Nancy Spero

Hours of the Night

Not on view



Relief print and collage with opaque watercolor, and acrylic on joined paper

Overall: 116 1/4 × 298 1/2 × 2 1/8in. (295.3 × 758.2 × 5.4 cm)

Accession number

Hours of the Night

Edition unknown

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee

Rights and reproductions
© Estate of Nancy Spero / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


The title of Nancy Spero’s expansive collage Hours of the Night derives from the Egyptian Book of the Dead and refers to the twelve hours that the sun god Ra spent in the underworld. In addition to this mythological source, the work’s referential scope is global (one notation reads “Torture in Vietnam,” another “acid rain”) as well as personal (the phrase “SMOKE LICK,” for example, alludes to a fire in her apartment). Spero was known for her activism, and one of her primary concerns over the course of her long career was to draw attention to suffering, particularly on the part of women, that may have been given short shrift by the mass media. The primacy of text in Hours of the Night aligns the work with Conceptual art, and the artist indeed described its format as a visual manuscript spread flat on the wall. “Reading” the collage is not a straightforward or linear process, however. Spero was interested in both the metaphorical associations and the visual qualities of the written word. Here, she emphasizes the aesthetics and materiality of the text through specific techniques—such as varying the size and appearance of typefaces and hand printing words from wood-block alphabets.