Nancy Spero, ‘Male Bomb I’, 1966, Galerie Lelong & Co.

For Frieze Masters: Spotlight 2013, curated by Adriano Pedrosa, Galerie Lelong presents American artist Nancy
Spero’s fiercely provocative War Series (1966-1970). The War Series, works in gouache and ink on paper, was
originally inspired by Spero’s outrage at world political events of the 1960s, more specifically the Vietnam War, but
their imagery transcends these specific events and expresses a universal horror in response to oppression and war.
Spero leveled the claim that the cost to humanity was the same no matter what war or era.
Nancy Spero began the War Series when she and her husband, Leon Golub, returned to New York City from Paris in

  1. As an artist and activist, Spero was struck by the difference between how the war was presented in the US
    than in Europe, and specifically, how the conflict was mediated on television. As a form of immediate protest,
    Spero layered images of helicopters, male and female figures, crematoria, and bombs, both deadly and
    evanescent, along with references to past wars including World War II. In these works, she emphasized the female
    (in the often male-centric domain of war), which later became the sole subject of her work.
    “For five years, from 1966-1970, I painted (gouache and ink on paper) The War Series: Bombs and Helicopters. These works
    were intended as manifestos against our [the US] incursion into Vietnam, a personal attempt at exorcism. The bombs are
    phallic and nasty, exaggerated sexual representations of the penis: heads with tongues sticking out violent depictions of the
    human (mostly male) body. The clouds of the bomb are filled with screaming heads vomiting poison onto the victims below,
    etc. The helicopter become anthropomorphic—a primeval (prime-evil) bird or bug wreaking destruction. I imagined that
    Vietnamese peasants saw it as a giant monster. I viewed the helicopter as the symbol of this war—the omni-present image of
    the chopper hovering, transporting soldiers, napalming villages, gunning fleeing peasants or picking up wounded and dead US
    soldiers.”—Nancy Spero

About Nancy Spero

A leading figure in the feminist art movement of the 1960s, Nancy Spero explored female sexuality, suffering, and heroism, as well as the horrors of war, in gouache and ink works on paper. Spero drew from ancient mythologies and iconographies to produce her burlesque cast of pagan goddesses, Celtic fertility figures, and Amazon warriors, which she pulled from books on ancient art before manipulating and incorporating them into her own drawings and collages. Her well-known 1966–70 “War” series, produced during the Vietnam years, explored the atrocities of war, a subject Spero revisited in her later career with frieze-like drawings installed around the walls of galleries, depicting masses of screaming figures and helicopters overhead dropping human-shaped bombs. Her work Cri de Coeur (2005) portrays mourning women from ancient Egypt. “I am thinking about the women’s condition, showing victimage or celebratory sexuality in an exaggerated way,” she once said. Spero was married to the late artist Leon Golub, and was a founding member of the feminist A.I.R. gallery, started in 1972.

American, 1926-2009, Cleveland, Ohio, based in New York, New York