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A family of artists at Nina Freudenheim Gallery

Untitled by Francesca Woodman.

The Four Woodmans

A remarkably range of expression suffices the exhibition of art by the family Woodman on view at Nina Freudenheim Gallery. As early spring snow flurrys-up a midafternoon bright with sun-dappled, still bare branches of trees across North Street, the gallery is show casing recent works by Betty and George Woodman, an internationally renown ceramicist and her equally regarded painter, photographer husband, their son Charles, a electronic/video artist, and the estate of Francesca Woodman, now long dead daughter by suicide and perhaps the most intriguing artist of the family. Certainly her passing by defenestration, at the age of 22 in 1981, brings a kind of suspended ambivalence to her self-portrait photographs, which are both highly prized and widely exhibited.

Betty Woodman’s bright palette informs her boldly worked mixed-media ceramic sculptures where, against colorful painted backdrops, shaped ceramic shard-like elements are fastened. They are like cutouts of clay that the artist has worked into floral displays, flat and frontal, giving the impression they were lifted out of a painting by Matisse. George Woodman’s photo-derived paintings are a strong survey of mid-20th-century abstract geometries in a bright array of fruit-like colors flowing elegantly inside their own margins. Charles Woodman’s contribution to the family quartet is more subtle, a color projection of a woods in middle distance with overlapping arrangements of upright tree trunks spaced equally apart, which gradually shift position side to side and front to rear in a continuous silent rhythmic display. He will have a live music and video performance at the gallery this Friday, April 5.

In the work of daughter Francesca, viewers possibly unaware or her death may nonetheless appreciate a thread of enigma running through her small and often intimate black-and-white photographs. Beginning to use a camera at the age of 13 in 1975, she went on to attend Rhode Island School of Design, graduated, lived and exhibited in Italy, then returned to live in New York. At the age of 22 she attempted suicide for the second time and succeeded, jumping out the window of her East Village apartment. Her work over the intervening years has taken on a psychological quality—her images giving rise to speculation about the transitive state of the body as ghost, spirit, angel—the visual manifestations often intuited from her photographs in an age of blurred boundaries and a growing openness to the transmutation of the visible world. Her minimally constructed self-portraits in disconsolate surrounds seem spontaneous, often catching a spectral light in filmy images of both clarity and obscurity, with the artist sometimes naked but often only partially so, hidden with fragments of wallpaper or other objects, creating a diffuse and ambiguous intimacy. The images dissuade sexuality. Woodman, being both subject and object, does not appear interested in indulging incidental voyeurism of the female body’s commodity but more as a shape-shifting muse—a symbolic spirit vessel receiving a viewer’s own embodied self-discovery.

The exhibit continues through April 14.

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