‘Portrait of a Reputation’ curated by Nora Burnett Abrams at the Museum of Contemporary Art highlights the body’s exceptional ability to make connections with the world. The body acts as a mediator between the self and our environment allowing us to move, to create bonds, to express our feelings, and most importantly, to experience the world. Viewers are allowed to create an experience for themselves through their presence, while simultaneously experiencing the past life of artist, Francesca Woodman. In other words, visitors are invited to witness the movements, bonds expressions, and encounters of Woodman brought to life through her work. The interactions that her body has created are documented through various receipts.
Her being, which is captured through photography, hand-written letters, and postcards places her on a timeline of history and defines her definite environment. Born in Denver, Colorado where the mountainous landscape and distinct skyline are often local subject matter, Woodman looks closer into her intimate surroundings as if she is holding a magnifying glass over the world that she belongs to. Images of her with friends, outside, or at a clothing shop all reveal her proximity to the landscape.
Woodman was influenced by Surrealism and Conceptual Art and her work often includes the body and body symbolism. The collection of images with ripped tights (1975-78), along with many others, illustrate how Woodman becomes a part of her surroundings, mirroring the physicality of it, with torn couches, but also positioning herself among the objects of her life that define some aspect of her being. Additionally, Woodman is well-known for her blurred images through double exposure, often depicting her in action, thus, enhancing the integration of self, surroundings, and interrelated presence. Woodman portrays how the people and objects she is photographed with have a shared existence through constructed space. Woodman, often arranged with furniture, people, and fabric establishes a shared dependence, revealing similarities between objects and subjects. For instance, the mirror, which is a recurring object within the work, demonstrates how Woodman gives the mirror something to reflect, while the mirror provides unseen angles of Woodman’s body— both captured by the camera, sharing a private connection.
The letters, both hand-written and typed also show personal moments. In most of the letters and notecards, Woodman is referred to as ‘Cesca,’ revealing the intimate nature of her relationships. The letters, although stored behind a glass case, illuminate her presence. Her physical form may not be there, but her body at some point in the past had established those ties, allowing others to make connections with her ephemera.
‘Portrait of a Reputation’ frames the life of Woodman and her interactions, but what was behind the camera? What was on the other side of the letter? The collection of her experiences within the space reflect a series of portraits that have greatly contributed to her social, adventurous, relatable and inspiring reputation as an artist.