Nancy Grossman

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Nancy Grossman
Born (1940-04-28) April 28, 1940 (age 79)
New York City
EducationPratt Institute
Known forSculpture
MovementFeminist Art
AwardsWomen's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award (2008)[1]

Nancy Grossman (born April 28, 1940) is an American artist. Grossman is best known for her wood and leather sculptures of heads.

Early life and education[edit]

Nancy Grossman was born in 1940 in New York City[2] to parents who worked in the garment industry.[3][4] She moved at the age of five to Oneonta, New York. There, she began helping her parents at work making darts, which are three-dimensional folds sewn into fabric to give shape; and gussets, which are materials sewn into fabric to strengthen a garment.[5] Her experience in sewing influenced her work as an artist. Grossman studied at Pratt Institute and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree under the tutelage of Richard Lindner, in 1962. She then traveled Europe after earning Pratt's Ida C. Haskell Award for Foreign Travel.[6]

When she began making art her work was largely collage and drawings. She was working in the 1960s, when Abstract Expression was popular, and she was torn between abstract art and her love for material exploration.[7] At 23, Grossman had her first solo exhibition at the Kasner gallery in New York City. Her artwork included collages, constructions, drawings, and paintings. In 1964 she moved to Eldridge Street in Chinatown and continued to work there. Her move afforded her more space, so she began assembling free standingpieces and wall assemblages of at least six feet by four feet.[6][7]

In 1972, Grossman signed the "We Have Had Abortions" campaign by Ms. magazine which called for an end to "archaic laws" limiting reproductive freedom, they encouraged women to share their stories and take action.[8]

Grossman relocated to Brooklyn in 1999 after being forced to leave her Chinatown studio which she had occupied for thirty-five years.[1]


Grossman is probably most well known for her work with figures sculpted from soft wood and then covered in leather. Grossman first used wood, generally soft and "found," such as old telephone poles, and carefully sculpts heads and bodies.[9] The heads she sculpted early in her career were "blind" as the eyes were covered by leather; however, openings were always left for the noses. Grossman explains that she wanted to release some of the tension and let the figure breathe.[10] Her attention to detail is seen in her workmanship, with each stitch of leather sewn carefully. The sculpture Male Figure (1971), is one of her full-bodied forms. Grossman uses leather, straps, zippers, and string to create sculptures that appear bound and restrained.[11] She describes her work as autobiographical, and despite figures like Male Figure, which has male genitalia, she says her sculptures are self-portraits.[12]

Others have reviewed her work as seemingly sexual and reminiscent of sadism and masochism, which Grossman denies.[13] She says her work challenges the ideas of gender identity and gender fluidity.[14] Grossman says the sculptures refer to her "bondage in childhood," but others have said that her work may flirt with the potential of female artists who had not yet gained prominence in the 1960s.[9][14] Grossman plays with images of violence and sex as a way to explore her childhood abuse.[14] Grossman describes her work as a form of surrender, allowing things to flow from her and trusting that it will work out.[6] Head from 1968, in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, is typical of the wood and leather sculptures of heads for which the artist is best known.

Recent work[edit]

Some of her later work, such as Black Lava Scape from her series Combustion Scapes (1994–95) are mixed media collages created from found objects. Another piece in the series Self-Contained Lavascape (1991) is a mixed media collage drawing. According to a review in the New York Times, these pieces were inspired by a helicopter flight over an active volcano in Hawaii.[9]

In 1995, Grossman sustained an injury to her hand which made working with sculpture very difficult. After an operation to rebuild part of her hand, she was left with limited mobility, which is what led her to go back to her work with collage and painting.[15]

Recently, her work has been shown in major museum exhibitions. In the summer of 2011, PS1-MoMA presented a solo exhibition of her sculptural heads, and in 2012, the Tang Museum at Skidmore College presented Nancy Grossman: Tough Life, a five-decade survey. Throughout her impressive career, Grossman has received a steady flow of accolades, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1984), a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (1991), a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (1996–97), and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2001), and her work is represented in the permanent collections of museums worldwide.[16]


In 2009, the U.S. Postal Service censored her postcard, for her etchings of a book by Adrienne Rich.[17][18]


