Born in New York City, Nancy Grossman grew up on a working farm in Oneonta, New York. Life on a farm with parents in the garment industry would shape Grossman’s artistic visions and strongly influence her choice of materials, which frequently include fabric and leather. Grossman studied at Pratt Institute with Richard Lindner, receiving her BFA in 1962. Immediately, she began receiving grants and awards such as Pratt’s Ida C. Haskell Award for Foreign Travel (1962) and a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1965-66). The accolades have continued throughout her career and include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1984), a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (1991), a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (1996-97), and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2001).
Grossman became famous in the 1960s for her sculptures of heads carefully carved from the soft wood of discarded telephone poles, overlaid with leather and adorned with zippers, glass eyes, enamel noses, spikes and straps. The size, shape and facial features of Grossman’s heads evoke masculinity, but Grossman refers to them as self-portraits, implying the instability of gender identity but also demonstrating how all artwork offers us at least a glimpse of the artist. None of Grossman’s diversity of genre or media was widely understood until a retrospective organized by the Hillwood Art Museum revealed the scope of her work. Since she began making art in the 1950s, Grossman has steadily explored collage, sculpture and assemblage. Much of Grossman’s work concerns the physicality of the body but works on paper like Tough Life Diary (1973) and Poliza de Tourismo (1986) consist of collaged words and fragments, scraps taken from her journals and placed into compositions that blend the chaotic elements of chance with the labor-intensive organizing hand of the artist. In 1999, Grossman was forced to leave her studio on Chinatown’s Eldridge Street that she had occupied for thirty-five years, and she relocated to her current home of Brooklyn. Her work also struck out in new directions with a group of sculptural assemblages that seem to echo the archaeology and violence involved in the upheaval of her move. Nancy Grossman’s work has been acquired by museums worldwide including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. She is represented by Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York.
Feminist Artist Statement
“Time expands and contracts when an artist is totally focused, absorbed, submerged, and surrendered to a work and whatever tasks present themselves in the course of making the work. This has always seemed completely out of control. There is something embarrassing about the very real necessity of surrendering to the passing of time—like you don’t know where you’ve been or how long you’ve been there, even though you’ve been following the work. As Jasper Johns said in the early 1960s, when asked how he went about making a painting, you “do something to it and then do something else to it.” Like a retarded bower bird taking forever to build a blue palace to attract a prospective mate —a picky hen.
There are times in an artist’s life when her vulnerable, internal landscape and world outside of her skin reach a kind of balance. Not a harmony, mind you, but quite the opposite. It is the invincible clang and force of being in love all the time—morning, noon, and night…But this love is equal parts deep infatuation and rage, a personal integrity that allows a chance equilibrium between going to war in my studio as the Vietnam War hottened outside over there and politics nearly exploded over here. On this tautest of tightropes, I dared to make grand gestures, racing out to the end of the limb and trusting that I would not fall.”
- Nancy Grossman
Nancy Grossman’s Spring Diary
Private Collection; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY
Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY
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