Francesca Woodman, Untitled (1975-80). Courtesy of George and Betty Woodman


Tate Liverpool show to pair Francesca Woodman’s intense portraits with Egon Schiele’s erotic drawings

The US photographer’s innovations are re-examined in joint exhibition that looks at the ‘physical tensions of the human body’

Tate Liverpool throws light on the practice of Francesca Woodman—who committed suicide aged 22—in a joint show this spring that combines works by the influential US photographer and drawings by the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele (Life in Motion: Egon Schiele/Francesca Woodman, 24 May-23 September). The show will examine how both artists focus on the “physical tensions of the human body” and “investigate selfhood”, says the exhibition co-curator Marie Nipper, the interim artistic director of Tate Liverpool.

Woodman was born in Denver in 1958, and enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1975. She spent periods of study in Rome and was given her first solo exhibition at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover in 1976. She died in 1981, but her mature body of photographic work still resonates, with Cindy Sherman among her devotees. “Her process struck me more the way a painter works, making do with what’s right in front of her,” Sherman told the Daily Telegraph.

The show will include a series of Woodman’s black-and-white images loaned by Victoria Miro gallery in London, such as Self-deceit #6, Rome, Italy (1977-78). “Comprising some 800 photographs, Woodman’s oeuvre is acclaimed for its singularity of style and range of innovative techniques. From the beginning, her body was both the subject and object in her work,” a gallery statement says. Other works include Providence, Rhode Island (1976), one of nine pieces owned by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland through the Artist Rooms initiative.

Woodman’s radical techniques, such as employing long exposures to create blurred images, power her self-portraits which aim to convey what she described as the “body’s inner force”. Nipper says that Woodman “tries to resist the male gaze… she tries to become one with her surroundings”. Visitors are invited to judge whether the photographs align with feminism and Surrealism, schools often associated with Woodman.

Humour also underpins her vision though. The ceramicist Betty Woodman, Francesca’s mother who died earlier this month, told the Guardian in 2014: “[Francesca] was fun to be with. It’s a basic fallacy that her death is what she was all about, and people read that into the photographs. They psychoanalyse them. Young people in particular feel she’s talking about them, somehow. They see the photographs as very personal. But that’s not the way I approach them. They’re often funny.”

Nipper says that the show will also reveal fresh facets of Schiele’s art and lenders include the National Gallery in Prague and Wienerroither & Kohlbacher gallery in Vienna, which is loaning the drawing Reclining Nude, Masturbating (1914). Both Schiele and his mentor, the painter Gustav Klimt, died in 1918. “We will highlight [Shiele’s] stylistic changes, investigating his approach to line and colour,” she says. “There is a timelessness to his best work.”