Gloria Orenstein Patryk Tomaszewski
Organized by Heather James Fine Art - New York May 8 - July 31, 2019
A Personal Introduction from Montana Alexander Partner, Heather James Fine Art, New York The idea for this show came out of my own early relationship with Surrealism. From a young age I’ve treasured most the works of Magritte, Dali, Ernst, Tanguy and others. As I grew up in the art world, I found it curious there were so few women artists mentioned in the movement. The female body seemed to be represented frequently, but I saw little connection to the female experience. In the work of artists like Kahlo, Abercrombie, Carrington and others, my imagination was fired. Since I can remember I’ve had vivid nightmares and dreams most every night. I used automatism to write and draw as a child as a form of therapy, learning later of this practice in the world of the Surrealists. The visions of these artists were like my own, a parallel universe of alchemy, magic, spirits, and sentient animals. As the exhibition developed, scholars and friends such as our contributors Gloria Orenstein and Patryk Tomaszewski came to share artists whose work further explored these themes. What began as a tightly wound view of a few Western artists from the first part of the 20th century became vaster to show Eastern European artists such as Pagowska and Abakanowicz, and contemporary artists such as Aube Elléouët and Nancy Youdelman. Many of the artists in this show objected to categorization, such as Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Tanning, Leonor Fini, and Manina Tischler. This show is not about the female as opposite of the male view but is about the diversity and richness of this group who explore the unconscious. As Gloria writes in her essay, “Today, these concepts have been deconstructed to show that there is no single essence of either women or men. All of us, male and female alike, are complex and different in many aspects of our lives including sex, race, religion, class and ethnicity.” All of the artists in this exhibition animate stories within our minds, teasing out fantasies. It is an honor to share their works with the public, it is my hope it may open our minds to other’s worlds.
Invisible in Plain Sight:TheWomen Artists of Surrealism Gloria F. Orenstein
Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and Gender Studies University of Southern California Los Angeles, California
When I first studied Surrealism and the Manifestos of André Breton in the late sixties and early seventies in graduate school at New York University, I learned about Breton’s conviction that by breaking with logic and rational thought and investigating the largely unexplored terrains of the dream, the unconscious, and the imagination, the arts would be greatly enriched. It was, Breton wrote, the unexpected juxtaposition of disparate images which on the surface seem to have no relation to each other that would produce the “explosive and convulsive” beauty of the unforeseen, or “the Marvelous.” This juxtaposition also offers the possibility of creating a world transformed by Surrealist art, poetry, and a political desire to create a world that is more magical than the one in which we ordinarily live. The mystery and magic of this sudden revelation of a formerly hidden, “surreal” dimension of an expanded concept of reality could be recovered, Breton wrote, via trance states, dreaming, and other forms of contact with the Imaginary. Artists receiving images obtained in altered states of consciousness welcomed their contact with the Unconscious without imposing censorship or rational thought upon the results (paintings, sculpture, poetry, etc.) produced in this way. Literature and the visual arts 8
would uncover our secret longings and wildest, most repressed yearnings for a future whose description went far beyond that of any single Surrealist’s imagination. Breton also taught that “the Imaginary tends to become real.” The passion with which he expressed his ideas and the fact that he had a deep interest in the “true functioning of the mind” when we are asleep as well as when awake inspired many creative artists and writers to follow the methods elucidated in his Manifestos of Surrealism (Les Manifestes du surréalisme, first published in 1924). Over the years, Surrealists discovered and applied many of these new techniques, which stimulated diverse forms of psychic automatism such as frottage, fumage, collage, and decalcomania that they used in their own creative practices. I would like to make a distinction between l’Imaginaire and the word we translate it with: “the imagination.” Today, as I look back at the late sixties and early seventies, I think that Breton’s use of the French term l’Imaginaire, was vaster and more exact than our word “imagination.” When Breton wrote that “the Imaginary tends to become real,” he was, it seems to me, referring to a vaster realm of expanded consciousness, a realm he referred to as “the Imaginary, which is what we mean by the imagination. Use of “imaginary” would be more suggestive of terms like “the Unconscious” than the word “imagination.” At present, when the psychic adventures of the Women of Surrealism are added to the impact of Surrealist art, I see that the result of these explorations led to the fulfillment of a still more grandiose dream: that the works of these female Surrealists would eventually become known and would attain status in the art world equal to those of the male Surrealists. I have witnessed this happening numerous times in recent years and, more specifically, at the present moment. Surrealist artists also took seriously their interest
