Francesca Woodman: Some of Her Interior Geometries
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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.