Archives of American Art

A Finding Aid to the Nancy Spero Papers, 1940s-2009, in the Archives of American Art

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.spernanc
Creators:
Spero, Nancy, 1926-2009
Dates:
1940s-2009
Languages:
The majority of the collection is in
English
, with some material in
Dutch
,
Chinese
,
German
,
Italian
,
Japanese
, and
Spanish
.
Physical Description:
26.4 Linear feet
19.12 Gigabytes
Repository:
The papers of painter, collage artist, and printmaker Nancy Spero measure 26.4 linear feet and 19.12 GB and are dated 1940s-2009. Biographical material, correspondence and other files documenting Spero's personal and professional relationships, interviews, video recordings, and writings, records of Spero's many exhibitions and projects, files highlighting the major subjects that galvanized her, business records, and printed, digital, and photographic material, offer detailed insight into the career of one of the earliest feminist artists.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The papers of painter, collage artist, and printmaker Nancy Spero measure 26.4 linear feet and 19.12 GB and are dated 1940s-2009. Biographical material, correspondence and other files documenting Spero's personal and professional relationships, interviews, video recordings, and writings, records of Spero's many exhibitions and projects, files highlighting the major subjects that galvanized her, business records, and printed, digital, and photographic material, offer detailed insight into the career of one of the earliest feminist artists.
Biographical material includes biographical notes and curricula vitae, as well as several video recordings of documentaries about Spero by Patsy Scala and Irene Sosa which feature original footage of Spero at work. Correspondence is personal and professional, and includes letters from artists including Judy Chicago and Ana Mendieta, writers and curators such as Deborah Frizzell and Susanne Altmann, regarding Spero exhibition catalogs and monographs, and articles, and personal news from family members such as Spero's sons, and correspondence related to other aspects of Spero's career.
Interviews of Spero include transcripts, published interviews, and video recordings. Writings include many of Spero's statements about her work, as well as include notes, published versions of articles written by Spero, and video recordings of talks and panel discussions she participated in.
Exhibition files for over 75 shows document the extent to which Spero's work has been widely exhibited in her lifetime with numerous solo exhibitions, including major retrospectives in London, Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid, and dozens of group exhibitions in which she participated over the course of her career.
Gallery and museum files supplement the exhibition files by further documenting Spero's dealings with numerous galleries and museums, including Galerie Lelong, which represents Spero's estate, Barbara Gross Galerie, the first gallery in Germany to represent Spero, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the National Gallery of Canada, and many others. The series also documents Spero's involvement with A.I. R. Gallery, the first independent women's art venue in the United States.
Professional files document other aspects of Spero's career including, but not limited to, awards she received, organizations she participated in or contributed to, publishing projects related to her work, and individual projects she executed such as an installation at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago and the Artemis, Acrobats, Divas & Dancers mosaic tiles she created for the Metropolitan Transit Authority for the 66th Street/Lincoln Center subway station. Also included here are files related to works of art such as Codex Artaud, and Notes in Time.
Subject files, contents of which were presumably used as source material for Spero, document subjects of interest to her, many of which were incorporated into her work and consists primarily of printed material. Broad subject categories include animal rights and conservation, feminism, war, and women. One set of folders documents "museum and political actions" undertaken by Spero and other activists during the 1960s-1970s to fight for equal representation of women in the arts and challenge the male-dominated hierarchy of the art world. Subject files include multiple news articles on torture, rape, and other atrocities committed particularly against women during wartime and by repressive and autocratic political regimes, and also include source material on the archetypal images of women that were fundamental to her interpretation of the female experience.
Printed material documents Spero's entire career from the late 1950s on. Announcements, exhibition catalogs, invitations, news clippings, and periodicals provide comprehensive coverage of her many exhibitions and other events. Printed material also documents the activities of a few other artists, primarily from the 2000s, and includes periodicals, primarily about art, and video recordings of documentaries about art and various other subjects.
Photographic material includes photographs of Nancy Spero from the 1940s on, photos of Spero with family and friends, and photographs of artwork including the heads of Spero's 2007 Maypole: Take No Prisoners which was the last major work completed before her death, originally realized for the Venice Biennale. Also found are a few installation shots and prints, slides, and digital images of Notes in Time at A.I.R. Gallery in 1979.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged as 11 series:
    Missing Title
  • Series 1: Biographical Material, 1950-2009 (Box 1, FC 30; 0.75 linear feet, ER01-ER04; 9.58 GB)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, 1946-2009 (Boxes 1-4, OV 27; 2.75 linear feet)
  • Series 3: Interviews, 1973-2007 (Boxes 4-5; 0.6 linear feet)
  • Series 4: Writings, 1950-2007 (Boxes 5-6; 1 linear foot)
  • Series 5: Exhibition Files, circa 1976-2009 (Boxes 6-9, 29; 3.1 linear feet, ER09-ER10, ER14-ER17; 1.5 GB)
  • Series 6: Gallery and Museum Files, 1972-2009 (Boxes 9-14; 5.1 linear feet; ER05-ER08, ER12-ER13; 2.962 GB)
  • Series 7: Professional Files, circa 1967-2008 (Boxes 14-17, RD 30; 3.5 linear feet; ER15; 0.74 GB)
  • Series 8: Subject Files, 1950s-2009 (Boxes 17-19; 2.4 linear feet)
  • Series 9: Business Records, circa 1976-2008 (Boxes 19-20; 0.7 linear foot)
  • Series 10: Printed Material, 1949-2009 (Boxes 20-25; 5.3 linear feet)
  • Series 11: Photographic Material, 1940s-2009 (Boxes 25-26, 29; 0.7 linear foot; ER18-ER19; 0.151 GB)

