Nancy Graves

Nancy Graves (1939 – 1995) was an internationally acclaimed American artist noted for her cross-disciplinary approach. Renowned for her prolific output, Graves made significant contributions to sculpture, painting, drawing, watercolor, printmaking, avant-garde film, and set design.

Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Graves graduated from Vassar College in 1961. She then earned her MFA in painting at Yale University in 1964, studying alongside other future luminaries like Robert Mangold, Rackstraw Downes, Brice Marden, Chuck Close, and Richard Serra, whom she married from 1964 to 1970.

Graves’ career took off in 1969 when she became the youngest artist and only the fifth woman to receive a solo presentation at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This landmark exhibition featured three lifelike camel sculptures, which questioned the veracity of art and science and established her as a post-Minimalist innovator. Her work has since been showcased in hundreds of museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide, and she received commissions for large-scale, site-specific sculptures that now reside in major art museums’ permanent collections.

Based in the artistic hub of SoHo, New York, Graves first gained attention in the late 1960s with her innovative camel, fossil, totem, and bone sculptures made from materials like fur, burlap, plaster, and wood. These works, which engaged with conceptualist ideas of display, referenced archaeological sites, anthropology, and natural sciences.

In the late 1970s, Graves became one of the first contemporary artists to experiment with bronze casting, breathing new life into the lost wax technique by assembling cast found objects into improbably balanced sculptures with bright, polychrome surfaces.

After focusing on sculpture in the early 1970s, Graves returned to painting with detailed pointillist canvases that merged scientific imagery from nature photographs, NASA satellite recordings, and lunar maps with abstract forms. Throughout the 1980s, she expanded her practice to include large gestural watercolors and prints, and her wall-mounted works from the late 1980s integrated sculptural elements to cast patterned shadows, blending sculpture and painting.

By the 1990s, Graves was casting in diverse materials like glass, resin, paper, aluminum, and bronze. She combined these elements into dynamic, moving sculptures that drew on her own earlier work rather than external sources, creating a layered exploration of her artistic evolution.

From her early years, Graves demonstrated a keen interest in the intersection of art and scientific disciplines. She transformed complex visual information from maps and diagrams into expressive artworks, investigating concepts like repetition, variation, and perception. Her work anticipated contemporary practices in data mining, interdisciplinary art, and research-based creations, addressing philosophical, perceptual, aesthetic, and technological issues pertinent to the digital age.

Graves married veterinarian Dr. Avery Smith in 1991 and traveled extensively, immersing herself in cultural and intellectual debates of her time. Her brilliant career was tragically cut short by her death from cancer at age 54. Today, Nancy Graves’ pioneering works are celebrated for their innovative exploration of art’s boundaries, continuing to inspire new generations of artists.

Nancy Graves’ legacy lives on as a testament to the power of cross-disciplinary creativity and innovation in the arts.

Geologic Maps of Lunar Orbiter and Apollo Landing Sites portfolio, 1972

Portfolio of ten lithographs and screen-prints with collage additions; each 22 ½ x 30 inches


The ten lithographs in this portfolio are some of the first prints that Nancy Graves ever made as well as the first to be produced in an edition. Throughout her career, the artist worked in many mediums including sculpture, painting, drawing, mixed media, printmaking and film which she often combined in her cross-disciplinary practice. Graves’ prints, for example, were an outgrowth of her paintings and drawings and she typically moved seamlessly between these mediums. Her diverse body of work, which also included set design, was bound together by abounding color. In the Lithographs Based on Geologic Maps of Lunar Orbiter and Apollo Landing Sites series, Graves used color to provide visual cues for interacting with the works, suggesting lead-ins to where viewers’ eye would be drawn to and how their gazes would travel. In these works the artist examined repetition, variation, and verisimilitude to help viewers perceive visual information. The ten prints are interpretations of the actual maps that NASA produced in preparation for the Apollo mission. Transposing portions of the lunar charts into larger drawings, Graves stippled the images onto sheets of Mylar which she then transferred to light-sensitive aluminum plates. The result were entirely new compositions that engaged abstraction while evoking the spatial origin of the source images. These lithographs are consistent with an entire body of work where Graves repurposed objective scientific materials into compelling, expressive works of art. Graves studied at Vassar College and received her MFA from Yale University, where her classmates included Robert Mangold, Rackstraw Downes, Brice Marden, Chuck Close, and Richard Serra. In 1969, she became the youngest artist, and only the fifth woman, to receive a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. This opportunity helped launch her career. She went on to receive countless honors and distinctions during her life despite of it being cut short by her untimely death from cancer at age 54.


University of Houston – Downtown

Marilyn Davies College of Business
2nd Floor Hallway

Artwork in this Portfolio

I. Part of Sabine D Region, Southwest Mare Tranquillitatis

II. Fra Mauro Region of the Moon, 1972

III. Maestlin G Region of the Moon,1972

Julius Caesar Quadrangle of the Moon, 1972

V. Mantes Apenninus Region, 1972

VI. Maskelyne DA Region of the Moon, 1972

VII. Sabine D Region of the Moon, Lunar Orbiter Site IIP-6, Southwestern Mare Tranquilitatis, 1972

VIII. Geologic Map of the Sinus Iridum Quadrangle of the Moon, 1972

IX. Sabine DM Region of the Moon, 1972

X. Riphaeus Mountains Region of the Moon, 1972