Francesca Woodman: Italian Works

Through December 15th
Victoria Miro, Venice

by Matt Carey-Williams

It’s raining here in Wiltshire. So, sat by the fire, with a glass of red to comfort the soul, my mind drifts to sunny Venice and our heartwarming exhibition of photographs by the enormously talented Francesa Woodman. This is her “Self-portrait, Easter, Rome, Italy, 1978 (1.160)”; the most sublime little gelatin silver estate print and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful works in Victoria Miro Gallery Venice’s show dedicated to Woodman’s practice in Italy. Woodman was born in Denver in 1958 and was educated in Colorado and Massachusetts. Her family owned an old farm just outside of Florence and Woodman summered there for much of her childhood, learning to speak fluent Italian as a result. A child prodigy, she enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design in 1975 and, as part of her honors program, lived and studied in Rome between 1977 and 1978. This is where she made this gentle, elegant, stripped back yet haunting photograph. It’s typical in that Woodman exposes the fragility of (feminine) self through the interaction of her (more often than not) naked body with a bare, distressed, usually ambiguous, interiorized space. Here she sits, scrunched up in a somewhat anxious pose against a mottled chevron-thrusting plaster wall and hexagonally-tiled floor. Even the purity of geometry is discombobulated by Woodman’s insistence on an extended exposure for her print, blurring image, time and meaning. Around the corner from her apprehensive self stands a lone Calalily (voicing soft whispers of Mapplethorpe), propped up against the wall. Its thrusting vertical stem and marginally exposed flower head providing the gateway to Woodman’s exploration of both gender and sexuality, already communicated with the depiction of her naked self. The artist was barely 20 when she made this simple yet utterly beguiling image. A strangely unbreakable delicacy prevails but one, alas, that would not last long. She would live only until the age of 22, committing suicide in New York by jumping out of her loft on 19 January 1981. Her images embody a pain only poetry can evince. Achingly beautiful work.