Nancy Grossman: Heads

May 22–Aug 15, 2011


Installation view of Nancy Grossman: Heads at MoMA PS1, May 22–August 15, 2011. Photo: Matthew Septimus

MoMA PS1 presents Nancy Grossman: Heads, a solo exhibition that focuses on the artist's evocative head sculptures. Nancy Grossman has been making art for more than fifty years and is best known for her leather-wrapped sculptures of heads, which the artist made from the late 1960s through to the 1980s. This exhibition brings together fourteen sculptures, highlighting the formal and expressive range within the series.

While Grossman regularly refers to the heads as self-portraits, they are not made to resemble the artist herself. They speak to the malice and subservience of both psychology and worldly conflict. Though the works are often rendered blind and mute, they still allude to the role of the silent witness amid cruelty and disorder. The creation of the sculptures was inspired in part by the liberation movements of the late 1960s and the Vietnam War, responding to the violence and social upheaval of the era. Today, Grossman's heads continue to address the anxiety and turmoil that weigh upon the individual and contemporary society. Each head was carved from a block of wood and overlaid with sections of found leather-often sourced from articles of clothing or even boxing gloves-which are sewn, nailed, or zippered together. The life-size sculptures are startling for what they obscure as much as for what they expose. Eyes, ears, and mouths are typically covered, bound, sewn shut, or otherwise restrained. Some heads incorporate found objects that result in horns and other protrusions. The unsettling works have been a source of inspiration for her fellow artists and those of younger generations, and have been notably photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe and Richard Avedon.

The exhibition is generously supported by The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art. Additional funding is provided by the Ava Olivia Knoll Fund.


Installation images

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].