  • 1990 "Nancy Grossman: A Retrospective", Hillwood Art Museum, Brookville, NY
  • 1995 "Nancy Grossman: Opus Volcanus", Hooks-Epstein Galleries[19]
  • 2000 "Nancy Grossman: Fire Fields", The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center
  • 2001 "Nancy Grossman: Loud Whispers, Four Decades of Assemblage, Collages and Sculpture", Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York[20]
  • 2007 "Nancy Grossman: Drawings", Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2011 "Nancy Grossman: Combustion Scapes", Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
  • 2011 "Nancy Grossman: Heads", MoMA PS-1, New York City[21][22]
  • 2012 "Nancy Grossman", Frances Young Tang Museum[23]


  • 1962: Ida C. Haskell Award for Foreign Travel, Pratt Institute
  • 1965-66: John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
  • 1966: Inaugural Contemporary Achievement Award, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1970: One Hundred Women In Touch With Our Time, Harper’s Bazaar Magazine
  • 1973: Juror, New York State Council on the Arts, sculpture applicants for CAPS Fellowships
  • 1974: Commencement Speaker and Honored Guest, 99th Commencement Exercises, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, MA
  • 1974: American Academy of Arts and Letters, National Institute of Arts and Letters Award
  • 1974: Juror, American Academy in Rome, sculpture applicants for Prix de Rome Fellowships
  • 1975: Elected to Membership, National Society of Literature and the Arts
  • 1984: National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Sculpture
  • 1990: The Hassam, Speicher, Betts and Symons Purchase Award, The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
  • 1991: Artist’s Fellowship in Sculpture, The New York Foundation for the Arts
  • 1991-92: Nancy Grossman at Exit Art, The Hillwood Art Museum and the Sculpture Center selected one of the three best exhibitions in an art gallery of this season by The American Chapter of the International Art Critics Association
  • 1992: Elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member (became a full Academician in 1994).
  • 1995: Alumnae Achievement Award, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1996-97 Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant
  • 2001: Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant
  • 2008: Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award.[24]


  • Nancy Grossman: loud whispers: four decades of assemblage, collage and sculpture, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2000, ISBN 978-1-930416-07-9
  • Carol Kort, Liz Sonneborn (2002). A to Z of American women in the visual arts. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8160-4397-2.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Nancy Grossman". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  3. ^ "Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Nancy Grossman." Brooklyn Museum. accessed 3/9/13,
  4. ^ ohnson, Ken. 2011. "Blind Ambition of Leather-Clad Heads." New York Times, July 22, C. 23.
  5. ^ Nancy Grossman: Tough Life Diary, accessed 3/9/13,
  6. ^ a b c "Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Nancy Grossman."
  7. ^ a b Nancy Grossman: Tough Life Diary
  8. ^ "We Have Had Abortions" (PDF).
  9. ^ a b c Johnson, Ken. 2011. "Blind Ambition of Leather-Clad Heads."
  10. ^ Bjornland, Karen. 2012. "Nancy Grossman exhibit tells tale about intriguing heads."
  11. ^ Glueck, Grace. 2001. "Nancy Grossman: [Review]." New York Times, January 12, 2001, E. 50.
  12. ^ Swartz, Anne. "The Erotics of Envelopment Figuration in Nancy Grossman's Art," N. Paradoxa: 2007. Accessed 3/9/13. Anne_Swartz_The_Erotics_of_Envelopment_Figuration_in_Nancy_Grossmans_Art
  13. ^ Glueck, Grace. 2001. "Nancy Grossman: [Review]."
  14. ^ a b c Swartz, Anne. "The Erotics of Envelopment Figuration in Nancy Grossman's Art,"
  15. ^ Morgan, Robert C. "Nancy Grossman: Opus Volcanus," Sculpture Magazine: 1998, accessed 3/9/13,
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Letters Censored by Adrienne Rich with Nancy Grossman - New York, NY". Retrieved 2016-03-18.
  18. ^ "Letters censored, shredded, returned to sender or judged unfit to send" (PDF). Pied Oxen Printers. Retrieved March 18, 2016.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Glueck, Grace (12 January 2001). "ART IN REVIEW; Nancy Grossman". The New York Times.
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Nancy Grossman: Tough Life Diary - Tang Museum". Tang Museum. Retrieved 2016-03-19.
  24. ^ Lovelace, Carey. "Nancy Grossman" (PDF). WOMEN’S CAUCUS FOR ART HONOR AWARDS FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN THE VISUAL ARTS. Women's Caucus for Art. Retrieved 9 January 2014.

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