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Artists Nancy Graves
Nancy Graves Photo

Nancy Graves

American Sculptor, Painter, Printmaker and Filmmaker

Movement: Post-Minimalism

Born: December 23, 1939 - Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Died: October 21, 1995 - New York City, New York

Nancy Graves Timeline

Quotes

"I choose a form for the ways it will lend itself to building and for its image, lastly for its life history - which is obviated by the process."
Nancy Graves
"The choice of the camel as form was a decision I didn't completely understand, but it makes sense with the work that came afterward,"
Nancy Graves
"It's not failure; sure I make some bad work. The bad ones are what I'm most interested in."
Nancy Graves
"If you want to try one thing, and it doesn't work, you have five or seven ways to go. What I try to do is keep refreshing myself."
Nancy Graves
"I try to defy, conceptually and visually, the logic of building. My sculptures aren't evenly balanced in the obvious visual way, they're balanced by imbalance."
Nancy Graves
"Why camels? Because camels shouldn't exist. They have flesh on their hoofs, four stomachs, a dislocated jaw. Yet with all of the illogical form the camel still functions. And though they may be amusing, they are still wonderful to watch."
Nancy Graves
"We are born and we die. By understanding our interrelatedness to the chain gang of life, meaning comes."
Nancy Graves

"Color is another way to confound the eye,"

Synopsis

Nancy Graves worked across many media and over many years to bring back life - particularly natural life - to the "soulless" American art world of the time. In the 1960s two movements were dominant in America - Minimalism and Pop Art. Graves was bored by the pure abstraction and clean lines of Minimalism and wary of Pop Artists' obsession with popular culture and mechanic reproduction techniques. Her art completely broke away from these movements and styles by focusing predominately on the natural world, often referencing scientific modes of titling, display, and representation.

Graves became famous for two life-size naturalistic camel sculptures, which embodied her fascination with animals; her interest in museum display techniques for showing artworks, as well as her creative and humorous take on natural history in art. She worked in a huge variety of media across her career and went on to make films as well as more abstract and brightly colored assemblage sculptures, paintings, and prints in later life, in works that drew the natural world together with anthropological or cultural human histories.

Key Ideas

Early in her career, Graves started using museum display methods to show her work. This relationship, between the art museum (or gallery) and the natural history museum seemed very unusual at the time. However, Graves' work has helped pave the way for contemporary artists to explore both the museum as a cultural signifier, and the contents of museums, as integral to artistic practice.
In her later work, Graves purposely layered images and objects from 'nature' (animals, leaves) with those from 'culture' (art, ancient artifacts, architecture) to build up an image of the complex web of human existence in between the natural and built environments. This assertion that human history is equally a cultural and natural one, has become extremely important to artists, theorists, and scientists working today on climate change and cultural theory.
Despite the huge variety in her working method, she had a rather unusual recurring theme, particularly in her earlier work, of camels! She found camels - with their long limbs and humps and big eyes and noses - emblematic of her assertion that the natural world is both very strange and very wonderful.
Whereas many artists are famous for producing work in one medium (as painters, or sculptors, etc.) Nancy Graves constantly changed her tools and practice, each time using the medium she felt best suited an individual work. This mode of practice is familiar to artist's working in the late 2000s, however was, and is, a huge challenge to the art market and to critics who both look for collectability and reassuring sameness in artists' choice of skill and medium.

Biography

Nancy Graves Photo

Early Life

Graves was born to an upper- middle class, quintessentially New England family in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1939. By the age of twelve, she was confident that she wanted to be an artist. Childhood visits to the Berkshire Museum, where her father worked as an assistant to the director, fed this ambition. The young Graves was fascinated by the combination of natural history and fine art displayed in the museum, and the crossover of anthropology, nature and art captured her imagination for decades to come.

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Nancy Graves Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Nancy Graves
Interactive chart with Nancy Graves's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Clemente Susini
Alexander CalderAlexander Calder
David SmithDavid Smith

Personal Contacts

Chuck CloseChuck Close
Richard SerraRichard Serra

Movements

Anti-Pop
Post-MinimalismPost-Minimalism
NaturalismNaturalism

Influences on Artist
Nancy Graves
Nancy Graves
Years Worked: 1964 - 1995
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Julie MehretuJulie Mehretu
Frank StellaFrank Stella
Judy Pfaff
Jessica Stockholder
Sarah Sze

Personal Contacts

Linda NochlinLinda Nochlin

Movements

Data-based art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Eve MacNeill

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Eve MacNeill
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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