Nancy Davidson (artist)
Nancy Brachman Davidson
November 3, 1943
Nancy Brachman Davidson is an American feminist artist working in sculpture, installation art, photography and video. Her work has been shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia or ICA, the Corcoran in Washington D.C., the Wight Gallery at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), as well as the Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Los Angeles and Robert Miller Gallery  in New York, among others.
Nancy Davidson grew up in Chicago and received a B.Ed. from Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, and a B.F.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago or UIC. She received her M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1975 where she began her professional career, exhibiting in solo shows in 1977 and ‘78 before relocating to New York in 1979. Her early works dealt with the recorded gestures of her hand and body. In one such piece the artist employed frottage, using her bodily weight to transfer the patterns of the wooden floor underneath her to strips of paper. The resulting work was a record of touch formed by her gestures and complicated by the irregularities of the floor’s surface. It was her first work to operate on a large scale and to connect bilateral symmetry and curved forms, stylistic themes that would come to define her practice for several decades. During the ‘70s Davidson became affiliated with the Chicago-based abstraction movement. She exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Walker Art Center.
Davidson moved to New York in 1979, and exhibited in solo shows at Haber Theodore Gallery in New York in 1981, and Marianne Deson in Chicago in ’81, '83 and ’85. During the mid-to-late eighties, she began a series of sculptural investigations into the feminized body as theater. The artist later described, “I was still interested in minimal forms, but I began to sense a need to communicate with the viewer more. And it seemed to me minimal forms purposely distanced themselves from that kind of communication.” After 1992 Davidson refocused her work with sculpture, using inflated weather balloons to challenge the notions of contemporary monumental sculpture while simultaneously repurposing comedic tropes of bodily mass, fleshiness and beauty. These enormous inflatable sculptures fill galleries beyond capacity as physical, “breathing” embodiments of sensuality and brazen confidence taken to its absurd limits. In 1999-2000 The Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia exhibited Davidson’s installations and sculptures in the exhibition Breathless. The artist’s first video, eponymously named Breathless, was made as part of the immersive media for this show. During the same time Davidson also began exhibiting photographs created from close-up photographs of her sculpture. “By constructing such images instead of photographing real women, Ms. Davidson means to reflect on the media’s construction of women as objects of desire, and she does so in works that are, like the icons they evoke, from Mae West to Marilyn Monroe, seductive and slyly ironic.”
Davidson has exhibited widely, including at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2001, at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York 2001, and in her 2002 solo show Plenty at the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1997 The New York Times featured Davidson in an article about the Anonymous Was A Woman award Davidson had received. In 2002, the Corcoran Gallery of Art also commissioned Double Exposure as part of the 47th Corcoran Biennial. Critics and writers have praised her work for its “assertive sexual expression... and use of excess for humorous effect.” In 2001 Davidson was awarded a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. In 2005 Creative Capital funded Davidson’s proposal to place enormous inflatable cowgirls in public spaces. In 2012 Davidson exhibited “Dustup” at Betty Cuningham Gallery, NYC.
Davidson's first video project Breathless was completed in 1999 with the help of filmmaker Ken Kobland and sound artist Judith Dunbar. Her recent video projects Jan’s Last Ride (2007) and All Stories are True (2009) spun out from research for the grant she was awarded by Creative Capital in 2005. Focusing on the living history of the rodeo cowgirl, these videos examine performance and ritual in American rodeo culture.
Awards and Residencies
1979 - Individual Artist Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts
1980 - Yaddo Residency Artist Fellowship
1981 - Individual Artist Fellowship, Massachusetts Council of the Arts
1984 - Completion Grant, Massachusetts Council of the Arts
1996 - Djerassi Residency Artist Fellowship
1997 - Anonymous was a Woman Award
2001 - Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant
2003 - Yaddo Residency Artist Fellowship & MacDowell Residency Artist Fellowship
2005 - Creative Capital Artist Grant
2010 - Pilchuck Artist Resident, Seattle, Washington
2014 - John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
2015 - Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant
- Invitation '77: Ten Painters, Walker Art Center, 1977, retrieved 2012-03-02,.
- Nancy Davidson: Breathless, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, November 20, 1999, retrieved 2012-03-02,.
- Johnson, Ken (October 9, 1998). "Nancy Davidson". The New York Times.
- redefined: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, April 4, 2006, retrieved 2012-03-02[permanent dead link],.
- Kate Gilmore, "In Conversation: Kate Gilmore with Nancy Davidson" the Brooklyn Rail, September 2012 
- "Nancy Davidson Guggenheim Fellow".
- "Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant".
- Official website
- Davidson at the Ulrich Museum of Art
- Davidson artist page at Creative Capital
- Nancy Davidson at Betty Cuningham Gallery
- Archives of American Art