranged in a collage-like fashion on strips of paper. For Spero, Artaud's prose, which describes his alienation and anguish, metaphorically articulated the position of women in a patriarchal world.

Spero began designing museum installations in the late 1980s. After reading Bertolt Brecht's poem about Marie Sanders, a woman who slept with a Jew and was subsequently murdered for her perceived transgression, Spero made several installations about her, including Ballad of Marie Sanders, The Jew's Whore at Smith College Museum of Art, Northhampton, Massachusetts (1990) and The Ballad of Marie Sanders/Voices: Jewish Women in Time at the Jewish Museum (1993). The latter installation reproduced photographs showing victimized women in the Warsaw Ghetto, concentration camps, and other Nazi-related brutalities, as well as women in a more powerful position, such as female Israeli soldiers and female Israeli and Palestinian peace activists. Spero also depicted Sanders in a paper print and a scroll.

From 1969 Spero was a member of Women Artists in Revolution (WAR), a group dedicated to female equality in the arts. She co-founded the Artists in Residence Gallery, an art gallery for women based in New York City, in 1972.


D. Nahas, Nancy Spero: Works Since 1950 (1987); N. Spero, Nancy Spero: Woman Breathing (1992); K. Kline and H. Posner, Leon Golub and Nancy Spero: War and Memory (1994); J. Bird, J. Isaak, and S. Lotringer, Nancy Spero (1996).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.