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Art for Breakfast: Francesca Woodman’s Untitled, Providence RI, 1976

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A print sheet. Informal, in the rhetoric of photographers, a behind the scenes glance. Sharpie on the images. Is she editing or playing? She dives to the ground, over a line penned in after the fact. A line that didn’t exist when she dove over it. In most of the panels you cannot see her through the blur. She is a ghost. And her ghost defines the materiality of these virtual doors and windows. She gives substance to the imaginary spaces by leaping through them.

Planes in space. The planes seem random, her body teeters exactly between on side and another, bisected. The planes are as random as the placement of a person in an empty room, which is never random. Then that person moves around the space. Start to move, and you start to push the boundaries. Spend time on the floor. See the corners. Live close to the wall, outside the center. The corners of our rooms so often are forgotten. Woodman makes us aware of these boundaries of rooms, and of our expected behavior. Do we ever really use the spaces that we occupy?

I discovered Francesca Woodman last spring. I saw an image and read an article and, inspired, travelled to see her solo exhibition at the Guggenheim. The prints are all very small. You find yourself closing in on them for a glimpse of detail. Only a few were ever printed larger, those are caryatids, prints that could support the ceiling with folds of fabric.

Woodman was a very promising artist who graduated from RISD with the prospect of a promising career but soon thereafter committed suicide at the age of 22. The medium of photography will never know what might have been. What it gained was a photographer of eternal youth. Woodman worked mostly with self portraits during the six years that she worked, often bending and breaking and juxtaposing our expectations of photography, exposing her own vulnerable nature. She speaks perfectly and exactly to the terror and impatience of adolescence. She is an art student whose short career has been the focus of several large retrospectives, and whose work has plucked at the hearts of millions.

But I don’t need to validate her. The work speaks for itself. It speaks to me. I see her shapes and I feel the marks of her sharpie and I know her. I know her space and her shadow and her movement. She is the artist that lives inside me—surely she lives inside you, too. Jessica Brier, a young curatorial assistant who worked on her retrospective at SFMoMA, says that younger viewers seem to "intuitively understand the work." Intuitively. Innately, unconsciously, viscerally.

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About Author

Margaret Rew is the gallery director at Howard Yezerski Gallery by day and fledgling writer by night. She graduated from Tufts University in 2011 with a degree in Art History and Political Science. Her daily art blog, artforbreakfast.org, chronicles the story behind, beneath and within one piece of art every day.

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