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Nancy Spero (1926-2009) was a figurative painter, printmaker, and collage artist based in New York City whose work was executed primarily on paper from the 1960s on, and often incorporated text. Spero was among the first feminist artists and a political activist whose convictions were expressed relentlessly in her work. Using archetypal representations of women to examine the range of female experience, Spero centered "woman as protagonist" whilst simultaneously examining the suffering women have long been subjected to through structural inequality, the systematic abuses of repressive political regimes, and the atrocities of war.
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). Spero 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. Spero and Golub returned to New York in 1964 with their three sons.
Nancy Spero was strongly affected by the war in Vietnam and the many social changes of the period. She became an 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, and Spero's work from here on was primarily executed on paper.
Spero was among the founding members of the women's cooperative A.I.R. Gallery established in 1972. In the 1970s archetypal representations of women in mythology, history, art, and literature became predominant in 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.

Administration
Author
Catherine S. Gaines and Stephanie Ashley
Processing Information
This collection was processed to a minimal level and a finding aid prepared in 2014 by Catherine S. Gaines.
Motion picture film reel was inspected and re-housed in 2016 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.
Born-digital materials were processed by Kirsi Ritosalmi-Kisner in 2019 with funding provided by Smithsonian Collection Care and Preservation Fund.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Following a gift of materials by Nancy Spero in 1979, the majority of the collection was donated by Spero's sons, Stephen Golub, Philip Golub, and Paul Golub, in 2013.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is temporarily closed to researchers due to archival processing and digitization. Contact Reference Services for more information.
Terms of Use
The Archives of American Art makes its archival collections available for non-commercial, educational and personal use unless restricted by copyright and/or donor restrictions, including but not limited to access and publication restrictions. AAA makes no representations concerning such rights and restrictions and it is the user's responsibility to determine whether rights or restrictions exist and to obtain any necessary permission to access, use, reproduce and publish the collections. Please refer to the Smithsonian's Terms of Use for additional information.
Preferred Citation
Nancy Spero papers, 1940s-2009. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Related Materials
Also among the holdings of the Archives of American Art an interview of Nancy Spero conducted 2008 Februay 6-July 24, by Judith Olch Richards, and the papers of Spero's husband, Leon Golub.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Art -- Political aspects Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Feminism and art Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Collagists -- New York (State) -- New York Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sound recordings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interviews Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Printmakers -- New York (State) -- New York Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Painters -- New York (State) -- New York Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Peace movements Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Video recordings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women artists Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women printmakers Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women painters Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Documentary films Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Motion pictures Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Golub, Leon, 1922-2004 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
A.I.R. Gallery (New York, N.Y.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mendieta, Ana, 1948-1985 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sosa, Irene Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Galerie Lelong (New York, N.Y.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
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