“I finally managed to try to do away with myself, as neatly and concisely as possible…. I would rather die young leaving various accomplishments, some work, my friendship with you, and some other artifacts intact, instead of pell-mell erasing all of these delicate things.”—Francesca Woodman
Francesca Woodman is regaining (quite rightly) a lot of attention these days—some thirty years after she took her own life. Suicide at any age is a terrible tragedy, and at the age of 22, Francesca Woodman ended a life/career she might never have imagined would lead to such a powerful, posthumous reputation.
Her work is self-reflective, surrealistic and complex. Looking at her images it’s impossible not to feel the deep emotional undercurrents that must have been going on while she was working. And knowing her life ended in suicide makes it difficult to engage her work outside of that prism. If she were alive today, how would we feel about her work?
Noted Art critic Arthur Danto wrote: “It is impossible to view her work without being drawn into the vast questions it raises about life, art and the meaning and embodiment of sex…. Her work unfolds over time like the oeuvre of a brilliant and precocious poet, like Keats or Rimbaud, whose voice is present in every line.”
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibit of her work will end in one week on February 20th. Next month, for those of us on the east coast, The Guggenheim will open a Francesca Woodman show on the 16th of March. My hat’s off to both museums and their teams for putting on these retrospectives, and giving us the opportunity not only to see work that’s never been exhibited, but more importantly, to reconsider Francesca Woodman’s legacy. Lane Nevares