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Nancy Graves

Nancy Graves
Born (1939-12-23)December 23, 1939
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died October 21, 1995(1995-10-21) (aged 55)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Education Vassar College, Yale University
Known for Sculptor, Painter, Printmaker

Nancy Graves (December 23, 1939 – October 21, 1995) was an American sculptor, painter, printmaker, and sometime-filmmaker known for her focus on natural phenomena like camels or maps of the moon. Her works are included in many public collections, including those of the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Gallery of Australia (Canberra), and the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis).[1] She was the first woman to receive a solo retrospective at the Whitney Museum.[2]


  • Early life and studies 1
  • Work 2
  • Exhibitions 3
  • Awards 4
  • Death 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early life and studies

Graves was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Her interest in art, nature, and anthropology was fostered by her father, an accountant at a local museum. After graduating from Vassar College in English Literature, Graves attended Yale University, where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees. Fellow Yale Art and Architecture alumni of the 1960s include the painters, photographers, and sculptors Brice Marden, Richard Serra, Chuck Close, Janet Fish, Gary Hudson, Rackstraw Downes, and Robert Mangold.[3]

After her graduation in 1964, she received a Fulbright Scholarship and studied painting in Paris. Continuing her international travels, she then moved on to Florence. During the rest of her life, she would also travel to Morocco, Germany, Canada, India, Nepal, Kashmir, Egypt, Peru, China, Australia.[4]


A prolific artist who worked in painting, sculpture, printmaking and film, Graves first made her presence felt on the New York art scene in the late 1960s and 70's, with life-size sculptures of camels that seemed as accurate as a natural history display. Like-minded artists included Eva Hesse, Close, Bruce Nauman, Keith Sonnier, and Serra, to whom Graves was married from 1965 to 1970.[5] Her work has strong ties to the Alexander Calder's stabiles and to the sculptures of David Smith, with their welded parts and found objects; she collected works by both artists.[4]

Her most famous sculpture, Camels, was first displayed in the Whitney Museum of American Art. The sculpture features three separate camels, each made of many materials, among them burlap, wax, figerglass, and animal skin. Each camel is also painted with acrylics and oil colors to appear realistic. The camels are now stored in the National Gallery of Canada, and two later "siblings" reside in the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen, Germany. Working in Fiberglas, latex, marble dust and other unorthodox materials, Graves later moved on to camel skeletons and bones, which she dispersed about the floor or hung from ceilings.[5] In Variability of Similar Forms (1970), from drawings that Graves made of Pleistocene camel skeletons, she sculpted 36 individual leg bones in various positions, each nearly the height of a man, and arranged them upright in an irregular pattern on a wooden base.[4] In the early 1970s, she made five films. Two of them, Goulimine, 1970 and Izy Boukir, recorded the movement of camels in Morocco, reflecting the influence of Eadweard Muybridge's motion-study photography.[4] In 1976, German art collector Peter Ludwig commissioned a wax variation of a 1969 sculpture of camel bones.

Graves began showing open-form polychrome sculptures in 1980, one prime example being Trace, a very large tree whose trunk was made from ribbons of bronze with foliage of steel mesh.[6] Also in the early 1980s, she began to produce the works for which she became most widely known: the colorfully painted, playfully disjunctive assemblages of found objects cast in bronze, including plants, mechanical parts, tools, architectural elements, food products and much more.[3]

Graves also created a distinctive body of aerial landscapes, mostly based on maps of the moon and similar sources. Below is a link to an example (VI Maskeyne Da Region of the Moon). Author Margret Dreikausen (1985) writes extensively of Graves's aerial works as part of a broader discussion of the aerial view and its importance in modern and contemporary art.

Some of Graves's other works include:

  • Goulimine (film, 1970)
  • Izy Boukir (film, 1971)
  • VI Maskeyne Da Region of the Moon (lithograph, 1972)[7]
  • Fragment (painting, 1977)[8]
  • Wheelabout (sculpture, 1985)[9]
  • Hindsight (sculpture, 1986)[10]
  • Immovable Iconography (sculpture, 1990)[11]
  • Footscray (oil on canvas, paint, and sulpture)
  • Metaphore & Melanomy, (cast bronze, 1995)[12]

At the end of her life, Graves was incorporating handblown glass into her sculptures and experimenting with poly-optics, a glasslike material that can be cast.[5]

Graves worked and lived in Soho and in Beacon, New York, where she maintained a studio.[4]


Graves, whose first New York exhibition was at the Graham Gallery in 1968, has been represented by Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, later traveled to the Brooklyn Museum in 1987.[5] When the restored Rainbow Room reopened in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center in 1987, a Graves sculpture was installed at the entrance.[4]


  • Skowhegan Medal for Drawing/Graphics (1980)
  • New York Dance and Performance Bessie Award (1986)
  • Honorary Degree, Skidmore College (1989)
  • Elected into the National Academy of Design (1992)


Nancy Graves made her last works in April 1995 at the Walla Walla Foundry with Saff Tech Arts in Washington state.[12] In May, less than a month later, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died the following October, aged 55.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Entry for Nancy Graves on ArtCyclopedia
  2. ^ Nancy Graves: Biography and Much More from
  3. ^ a b Ken Johnson (March 11, 2005), Art in Review; Nancy Graves New York Times.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Cathleen McGuigan (December 6, 1987), Forms of Fantasy New York Times.
  5. ^ a b c d Roberta Smith (October 24, 1995), Nancy Graves, 54, Prolific Post-Minimalist Artist New York Times.
  6. ^ Grace Glueck (October 22, 1982), Art: Botanical Bronzes from Nancy Graves New York Times.
  7. ^ VI Maskeyne Da Region of the Moon, Memorial Art Gallery,
  8. ^ Fragment painting, Memorial Art Gallery,
  9. ^ Wheelabout sculpture,, Nancy Graves.
  10. ^ Hindsight sculpture, Walker Art Center.
  11. ^ Immovable Iconography sculpture, Nancy Graves, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.
  12. ^ a b Walla Walla Foundry, Nancy Graves.
  13. ^ Biography at the Nancy Graves Foundation

Further reading

  • Dreikausen, Margret, "Aerial Perception: The Earth as Seen from Aircraft and Spacecraft and Its Influence on Contemporary Art" (Associated University Presses: Cranbury, New Jersey; London, England; Mississauga, Ontario: 1985) ISBN 0-87982-040-3.
  • Graves, Nancy Stevenson; E A Carmean; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The Sculpture of Nancy Graves: a catalogue raisonné with essays (New York: Hudson Hills Press in association with the Fort Worth Art Museum: Distributed in the United States … by Rizzoli International, ©1987) ISBN 0-933920-77-6; ISBN 0-933920-78-4.

External links

  • Nancy Graves profile National Gallery of Art
  • Nancy Graves profile at Artcyclopedia
  • Nancy Graves in the National Gallery of Australia's Kenneth Tyler collection
  • "Nancy Graves: Camels, Bones and Bronze", critical review of one of Graves's exhibitions
  • Nancy Graves
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