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Nancy Spero, Maypole/Take No Prisoners (detail) in situ, 52nd Venice Biennale, 2007. Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York. 119 REPRINTS AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS. PHOTOCOPYING PERMITTED BY LICENSE ONLY© BERG 2009 PRINTED IN THE UK CULTURAL POLITICS VOLUME 5, ISSUE 1 PP 118–132 CULTURAL POLITICS DOI 10.2752/175174309X388518 NANCY SPERO’S WAR MAYPOLE/TAKE NO PRISONERS NANCY SPERO AND DEBORAH FRIZZELL ...And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,... From “Dulce et decorum est,” Wilfred Owen, 19181 Nancy Spero’s studio occupies the entire floor of a loft in Greenwich Village, a deep space divided only by a partition that once separated her working space from that of her late husband’s, the painter Leon Golub (1922–2004). As I entered Spero’s studio to see what she was working on for the upcoming Venice Biennale, I glimpsed the borderline defining her space and Leon’s old painting space, which had remained empty since his death in August 2004, except for the looming presence of his mural-scale painting,Gigantomachy II (1965). Nailed into the brick wall, the scarred raw linen surface of Gigantomachy II seethes with a tangle of brutish, wretched bodies, Olympian gods and giants, battling to the death for dominance. > NANCY SPERO WAS BORN IN CLEVELAND, OHIO, IN 1926 AND RECEIVED A BFA FROM THE SCHOOL OF THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO IN 1949. AS A FEMINIST ARTIST AND ACTIVIST, NANCY SPERO’S CAREER HAS SPANNED FIFTY YEARS. SHE WAS A FOUNDING MEMBER OF THE WOMEN’S COOPERATIVE A.I.R. GALLERY IN NEW YORK CITY’S SOHO DISTRICT IN 1971. HER CONTINUOUS ENGAGEMENT WITH CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL, SOCIAL, AND CULTURAL CONCERNS IS RENOWNED. DEBORAH FRIZZELL IS ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ART HISTORY AT WILLIAM PATERSON UNIVERSITY IN NEW JERSEY (USA). IN JUNE 2007, SHE ACCOMPANIED NANCY SPERO’S ASSISTANTS, SAMM KUNCE AND MARY-BETH GREGG, TO VENICE TO DOCUMENT THE INSTALLATION, MAYPOLE/TAKE NO PRISONERS, IN THE ITALIAN PAVILION OF THE 52ND VENICE BIENNALE, CURATED BY ROBERT STORR. CULTURAL POLITICS 120 NANCY SPERO AND DEBORAH FRIZZELL On Spero’s side of the studio, long work tables nudged end-to-end are piled with stacks of cut-out female figures of different sizes, hand-printed, with lush as well as muted colors, on delicate papers. These “paper dolls,” as Spero calls them, are a part of her cast of female characters whose images she culls and reworks from many sources – from her own paintings as well as art books and magazines. They are the artist’s cross-cultural iconography of the histories and mythologies representing women from prehistory to the present, waiting to be collaged on painted and printed sheets of handmade paper. On the border between these two worlds, Spero’s and Golub’s, a makeshift pole had been newly erected reaching to the ceiling. From the top of the pole hung red and black ribbons looping down to form a scallop of gravity before ascending upward to be caught by monofilament attached to the ceiling; on the descending ribbon Studio of Nancy Spero and Leon Golub, Greenwich Village, New York, 2007, with mock-up for Spero’s Maypole/Take No Prisoners, courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York, and Golub’s Gigantomachy II (1965), courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. Photograph by Samm Kunce. CULTURAL POLITICS 121 NANCY SPERO’S WAR MAYPOLE/TAKE NO PRISONERS ends were tied graphically hand-printed cut-out paper heads, severed and still screaming. Some of the double-sided heads were masklike profiles howling with distended tongues, some were full-faced horrors, medusa-like furies. It was an unholy mix: a liltingly delicate springtime rhythm truncated, mocked by beheadings, grisly trophy victims. This diabolical studio mock-up,Maypole/Take No Prisoners (2007), was Spero’s installation proposal for the main entry hall of the Italian Pavilion in the Giardini at the Venice Biennale, opening in June of 2007. Spero envisioned the double-sided heads cut out of sheets...


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