06 Aug - 18 Sep 1999

Francesca Woodman

6 August - 18 September 1999

"Prodigies in photography are singularly rare; women prodigies virtually unheard of." - Abigail Solomon-Godeau


On 19th January 1981, Francesca Woodman tragically threw herself from the window of her loft in the East Village. She was twenty-two. The five hundred or so photographs she created in her short life have established her as one of photography's quiet legends.

This exhibition, her first solo show in Britain, represents that life's work, starting with her first photographs taken at the precocious age of 13. Woodman brought an understanding of Symbolism, the Baroque, Surrealism and Futurism to her haunting, sensual, and occasionally, violent self-portraits. The expressive and performative aspects of her photography look back to artists like S I Witkiewicz and Claude Cahun earlier in the century, a tradition in which the cool detachment of the photographer from the world which she or he commits to film, is questioned.

She also prefigures important artists of the 1980s such as Cindy Sherman, where the psychological and political potential of the photographic self-portrait is fully unlocked. Interested in how people relate to space, and how the three dimensional world could be reconciled with the two dimensions of the photograph, Francesca Woodman played complex games of hide-and-seek with her camera. She depicts herself fading into a flat plane, becoming the wall under the wallpaper, part of the floor, or sealed behind glass, constantly contrasting the fragility and vulnerability of her own body with the strength of the objects around her.

Her body becomes an expressive tool which mingles with the other objects she chooses to photograph; gloves, eels, sheets, mirrors, fireplaces and flowers. Fascinated by limits and boundaries, Woodman's work conjures the precarious moment between adolescence and adulthood; between existence and the ultimate disappearance, death.

Born in Denver in 1958, Woodman grew up in a family of artists. She studied at Rhode Island School of Design between 1975 and 1979 and spent a year in Rome on a scholarship. This was an extraordinarily creative period in which she was influenced by the classicism, sensuality and decay of Rome and she exhibited her photographs for the first time in the basement of the Maldoror bookshop-gallery. On her return to America she moved to New York. Some Disordered Interior Geometries, the only book of her work to be published in her lifetime appeared in January 1981.

The exhibition Fransesca Woodman has been conceived and produced by the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris.

Exhibition organised by Kate Bush. Curated by Hervé Chandès, assisted by Francois Quintin.

An English publication co-published by the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain and Scalo. 160 pages, 100 colour and black and white reproductions with 4 previously unpublished texts by Philippe Sollers, Elizabeth Janus, David Levi Strauss and Sloan Rankin. ISBN: 978-2-74271-803-6

For further information on this and past exhibitions, visit our Archive and Study Room.