Retrospective: Looking Back on Francesca Woodman’s Prolific Career

Francesca Woodman / Courtesy George and Betty Woodman
Francesca Woodman / Courtesy George and Betty Woodman
Untitled, Antella, 1977–78

In a life cut short by suicide at the age of 22, Francesca Woodman created a legacy of work that continues to influence generations of photographers and viewers alike. Her haunting, surrealist black and white self portraits—perhaps best represented in her House series (1975 -1978)— explored the body within space, and Woodman created images where she both confronts and retreats from the viewer by gazing into and camouflaging herself from the lens. The allure of her photographs, which are both candid and exploratory, emerges from their diaristic quality and evokes the range of emotional fluxes of adolescence.

Francesca Woodman / Courtesy George and Betty Woodman and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

Many images, such as this self-portrait, entitled Untitled, Rome, 1977–78, have never been shown to the public previous to the exhibition.

Woodman’s career, a thing of prodigy, began at the age of 13. She was born in 1953 to artist parents, George and Betty Woodman, both independently accomplished. Woodman spent much of her early life in the Italian country side, which influenced the rustic, dilapidated settings of the self portraits she made in college at the Rhode Island School of Design. Being young was never a limitation to her image making, but rather, its driving and most provocative force. Upon graduation, Woodman left for New York to enter the city’s art world and delved into fashion photography, but her work never gained success or attention. This led her into an inescapable, deep depression, ultimately contributing to the decision to take her own life.

Though her career spanned less than a decade, Woodman was a prolific artist. Her work, in its most comprehensive collection to date, is on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through Feb. 20. The exhibition features a full scope of Woodman’s work, from photographs and video to self-portraits and fashion work. Many of the images—which number around 160 in total—have never been seen by the public and draw from private collections from around the world as well as the collection of the Woodman family. Following its debut in San Francisco, the exhibition will travel to New York and be on view at the Guggenheim from March 16-June 13. An accompanying catalogue, published by DAP, includes essays and writings by the show’s curator, Corey Keller, among others.

Francesca Woodman is on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through Feb. 20 and will open at New York’s Guggenheim museum Mar. 16.

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