Nancy Spero To the Revolution XI 1981

  • Not on view

With this expansive work, Spero unfurls a stirring call to action. Arms thrown open and legs in full stride, four female figures sprint across the nine–foot–wide sheet of paper as a crowd of companions, signified by floating heads, joins in the chase. "To the revolution!" the title exclaims, in a propelling rallying cry for upheaval and reform.

Both artist and activist, Spero creates daring images that address abuses of power throughout history, particularly the subjugation of women. She made her first political works, incorporating a mix of iconography from ancient cultures and the contemporary world, in the early 1960s. A decade later Spero completely eliminated male figures in her art, determined, in her words, "to see what it means to view the world through the depiction of women."

In To the Revolution XI, as in other pieces, Spero takes cues from Asian scroll painting and Greek processional friezes, physically pulling the viewer along her storyline through the staccato repetition of images. Stamped on the sheet using a metal letterpress plate and earthy tones, the duplicated female figure is based on an ancient aboriginal design. Borrowing from the past, this banner conveys a sense of urgency and empowerment applicable to the revolutions of the present.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 30.
Additional text

As an artist and activist, Nancy Spero is among the most influential figures working within the feminist framework established in the United States in the late 1960s to early 1970s. After a jarring series of works inspired by the American involvement in Vietnam, Spero turned exclusively to the depiction of feminine archetypes, often juxtaposing them with extended passages of text. She draws models across cultures and history, from mythological goddesses to modern-day sources, in an ongoing exegesis on the marginalization of women in contemporary society. On long expanses of delicate paper punctuated with figures in movement, Spero creates cinematic narratives, which both celebrate and rail against the vicissitudes of womanhood.

Working almost exclusively on paper in scroll-like formats that have become her signature, Spero established printmaking as an integral facet of her work in the mid-1970s, and her unconventional manipulation of the medium remains her primary aesthetic practice. She developed a vocabulary of more than two hundred fifty female types, which she had made into separate letterpress plates. She composes her images by either stamping the plates directly onto the final work or printing them and treating them as collage elements. For text passages she stamps with metal alphabets and wood type. Although she has made several editioned lithographs and screenprints, primarily for benefit projects, the vast majority of her printed work is unique.

In To the Revolution XI, which represents a celebration of womanhood, Spero conveys a sense of urgency and empowerment through the figures' dynamic poses and syncopated arrangement. She uses her images like hieroglyphs, and this figure, based on an aboriginal design, with its spare, repeated stamping, becomes part of a rhythmic syntax on the rebellious female spirit. Typical of her working method, Spero has recontextualized this figure several times in a variety of projects.

Publication excerpt from an essay by Wendy Weitman, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 214.
Handprinting with pencil additions
composition: 18 13/16" x 8' 3/4" (47.8 x 245.8 cm); sheet: 20 1/4" x 9' 2 3/8" (51.4 x 280.4 cm)
Nancy Spero, New York
Nancy Spero, New York
John B. Turner Fund
Object number
© 2023 Nancy Spero
Drawings and Prints

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