The upcoming exhibition of Francesca Woodman’s photographs is so small it’s hard to call it an exhibition: three of her small vintage prints are on display at Gagosian’s stand at Art Basel. But it’s kind of an announcement – both that Gagosian now represents the artist (formerly with Marian Goodman and Victoria Miro) and that the Woodman Family Foundation has plenty in store for the artist’s fans and scholars. Two of these prints have never been exhibited and the other is an excellent example of a famous image by the artist, known for both his experimental self-portrait and his suicide in 1981 at age 22.
Until their own deaths, Francesca’s parents, George and Betty, artists themselves, had carefully guided their daughter’s posthumous career. Now that’s the foundation’s job, and it has a lot to do: a trove of vintage prints, many of which have never been exhibited before, its negatives, its contact sheets, its camera, its tripod, the clothes Victorian style that she used for filming and wore regularly, and journals and notebooks documenting her intentions and ideas for artwork.
“It’s a huge amount of work – there were a number of photographs that Betty and George over the past 25 years had logged and left on the market, but they withheld a lot for the Foundation,” says the director. Woodman Family Foundation executive Lissa McClure, who oversees material for all three artists. As for newspapers, she added, “George and Betty have allowed some extracts to be printed in catalogs over the years, but the majority have never been seen.”
At least not yet. This month of June, Francesca Woodman: The Artist’s Books, presents eight books she made – truly found books that she remade or covered with photographs, inspired by surrealist collage texts – between 1976 and 1980. The Foundation plans to open a study center at the beginning of next year, around the time Gagosian New York has a solo exhibition. Also in spring 2024, the National Portrait Gallery in London combines the work of Woodman with that of Julia Margaret Cameron for a major exhibition teasing the thematic links, Portraits to dream.
McClure said the Foundation material already allows for new perspectives on Woodman’s work, from his dedication to the darkroom to his interest in serial work. “She has become so well known for these iconic and unique images, and what we found in the contact sheets and prints are a large number of related works that add different context and allow for a broader reading.”
Above all, she believes the Foundation material will help give Woodman more voice after so many decades of biographical interpretation, much of it obsessed with his death. “So much has been written about her or placed on her,” McClure said, “so it’s really exciting to give her more voice and agency.”