Francesca Woodman: Some of Her Interior Geometries

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Francesca Woodman: Some of Her Interior Geometries

The Woodmans portrays family dynamics far more than its intended cinematic portrait of Francesca Woodman. Although director C. Scott Willis has framed a document of two artist parents "who have continued their own artistic practices while watching Francesca's professional reputation eclipse their own", it was difficult to view the film as a portrait of Francesca. Can a cinematic portrait really be made from slices of friendships, acquaintances and family who witnessed fragments of a complex and compartmentalized persona? Apart from her journal, the artists' daughter seemed to only open up when in dialogue with her camera.

Francesca Woodman, From Space 2, 1975-1976. Gelatin silver print.

Before her suicide at nearly 23, Woodman had developed an intense and complex suite of body-based black and white photographs, created in Colorado; Rhode Island; New York; Rome and Florence. Despite the creative support of her parents and RISD faculty, Francesca Woodman's work never achieved recognition in the New York gallery scene of the late 1970s. Regardless of a consistently specific language and visual sophistication, Woodman's work was then dismissed by galleries as immature. She died young without gallery representation, but left a legacy that in the past thirty years has been revisited and reevaluated as a significant contribution to contemporary culture and aesthetics.

Francesca Woodman. Untitled, 1976. Gelatin silver print.

I saw this film with an art collector who compared Woodman to Ana Mendieta. Aside from similar life facts (untimely death, unrepresented, expatriate experience, body-based works) I didn't see a comparison in how their distinct works each look and feel. Maybe because I missed Woodman's show at Marion Goodman a few years ago, the work was less fresh in my mind, but a resemblance is undeniably there. Mendieta restores the body, Woodman disassociates it. Mendieta's transience begins with the body steeping into the earth, Woodman's transience is the spirit soaring above its cage. Mendieta negotiates repercussions of exile in her work, Woodman creates from a psychic tension with entrapment.

Left: Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Glass on Body), 1972. Right: Francesca Woodman, Space Series, 1975-78.

Comments [8]

Prof C's picture

thanks for this post

I don't get the surrealist classification either. These photographs are so feminist!

The "self-portrait at 13" is so striking/haunting/playful. Have you ever seen any of these videos she made at RISD?

patricia's picture

thanks, Prof!

Before seeing this film, I didn't even know that Francesca had made films. There are clips of two or three in the film, but I don't know how many more. That was a surprise!

Tex's picture

After reading this and searching her photos....

examining her photos....I had to find out more of her. Like so many others, I found myself examining those photos to possibly glimpse something that might explain the self losing of no avail. I did; however, read a fictional short by Emily Rapp entitled "Francesca Woodman Prepares" from Silent Voices Vol II, Spring 2006 that brought some possible insight.... intrinsic love, or the lack of, can alter the course of existence. 

While observing Francesca's photos, I kept being reminded of another's artistic expression, that of Tina Arena's video of her song "Chains"....also eerily edited in sepia. The two women actually physically favor one another. In this interpretation of "Chains" the woman finds herself living the familiar darkness, but in the end able to conquer the lure of the abyss - finding the fortitude to separate the real from what is not and exist.

Do forgive the reference to music, Patricia. I am so inclined in that way when it comes to art. 


Twitter Time @kdhales

patricia's picture

look at that!

I always welcome references to music. That might be the first Tina Arena song I've ever heard. Seriously!

niceshoes's picture

they never get it right

biopics of artists... a troubled genre... especially women geniuses, since that creates cognitive dissonance in moviemakers... and if the surviving famiy is competitive, FORGET IT! god knows how she suffered inside the family... to ask their opinion is... naîve?

patricia's picture


"cognitive dissonance"
Let it be known here and now that I might just use that word combo in the future! Love it!

I've been thinking about how strange it was that her stay in boarding school was presented as a deliberate choice Francesca elected to do...but we'll never know for sure.



Grace Moon's picture

You know I'm really stunned

You know I'm really stunned at the power, intimacy, and intention of these 70's women artitst.

I really feel hard pressed to name any contemporary artists woking with this kind of intensity. It seems we all embrace some sort of irony in our work these days instead?

maybe it was just of its time?

tweet tweet @gracemoon

patricia's picture

Irony is so boring!

Do you think the presence of irony in art is intentional or an inherited mentality? I am not sure myself. But I guess it depends on the artists. Some artists are ironic because they have nothing to say, so they still say it (LOL) and some might be ironic to be cheeky. I like cheeky.