LACMA’s “In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States” opened January 29. I was bowled over by these women’s ability to turn loose of all logic while baring their souls with their paintings and photography. I’ve been blessed to have traveled the world and experience many museums yet have never felt so on fire and alive as I felt at this exhibit. I’m always in search of my next muse and I feel as if my love for surrealism has been rekindled.
There were familiar artists featured such as Frida Kahlo, as well as other lesser known women. I went on a journey, slowly walking through the show and I choose my favorites of the 175 works by 47 artists, to share here. I feel as if I can go on learning about these artists for a long time and no words could ever describe the feelings and emotions of seeing their art in person. Viewing their work reminded me that creativity can be sparked, ignited and set on fire if we open our eyes to the stories right in front of us. Their imagination and honesty left me both inspired and overwhelmed. I walked through the exhibit and thought about Freud’s famous question: What do women want? The surrealists looked to the subconscious for inspiration. It took deep bravery for these women to put brush to canvas at a time when Surrealist art was dominated by male artists. These women were rule breakers. Despite any mold they were told to fit into, they created stories from blank pages and canvases. The show even has an app and a book of the same title that offers us a fresh perspective on surrealism. The exhibit made me think hard and I thought of Fibonnaci’s spiral.
Fibonnaci’s spiral’s importance is revealed in where we find it: in the display of the florets of the sunflower with perfect spirals of 55, 34, and 21; the sequence of Fibonnacci. Fibonacci’s sequence shows up not only in the sunflower but also in the perfect fruitlets of the pineapple. We see it in the pine cone, buds on trees, sand dollars, star fish, petals on flowers & the nautilus shell. They are all formed with the exact blue print but whose blue print is it?
Is art proof of a creator? I saw the fingerprint of G-d in each and every one of these artists at the LACMA exhibit. If you’d like to visit a brilliantly assembled discovery of artists that explore self discovery, rebellion, sensuality, identity, and love, love and more love, go before it closes May 6. You will be granted access to the landscape of the female mind starting with Dorothea Tanning.
Dorothea Tanning (August 25, 1910 – January 31, 2012) was born in Illinois and studied painting in Chicago. She spent 34 years with Max Ernst first in Sedona, Arizona & later in France. After he died in 1976, she realized her future would be a solitary journey. “Go home” said the paint tubes, the canvasas, the brushes. She returned to the U.S. and continued to paint. At age sixty-six she also earnestly began to write. Her poetry appeared in many literary reviews such as The Yale Review, Poetry, The Paris Review, The New Yorker. In 2011, at the age of 100, she published her second book of poems, Coming to That.
Sylvia Fein’s surreal work was created during the turmoil that was World War II. I love the intimacy of the tiny animals she places in her paintings especially the cats.
Frida Kahlo (July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954) is my hero because she painted her pain and didn’t try to hide her truth in her art which makes her brave and heartbreaking all at once. When she was a teenager, she had an accident which broke her spinal column, as well as broken ribs, pelvis, collarbone, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot and dislocated shoulder. Instead of studying medicine as she planned, she began painting to help her cope with her pain. The accident destroyed her physically and her volatile on again, off again relationship with Diego Rivera destroyed her emotionally. However, his belief in Frida gave her the strength to pursue a career as an artist. Rivera also gave her space to explore herself and create. Of the 143 paintings she created, 55 are self-portraits which showed symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. My favorite quote of hers: “I paint myself because I am alone so often and I am the subject I know best.” Frida’s work is fearless.
Leonora Carrington (April 6, 1917 – May 25, 2011) was born in England, studied art in Florence and even though her father was opposed to her career as an artist, her mother encouraged her. She was smitten with Max Ernst’s work and surrealism before she actually met him. After meeting Ernst at a party in London in 1937, they formed a bond, he separated from his wife and settled in the south of France with Carrington. She was institutionalized after Ernst was arrested. She eventually sought refuge in Mexico while Ernst married Peggy Guggenheim. Too many years of misery kept Carrington and Ernst from being able to reconnect. I love this quote of hers:
“I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.” –Leonora Carrington, 1983
Gerrie Gutmann’s (1821-1969) self portrait paints herself in Victorian clothing while being chained to spider webs that connect to a toy doll in the corner showing Gutmann’s view of the domestic chamber of horrors. After a few exhibitions in the Bay Area and New York, Gerrie Gutmann committed suicide in 1969.