in magic, the world of the occult, and the esoteric sciences. Surrealism has generally been depicted as a male-dominated movement. Its “male gaze” defined the ideal that many of these men longed for: the beloved woman of their dreams. This seems to be a smaller kind of dream than one that would include the evolution and maturity of the beloved as she ages including the full flowering of her artistic talents. When the male artists realized that their ideal Surrealist women were generally, in fact, the women they were married to, having an affair with, taking as their muses, or just being good friends within the movement, a confusion immediately arose. If these gifted “ideal” women of their fantasies who had entered their real lives were continually present in many of the activities of the Surrealists, and if these very women were also mostly artists turning toward Surrealism in their own creative work, why were the women so invisible to the public when their lovers, partners, and Surrealist collaborators were visible and known throughout the world? This paradox began to be explained as a new generation of scholars, women of the Second Wave of Feminism, began to study Surrealism and unravel the pronouncements of Breton. In doing so, these scholars revealed the contradiction inherent in his extolling the importance of woman (note his use of the singular) would be seen. The paradox inherent in this situation of invisible but talented women would arise. We must now turn our attention to some of the ideas Breton envisaged, ideas that contributed to the absence of the Women of Surrealism in art history. Once the women had recently (after more than fifty years’ absence!) become known, it became obvious that they had been right there all along, in plain view, living with the Surrealist men, participating in group activities, and having some of their work entered into exhibits and reproduced in the Surrealist journals all the time. How is it that they received so little public notice? We read their names scattered through the catalogues in
which their works are described, but we have no narrative to turn to for knowledge of their lives, their thoughts, and above all the work they created. It was back in the early seventies that I and other scholars in my generation began looking more deeply into what has become now the trademark of the suppression of these women: the concept of the Femme-Enfant, or Woman-Child. We had all read in Breton’s Arcane 17 these famous lines: “The time should have come to make the ideas of woman prevail at the expense of those of men … to declare oneself in art unequivocally against man and for woman” and “the Woman-Child. Art should be systematically preparing for her accession to the whole empire of perceptible things.”1 It was only when we began to think about what the ideal woman was for these male Surrealists that we began to put the pieces of the puzzle together. When I met Leonora Carrington, she was fifty-six years old. She was no longer a Woman-Child. She was also quite upset about these words of Breton. We were in Paris and were having lunch with her editor at Flammarion Press, Henri Parisot, who was also her friend. When Leonora blurted right out to him: “Tell me about your wife, Henri,” I could hardly believe his response. He said, “She is so wonderful. She is a true Woman-Child. She cannot buy a ticket or make a phone call by herself, and I have to help her with everything. She is so pure and innocent, and she needs me to protect her.” Leonora stood right up, defiantly put her hands on her hips, and said she had heard just about enough. She was in a great state of distress. She immediately went back to her hotel for a stiff drink and said she would not come out for the next several days. After she left the table, her friend Henri said he could not understand what was wrong with his love for his wife, an ideal Woman-Child. He was saddened to think his friendship with Leonora might be over because as she was leaving he called after her, “Sans rancune, Leonora?”(“Without rancor, Leonora?”), and she called back to him, her voice booming, “AVEC RANCUNE, Henri.” (“With rancor, Henri.”) 9
I was left sitting there alone with him. He told me he had a wonderful marriage and he loved his wife and family very much. I reaIized that he had never thought about why what he’d said about how helpless his wife was might be upsetting to women. I stayed on a bit to explain to him that at the ages many of these women were at the time (in their fifties), it was highly insulting for men to want to ignore or stunt their maturity and keep them overprotected by infantilizing them, making them believe that they were of no value to Surrealism or to art if they were no longer under thirty years of age.
and become extremely depressed when they saw the way this paradox affected their lives, we have only to consider Meret Oppenheim, who met me one day in Paris and told me that the feminists were so right. She told me how she would sit at the café with the men when she was eighteen and how she was well integrated into the Surrealist group that gathered there. But when she turned thirty, the men no longer sat with her. She was left alone and abandoned by her closest friends. She was so depressed by this abandonment that she returned to her home in Switzerland and destroyed all her art.
We knew we had to unravel this paradox, one that was special to Surrealism. Breton’s ideal woman, the Femme-Enfant, was, in his eyes, a young beauty who was like a child in her innocence and naivetée. She was described by him as spontaneous and uncorrupted by logic, for she was intuitive rather than rational and therefore in closer contact with the Unconscious and the dream world. Obviously, the contradiction embedded in this dilemma is that while Breton called for the ideas of woman (in the singular) to prevail over the ideas of men, the kind of woman Breton went on to describe is precisely the one who is completely dependent upon and in a subservient position to a man. Breton’s view suggests that if a woman were to evolve and mature, she would be discarded as no longer representing the extremely small place that the special nature of woman (according to Breton, whose thoughts would be critiqued today as being “essentialist”} might contribute to the world. Women, it was reasoned in those days, could contribute about two percent to the creation of culture, while men could perfectly well contribute the other ninety-eight percent. In the male mind, this two percent was nevertheless the supreme and necessary contribution to the whole that caused perfection to be reached. This logic implied that the uniqueness Breton perceived in women was linked to their childlike nature.
