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Codex Artaud XXI

Codex Artaud XXI


Nancy Spero

(American, 1926-2009)

Cut and pasted papers, printed text, watercolor, metallic paints, pen, and stamped ink

Sheet: 173.4 x 52.6 cm (68 1/4 x 20 11/16 in.)

Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund 2009.270



Spero’s Codex Artaud is comprised of a series of 34 scrolls uniting texts by Antoine Artaud, the French actor, playwright, and poet of highly allusive writings, with Spero’s decidedly personal, feminist imagery. Codex Artaud XXI presents an extract from one of Artaud’s poems arranged in a pristine array of typed capital letters. Spero’s graphic additions include two converging cross-hatched triangles, a tiny woman riding a rat, and a heroic male nude holding a sword. The male figure, which occupies the bottom of the sheet, references Benvenuto Cellini’s sculpture Perseus Beheading Medusa (1545-54), a quintessential Renaissance subject concerned with the silencing of a powerful woman. By combining the writings of a poet who was considered an outcast and a madman with a specifically female pictorial language, Spero created a body of work that was to inspire future generations of feminist artists.

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