Nancy Youdelman (2016)

Nancy Youndelman

Nancy Youdelman received a Tree of Life Individual Artist Grant in 2016 for 2017 Retrospective.


Nancy Youdelman has created and exhibited her artwork since 1971. In 1970 at California State University, Fresno, she was a member of the first feminist art class taught by Judy Chicago. She continued with the Feminist Art Program at California Institute of the Arts (1971-1973) and participated in the internationally acclaimed project, Womanhouse (1972). She received a BFA from CalArts in 1973 and an MFA from UCLA in 1976, with an emphasis in sculpture. In her twenty-one years in Los Angeles, she exhibited in a variety of university and commercial galleries. Her extensive exhibition record includes many national exhibitions, including solo shows in Santa Fe NM and at Pennsylvania State University, where she had a residency. Recently her work was featured in an international traveling exhibition, Why Not Judy Chicago?, in Bilbao, Spain, and Bordeaux, France. She has been the recipient of grants from the Pollock-Krasner and the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundations (in 2005 and 2007). She taught university art classes as an adjunct for twenty years and retired from teaching in 2013 to work full-time in her studio.

Project Proposal

At this stage of my life, at age 67, I sense that I am experiencing the richest and most intensely creative phase I have ever known as an artist. I have retired from teaching; I am healthy, and I can now work in my studio daily without interruption.  

I am now preparing for a major retrospective exhibition at the Fresno Art Museum, to be held in 2017. The museum’s executive director, Michele Ellis Pracy, is curating this exhibition, which will span five decades. While it is a great honor to show there, the budget at the museum precludes what is a great opportunity for properly documenting and cataloging a lifetime’s work, and to be sure, for fully realizing the potential of the exhibit for doing justice to not only exhibiting and promoting what is a full body of work, but to serve as a springboard for the full realization of the next phase of my artistic practice, which I intend to continue to develop intensely.

The project that I am proposing is two-fold: 

1. Print and mount archival photographs, for display in the exhibit.

2. Produce a brief but comprehensive video to be included in the exhibition, featuring demonstrations in my studio of my working techniques, and a descriptive talk about the various bodies of my work. 

Both the images and the video will be important aspects of my retrospective, because they will not only augment the exhibit and vary the media shown, but will provide context for the gallery patron to help further the understanding of how and why I work. Funding for this project will also facilitate my long-term goal of further promoting and circulating the work beyond this retrospective, and to eventually publish a book.

Most of the photographic images that I will print and mount have never been shown.  During the early to mid 1970s, I worked with the notion of exploring the past through feminine costume. These images are self-portraits in which I recreated an approximation of the time periods of 1890 to 1910, costuming myself in vintage garments. The photos were taken with a cable release on my camera, or with an assistant releasing the shutter. Shot with 35mm slide film, they have been in storage for decades, and I only recently have rediscovered them. I am scanning them as high-quality tiff files, so I will be able to make prints from them. Some of the grant money would be used to have them printed at 36 x 24 inches and mounted on photo mat boards for inclusion in the exhibit. It is critical that they be included in my retrospective, because they are an essential part of my expression, and they represent an early example of feminist approaches to self-portraiture, which in later decades has become an entrenched trend among younger women artists.

In my five decades of artistic practice, I have not had a video documentation made of myself working in my studio. I would use the Tree of Life grant to hire a professional to come to my studio, film me working and demonstrating my process and technique, and create a brief but instructive video that would include discussion about the various bodies and stages of my work. My studio practice is something I do everyday, an essential aspect of my life as an artist, and the opportunity for museum patrons to see an informative video displayed on a monitor in my Fresno Art Museum retrospective would greatly facilitate the understanding of the meaning in my work. 

A Tree of Life grant would allow me to do my utmost—to realize plans for designing and completing proper installation and documentation for my retrospective, as detailed above, and would enable me not only to push beyond the limits of what I have achieved thus far in my artistic practice, but to make the most of this stage in my life when I feel the richness and urgency of the creative drive most intensely.