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Nancy Spero papers, 1940s-2009

Biographical Note

Nancy Spero (1926-2009) was a figurative painter, printmaker, and collage artist in New York City whose multi-media work often incorporated text. She was an ardent feminist and activist whose political and social concerns were expressed in her art.
Born in Cleveland, Nancy Spero lived in Chicago from the time she was a very young child until completing her studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (BFA 1949) where she met her future husband, painter Leon Golub (1922-2004). She studied briefly in Paris and lived in New York City, returning to Chicago after her marriage in 1951. The couple and their two sons lived in Italy from 1956 to 1957. In 1959, after a few years in New York, the family moved to Paris where Spero developed an interest in existentialism and produced a series of black paintings. When Spero and Golub returned to New York in 1964, their family consisted of three sons.
Nancy Spero was strongly affected by the war in Vietnam and the many social changes of the period. She became a social activist and feminist, joined various organizations, and participated in a variety of demonstrations. Work such as the War series began to include political and sexual imagery. Spero was among the founding members of the women's cooperative A.I.R. Gallery established in 1972. In 1974 she decided to make women in mythology, history, art, and literature the exclusive subject of her work. Included in this vein are major series and installations, among them Torture of Women, Notes in Time on Women, The First Language, and her 66th Street/Lincoln Center subway station mosaic mural Artemis, Acrobats, Divas and Dancers.
Spero exhibited in the 1950 Salon des Independents and her first solo exhibition (in tandem with Leon Golub) was held at Indiana University in 1958. Thereafter, she showed sporadically until nearly 30 years later when her career flourished and she enjoyed international stature. Beginning in 1986, each year brought multiple solo exhibitions at galleries and museums in the United States and internationally. In addition, she continued to participate in group shows such as "Documenta" and the Venice Biennale. Her work is included in the permanent collections of museums throughout the world.
Awards and honors included the Skowhegan Medal for Works on Paper (1995), Hiroshima Art Prize shared with Leon Golub (1996), The Women's Caucus for Art award for Outstanding Achievement in Visual Arts (2003), and The Women's Caucus for Art Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement (2005). Spero was awarded honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts by The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1991) and Williams College (2001), and was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2006).
After several years of declining health, Nancy Spero died from heart failure in New York City, October 18, 2009.