Nancy Spero: Paper Mirror presents the first significant exhibition of the renown, New York-based artist in Mexico. Beginning as a figurative painter, Nancy Spero’s (1926–2009) Paris Black Paintings of the early 1960s depict archetypical lone figures and lovers in atmospheric placelessness, which bespoke her isolation as a woman artist. Outraged by US atrocities in Vietnam, in 1966, Spero suddenly gave up the “establishment-look” of oil on canvas to work on paper. Her War Series embodies brutal imagery, including sexualized bombs. Spero appropriated the writings of Antonin Artaud, combining collaged psychosexual figures and the French poet’s extreme expressions of hostility and pain. Through Artaud, Spero developed her voice and the long scroll-like form she would build upon over time to make paper “ephemeral monuments.”
A first-generation feminist who sought social justice and equity for women, Spero’s art engages histories of woman as victim, goddess mythologies, and then, on deciding to view the world through solely representing women, woman as an active agent. Spero built a cast of characters derived across eras and cultures, from prehistoric to ancient Egypt to contemporary popular culture. From 1975 on, making plates of her drawings to handprint figures allowed her to recycle and variously situate images, creating a lexicon of “woman as protagonist.”
Nancy Spero continually broke formal, spatial, and ideological boundaries. In the late ’80s, she took to the walls themselves, making installations of handprinting directly on gallery and museum architecture. Drawing from over fifty years of Spero’s art, curator Julie Ault has structured Nancy Spero: Paper Mirror by Spero’s critical shifts in form, production mode, and subject matter.