By: Naima Abdi
Born in the 1920’s, Surrealism was the socio-cultural uprising that introduced a new dimension of self-expression nearly absent from the art world of the twentieth century. For women artists, Surrealism provided a venue to explore and introduce their lives, thoughts and feelings through uninhibited works of art that sparked controversy and inspiration.
Currently on view at LACMA, In Wonderland is an exhibition highlighting the “Surrealist adventures of women artists in Mexico and the United States ” and reveals to visitors 175 artworks from 47 female Surrealists from 1931-1968. Including work from iconic talents like Frida Kahlo, Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington as well as pieces from understated artists active in the later years of the period. The exhibition is the first extensive collective of female artists and their work set to reach audiences internationally.
Organized by LACMA curator Ilene Susan Fort and Tere Arcq of Mexico City’s Museum of Modern Art, the showcase is a stimulating collection of visually rich and emotionally charged pieces categorized into nine major themes that emphasize the regular issues faced by these artists. “A lot of the women had tragic lives and used the surrealist aesthetic as a way of dealing with their inner problems, their past, their future and creating new identities in the process of healing,” said Fort.
Prior to and in the early years of the Surrealist era, art and society was fueled by masculine interpretations of life, which often-portrayed women as devices for a man’s own pleasure. The artworks from famed male Surrealists like Man Ray and Salvador Dali, typically cast women simply as their muses, lovers and distorted the female image in ways that labeled women as child-like and out of touch. At the same time, society encouraged women to adhere to rigid gender roles that required them to be delicate, yielding and intellectually invisible.
In retort, Women Surrealists shattered these traditional pressures by conjuring imagination and rebellion to produce a groundbreaking part of art history that would later influence the feminist movement. Their artwork relayed concepts about identity through various types of portraits: double portraits, family and lover portraits, self-portraits and suggested-self portraits. Themes about masquerades and disguise were also incorporated into their work and enabled them as artists to visually communicate their questions about topics deemed taboo by society such as sex, gender and ideas about romance.
Celebrated Surrealists like Remedios Varo, found solace in the task of expanding ideas about the female experience by painting subjects as animals or outer worldly creatures. The scene depicted in Varo’s famous painting “Woman Departing from the Psychoanalysts Office,” shows a mythical looking woman leaving the session and in an act of rebellion removes her mask before motioning to drop her father’s head in a well. Such confrontational artwork marks the fearless and stunning reputation the artists featured In Wonderland are known and admired for worldwide.
Location: The Resnick Pavilion at LACMA.
Tickets: $20 for adults, free for children and teens 17 and under; ends May 6, 2012.