With all the scurrying to Pacific Standard Time, exhibitions in the past few months, I’d almost forgotten about the “grand dames of Surrealism”currently on display at the L. A. County Museum of Art. Shocking really, as in the days before a Pop Surrealist gallery on every corner, I’d have been clamoring to view this, the first international survey of women Surrealist artists in North America. Luckily, the scales were ripped away from these jaded eyes after my recent visit and I am thankful that L.A. gets first crack at rediscovering why this movement and the women artists it spawned were so earth shattering and mind-blowing. In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures Of Women Artists In Mexico And The United States will only be here until May 6th, so get your tickets now and drag along any whose only exposure to Surreal art are vapid Drydenesque knock-offs.
This show is ambitious and for the most part does not disappoint: nearly 50 U.S., Mexican and European artists are represented. Sure there are the superstars, like Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington and Lee Miller, but discovering the astonishing work of lesser known names makes this an important show. “Night Gallery” paintings-many self portraits-predominate, but sculpture, metalwork, assemblage, photography, film and ephemera are also on display. Definitely take time to watch the films, though Mayan Deren’s, Meshes of the Afternoon, is badly placed above the entrance to the gallery—fight the temptation to enter for just a minute, and watch!
As is the case with surveys, there’s almost too much to take in at one time. Considering the symbol laden and emotionally charged material, you really have to pace yourself or your head will explode. Want to see the other two excellent exhibitions in the Reznick? The CA mid-century modern show is a must! Then plan to arrive early and stay late and snack before getting lost In Wonderland. A rumbling tummy and churning psyche were a distraction by the time I got to the abstract surrealist pieces.
The entire space is broken into a rabbit warren on the diagonal with webs of rope cordoning off the mini galleries. Themes have been deftly segregated, perhaps a little too tritely but what better place to start your journey into the feminine psyche than the iconicAlice. Along the way the viewer encounters strange beings, totemic animals, indigenous influences, mythic and occult archetypes—and the occasional goth Lolita “Alice” wandering through the gallery. NO LIE, I saw two during my visit. This, coupled with a docent who sounded like Lee Krasner loudly discussing the romantic/professional liaisons of the artists was deliciously apropos. As you progress through the show, intimacies and neuroses are examined and exposed. Personal analysis becomes universal as these women explore clichés about the body and female sexuality, traditional gender roles, social injustice and the absurdities of war. The Feminist movement of the 60’s owes much to these women of the 30’s and 40’s. The journey into the subconscious warps into a broader picture of a world fraught with its own demons and psychoses. After all, “We are all mad here.” This is the kind of art engages the imagination and provokes a response. The more intimate and immediate subject matter is more relatable than that of male surrealists. These works beg to be decoded and you’ll be hard pressed not to point and discuss what you see. Which is a successful day at the museum in my book!
It was a delight to see the intricate details of the lace wing moths in Kahlo’s headdress and the devastatingly gorgeous Suicide of Dorothy Hale, but discovering her sister Mexican surrealists was the real treat. The many Carrington’s on display revamped my ho-hum opinion of her work, and now I will always wonder what the blurred out shape was meant to be in her self-portrait. However, the stand outs for me were Dorothea Tanning, whose recent passing made her Birthday portrait (I want that outfit!) and amazing soft-sculptures all the more poignant; the melancholic wit and intricate minutia of Sylvia Fein with her house cats in-waiting; and I long to enter the mystical world of Remedios Varo and practice arcane science with her shimmering otherworldly beings. If you are into experimental technique (and who isn’t?), this show is packed with examples such as decalcomania, frottage, fumage and photogram.
You don’t have to know a lot about Surrealists going in to enjoy this show. The art speaks for itself. Catalog and educational materials are available behind a wall of artist mug shots deep into the exhibit. Still, Googling André Breton before you go couldn’t hurt. Sadly, the gift shop at LACMA is being remodeled. So, no trippy swag to take home but the catalog and related books are available and highly recommened.
In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures Of Women Artists InMexicoAnd TheUnited States January 29, 2012–May6, 2012 Resnick Pavilion, Los AngelesCountyMuseumof Art 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles,CA90036 Reserve your tickets here.
Image of Muriel Streeter’s “The Chess Queens” courtesy if LACMA’s press images