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Francesca Woodman

23/06 2012 – 04/08 2012

Mendes Wood is proud to present the first exhibition of American artist Francesca Woodman in Brazil. Woodman’s small but compelling body of work has exerted an almost disproportionate fascination and influence since her death at the age of twenty-two in 1981. The thirty photographs on view at the gallery were taken between 1972 and 1980 and include one of the artist’s first self-portraits, naked and wandering in the forest, taken while still at boarding school in Massachusetts. 

Woodman’s photographs are remarkable for their force and immediacy, and their peculiar ability to couch experimentalism within a nearly classical style. Most were captured at a slow shutter speed in long, single exposures, rendering the subject (usually Woodman herself) hazy and indefinite. This lack of definition gives the work an air of mystery verging on the supernatural; the viewer is presented with a representation of a figure moving in space, but the ambiguity of a blurry movement in frozen space is itself perplexing. Where did the body come from and to where is it going?

This indeterminacy points to the artist’s desire to explore something outside the photographs themselves, as though in stillness, she sought to convey movement and within the definition of the frame to reveal the world without. Something in the works exceeds the given pictorial space and the imposition of time, problematizing the very nature of the photographic medium, the genre of portraiture and the artist’s ability to depict subjectivity.

Throughout the work, the viewer is impressed with Woodman’s love of transformation. Ever present, the theme of transformation wends its way through these images; indicating that perhaps the highest calling in the enterprise of self-portraiture is the depiction of a being in the fullness of change. In light of art historian Chris Townsend’s observation of Woodman’s fondness for the stories of Ovid, the viewer may recall that poet’s account of Daphne’s prayer in flight from Apollo in the Metamorphoses:

“Help me my father, if thy flowing streams have virtue! Cover me, O mother Earth! Destroy the beauty that has injured me, or change the body that destroys my life.” Before her prayer was ended, torpor seized on all her body, and a thin bark closed around her gentle bosom, and her hair became as moving leaves; her arms were changed to waving branches, and her active feet as clinging roots were fastened to the ground – her face was hidden with encircling leaves.” (The Metamorphoses, Book 1)

Born in 1958 in Denver, Colorado, Francesca Woodman realized much of her work as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (1975–1978) and then while living in Rome; New York City; and the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. She lived and worked in New York City at the time of her death in 1981.

Woodman’s work has exhibited widely, including recent comprehensive solo exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2012), and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (2011). Other exhibition venues include the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2008); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2007); the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2006); and the Fondation Cartier pour L’art contemporain (1998). Her work is present in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The artist’s estate is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery in New York and Victoria Miro in London.

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