Nancy Spero (b. 1926 Cleveland, OH – d. 2009 New York, NY) was a pioneer of feminist art known for her paintings, works on paper, and installations that tackle significant political and cultural issues during her lifetime such as the Vietnam War, the Holocaust, and torture of women in Chile. Often incorporating text and found images, as well as drawing from figures and techniques from pre-history, ancient Egypt, classical antiquity, and contemporary news media, Spero rejected not only social stratification but visual and art historical hierarchy.
Although wars and violence are recurring subjects of her work, Spero also explored the idea of rebirth and cycles of life. She is well-known for her 1960s and 70s political artworks like her War Series made in response to the Vietnam War and her Artaud Paintings that incorporated writing by the poet and playwright Antonin Artaud. With the Artaud paintings, Spero developed her signature use of scrolls.
Spero was born in Cleveland and grew up in Chicago. She studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she met painter Leon Golub, who would become her husband and frequent collaborator. After Spero received her BFA in 1949, she studied painting at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts in Paris and then returned to Chicago in 1950. She and Golub lived in Italy briefly and again in Paris during the late 1950s and 1960s before settling in New York City in 1964. The couple become active in the downtown arts and activism scene, with Spero joining Art Workers Coalition, Women Artists in Revolution, and Ad Hoc Committee of Women Artists.
In 2007, she presented the installation Maypole: Take No Prisoners at the 52nd Venice Biennale. Spero was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2006. She is also the recipient of the Awards include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the College Art Association in 2005, the Honor Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art in 2003, the Printmaker Emerita Award from West Virginia University-Morgantown in 1996, and the Skowhegan Medal in 1995. Together with Leon Golub, she was awarded the the Hiroshima Art Prize in 1996.
Spero’s work has been the subject of major exhibitions at Centre Pompidou, France; Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Spain; Museo d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico; and Serpentine Galleries, UK. Her work is included in major public collections, among them the Art Institute of Chicago; Centre Pompidou, France; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.