Maar was also a master of photo-montage which saw her place everyday mundane objects in expected settings. For example, one of her first photomontages, “Untitled” (1934), centres a human hand that appears to be crawling out of a shell, in front of a backdrop of the sky as if the image was taken from space. Hands were a key symbol of the surrealist movement for the way they represent human connection to flesh, fetishes, pain, and pleasure and the automatism that comes with feeling these experiences. Photomontages aside, Maar also documented the surrealist movement by taking portraits of the artists that surrounded her.
The sculpture began as a joke over lunch in Paris with fellow surrealists Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso. The duo noticed a fur-lined bracelet Oppenheim was wearing and joked (surrealistically) that anything could be covered with fur. “Even this cup and saucer”, replied Oppenheim. Her imagination flared, and she did exactly that by covering a cup and saucer with brown fur, dismantling the object’s societally intended function. By doing this, Oppenheim subverts the logic and rationality society imposes on domestic objects and the embedded gender structures that come with them. “Object” is now considered one of the most important surrealist objects to date for the way it champions the surrealist idea that when mundane objects are presented in illogical ways, they have the power to challenge reason.
Remedios Varo, Papilla Estelar, 1958. Image courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.
Gertrude Abercrombie, The Courtship, 1949. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Gertrude Abercrombie Trust. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago. Courtesy of MCA Chicago.
Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine, c.1615–17, oil on canvas. Courtesy: Robilant + Voena, London
Although Tate Modern will host a Dorothea Tanning retrospective for four months in 2019, in the International Surrealism room of its permanent collection, less than a fifth of the works are by women. There are, for example, multiple pieces by Miller’s husband Roland Penrose, but none by her, nor any mention of the role she played in introducing England to surrealism through the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition. It’s a similar story at New York’s Museum of Modern Art: although the gallery recently hosted a Louise Bourgeois exhibition and has more than 5,000 pieces of her work in their online collection, only one is on display in the permanent galleries. Of the 12 surrealist artworks on permanent show at MoMa, only two are by women – Object (1936), a sculpture by Meret Oppenheim, and Frida Kahlo’s painting My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (1936).
Kate Brown, February 18, 2020
The quantity and diversity of their work shows how a female perspective was central to Surrealism from its birth in the aftermath of World War I. Included in “Fantastic Women. Surreal Worlds from Meret Oppenheim to Frida Kahlo” at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt in Germany are a staggering 260 paintings, works on paper, sculptures, photographs, and films, some rarely seen before.
As World War II approached, many artists found their way to, or back to, Mexico, where living was relatively cheap and the country’s borders open, especially compared with the United States. In addition the Surrealist mind could be set abuzz by Mexico’s variety of climes and topographies and the layers of cultures, from present day back to pre-Columbian. André Breton, Surrealism’s high priest, said as much when he visited for four months in 1938.
And she tends here to focus on a single figure and activity, as in “Exploration of the Sources of the Orinoco River,” in which a well-dressed explorer navigates a small red, garment-like boat, finding one source inside a little wood hut where water gushes from a goblet on a small table.
Around the age of 20 Snead became depressed, possibly a genetic tendency inherited from her father. “Try this, that and the other,” she wrote. “No satisfaction, lonely, bored. During my early 20s, deep depressions started to descend, self-pitying they were, and would hang around for months. I cried a lot, wanted to hibernate like the bears or to be very old or dead.”
Surprise, surprise, they’re all men.
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