Francesca Woodman has become one of the most talked about, most studied of the late 20th century’s photographers. She started taking photos when she was barely 13 and in the decade until her suicide at 23 created a collection of haunting and psychologically complex photographs that explored questions of performance, femininity, sexuality, and the body in space. She is about to become the subject of a large-scale exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York opening this Friday (16).
The Guggenheim (in conjunction with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where the exhibition originally opened in 2011) is staging the most comprehensive exhibition of Woodman’s work since her death in 1981, including over 120 photographs (some of which have never been seen before), artist books, and recently discovered short films. One of the aims of the show is to contextualise her work within the landscape of American photography in the 1970s.
In a recent conversation with Julian Cox, the exhibition’s curator Corey Keller said, “The thing that speaks to me most powerfully in Woodman’s work is the palpable urgency in it. It’s not an idle undertaking. There’s a real need there.” Woodman was born into a family of artists and began producing photographs while still an adolescent. She continued to work until her suicide in 1981.
The work she left behind – approximately 800 prints, of which only a fraction have been exhibited – is astonishing, and her reputation has only grown over the years since her death. The tragic, outsized dimensions of her biography are matched and illuminated by her wrenchingly personal self-portraits and photographs.
In her photographs, the face is often obscured and the body caught in writhing motion. Woodman played with complex notions of performance and female identity. She depicts herself seemingly fading into a flat plane, merging with the wall under the wallpaper, dissolving into the floor, or flattening herself behind glass. One photograph features a teenage Woodman dressed as Alice (in Wonderland, Untitled, 1975), while another features three nude women holding up images of Woodman’s face in front of their own (Untitled, 1976). Both a prodigy and a fully developed artist, Woodman captured unresolved complexities in her visceral photographs. Francesca Woodman is at the Solomon R. IGuggenheim Museum from this Friday, March 16 – June 13, 2012. If you can't make it to the show take a tour through our gallery of images from it or take a look through our monograph on her in the store. It's one of our favourites here at Phaidon.com.