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Nancy Graves

By Elizabeth Murray

I saw Nancy’s work well before I met her. I went, maybe in 1967, to her opening at the Graham Gallery. What I saw amazed me, and jolted my ideas about art making. She was showing the camels. I do not remember if there were one or two. They were life-sized, life-like, eerie things; dignified, silent, scraggly all at once. Later, in Chicago, I happened to hear her speak and saw her film about them.

Nancy’s work then was very tough, conceptual, striving to be on an edge—involved with the intellect, with deconstructing archaeology, botany, taxidermy, anatomy. Much to my surprise and pleasure, her work shifted over the years. It softened, opened up, became more playful, or playful in a different way, but as intense as the camels.

Nancy’s camels are now seen as seminal works of the late sixties. The full meaning of her later work is yet to be understood.

I never got to know Nancy. I truly wish I had. I am sad that her life has been cut short. I know her work well, and she has left an incredibly beautiful and rich body of work to explore.

Read at the Academy Dinner Meeting on April 2, 1996.

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