Gertrude Abercrombie was an American painted who lived in Chicago. She was called “the queen of the bohemian artists.” Much of her inspiration came from her involvement in the Chicago jazz scene. She said “it is always myself that I paint” and “I like to paint simple things that are a little strange. My work comes directly from my inner consciousness and it must come easily. It is a process of selection and reduction.”
Rosa Rolanda (1895-1970). Oh, how I loved this bizarre, beautiful painting of her subconscious after her marriage ended.
Maria Izquierdo (1902-1955). After her father died when she was five, Maria lived with her grandparents in small towns in Mexico. Her first art training came at thirteen and after three children before her twentieth birthday, she divorced her husband. She was the first Mexican woman to have a solo art exhibition in the U.S in November 1930.
Mina Loy (1882-1966) was an artist, poet, playwright, novelist, futurist, actress, bohemian and designer of lamps. Her poetry would frequent smaller magazines, later in NY publications. Her novel, Insel, was published posthumously.
Remedios Varo (1908-1963). In Mexico she met Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera but her third and last important relationship was to Walter Gruen, a survivor of the concentration camps before he escaped Europe. He fiercely believed in Varo and supported her so she could focus fully on her painting. I deeply resonated with her work. I felt I could see a bit into who she was; a playful person, isolated, who created her own world. Because sometimes living a fantasy is easier than real life.
Helen Lundeberg (1908-1999). She was an American Post-Surrealist, hard edge painter. Constantly reading, she was inclined to be a writer.
Doris Lindo Lewis (1909-1995)
Bridget Tichenor (1917-1990)
Loren MacIver (1909-1998)
Francesca Woodman (1958-1981). I flew to San Francisco twice just to view Woodman’s work at the SFMOMA. Her genius for lighting and composition are unparalleled. She didn’t hide in her art, she was her art. I’ve done two blogs focus on Woodman in the past.
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) I’d describe her as the Anne Sexton of confessional art. She painted the themes of betrayal, anxiety and loneliness. Her work is said to be autobiographical, stemming from the trauma of her childhood when she discovered her governess was her father’s mistress. This caused her need to understand double standards related to gender and sexuality, which appears in her work frequently. During her stay at the American Abstract Artists Group, she was friends with Willem De Kooning, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.
Lee Miller (1907-1977). I think most of us know that Man Ray’s love for Miller almost drove him crazy and inspired some of his greatest work. There was much more to Lee Miller than being Man Ray’s muse. It is said that both artists fed off each other to create their art and their love for each other resulted in some of the most powerful work of each artist’s career. The recent Man Ray/Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism show that ran at the Peabody Essex Museum had a section entitled “Enduring Friendship” which highlighted the lasting nature of their relationship and their reconnection as friends after their bitter split in 1932. Miller was an accomplished photographer in her own right. After giving up photography in 1953, she spiraled into depression and alcoholism.
Julia Thecla (1896-1973) Thecla was 24 years old when she cut herself off from her family and changed her last name to Thecla as she had an aunt who was enamored with Saint Thecla. Through her technical skills, she could support herself as an art restorer. While studying at School of the Art Institute, she created charcoals of little girls reading, ballerinas and the heavens. Friends said she read a lot and could talk about most any subject which probably explains why so many of the little girls in her paintings are holding books. She wrote poetry but none of it was published. According to art professor Joanna Gardner-Huggett, who specializes in women artists, “you need someone to maintain your estate.” She disappeared from the art world partially because she had no family and she wasn’t attached to a male artist which pushed her further down the ladder. Gardner-Huggett says “there was really no one looking out for her work.”
Grace Clements (1905-1969)
Rose Mandel (1910-2002)
Kati Horna (1912-2000)
Muriel Streeter (1913-1995)
Jacqueline Lamba (1910-1993)
Alice Rahon (1904-1987)
I love the layout of the exhibit as it seemed to reinforce the surreal theme. Here you see angular walls that divide areas that you might not otherwise see.