Nancy Spero’s studio occupies the entire floor of a loft in Greenwich Village, a deep space divided only by a partition that once separated her working space from that of her late husband’s, the painter Leon Golub (1922–2004). As I entered Spero’s studio to see what she was working on for the upcoming Venice Biennale, I glimpsed the borderline defining her space and Leon’s old painting space, which had remained empty since his death in August 2004, except for the looming presence of his mural-scale painting, Gigantomachy II (1965). Nailed into the brick wall, the scarred raw linen surface of Gigantomachy II seethes with a tangle of brutish, wretched bodies, Olympian gods and giants, battling to the death for dominance.

On Spero’s side of the studio, long work tables nudged end-to-end are piled with stacks of cut-out female figures of different sizes,...

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