Meret’s father had been a Jungian analyst, and she had become familiar with dream analysis. One night, she told me that, after some productive time for thinking through all this and being far away from Paris, she had had a dream of a rabbit running through the grass. She realized from this dream that fertility had returned to her even after age thirty. She would remake her life as an artist. She returned to Paris, where she gave up her notions of having to conform to the ideal of a WomanChild in order to have her work appreciated. She embraced her new independence and began to work again in her studio. Soon she was exhibiting in galleries, her work was being reviewed, and she was playing an important role both In the Surrealist art world and in art history itself.
Lest we think women did not take this to heart 10
I pointed out above the way that Breton refers to woman in the singular, even though he is purportedly speaking of all women. Some critics have noticed that he, indeed, did love woman— the woman of his dreams— in the singular, but his love and admiration did not extend to all (plural) women, even though he married three times. Meret Oppenheim chose boldly to ignore the male-created definitions of the ideal woman. She came to this position when she returned to Paris to rebuild her artistic life. Other female artists also chose not to attend the men’s meetings or their gatherings at the café. The women were busy
making art. Today, of course, we realize that Meret and many other Surrealist women artists were denied the pleasures of enjoying the success acquired by aging women who had developed their art and their lives both artistically and sexually in freedom. Although men reaped the rewards of their careers as they came to their pinnacles, the women did not all get the chance to be so fully recognized. Not until now. It is only after their deaths that many of the Women of Surrealism have achieved the long-overlooked fame that they deserve in the art world. It is only now that they occupy an important place in art history. Here, just to give an example of what we might call their “impossible dream,” but one that became reality in different ways for different women, I can report that in the last few years at least two major museums were created in Mexico for Leonora Carrington’s art alone. I spoke at the launching of a museum created by the city of San Luis Potosí thanks to the donation of Pablo Weisz Carrington, Leonora’s son. In many ways, this museum can be interpreted as the magical realization of a dream that was much vaster than the dreams of any one of these women alone. The building that houses this museum was formerly a prison that was empty. The transformation of an empty prison into a woman’s museum is completely symbolic of the journeys made by the Women of Surrealism. In addition, Leonora’s older son, Gabriel, spearheaded a major exhibition of her works in all genres that was held in 2018 at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. Both the Museo in San Luis Potosí and the exhibit in Mexico City were accompanied by books and catalogues with extraordinary photographs of her work, much of which was still unseen until these events took place. Included are essays by notable scholars, critics, and friends from all parts of her life. The magic of all this was probably embedded in 11
the early dream of my first meeting in New York with Leonora Carrington to retrieve the works of the omitted Women of Surrealism and bring them to the attention of the world via the newly created Feminist Movement
was always, “Who are they, anyway?” After my presentation at the Celebration of Surrealism Conference, word got out, and before you knew it, art historians all over the United States began their own investigations in this field.
One of her dreams that I believed in completely was her dream of my returning to Mexico the summer after our meeting to take a fantastic journey with her. In her dream, she would have painted her Surrealist art all over a hippie van, and we would take off together on a quest for sacred sites and shamanic ceremonies all over Mexico. When I told her, months later, I was ready for the big adventure, she laughed and asked, “What adventure was that, again?” I reminded her of our plan to travel through Mexico in a hippie van with her paintings on it, and she burst into the most amazing laughter I had ever heard. I don’t think it occurred to her that I had taken her seriously. As the silence on the phone expressed my disappointment, she quickly told me to come to Mexico, anyway. She was going to New York for several months, and I would see her there when I came back from Mexico. I could, in fact, stay with her family in Mexico City.
Ever since meeting Leonora, I was convinced that magic was afoot, and that for me this “impossible dream” was an unexpected miracle. Leonora had been dreaming of these adventures for years, and I realized this—that her dream of the beloved after her life with Max Ernst had come came to an end during the Second World War, had changed to a focus on her sons. A very high priority in her life was also accorded to animals. Her life and artworks are filled with them, and she is known for her love of horses. She always had dogs living with her, too, and finally I would say she was devoted to Mother Nature. I use that term because in those days we were interested in the cultures that worshipped a pre-patriarchal Goddess. These cultures were not actual matriarchies, as we now define them, but they were gynocentric and matristic and had women priestesses who were in positions of honor and prestige for many millennia before the patriarchal era in the West did away with the the Goddess religion and the practices of all of ceremonial rites and spiritual teachings devoted to the Great Goddess.
That summer brought some of my own “impossible dreams” that were related to another part of my life to reality for me. There was, for example, my chance meeting in a public square in Oaxaca with Robert Lima, a Professor of Comparative Literature at Penn State University. He was creating a Celebration of Surrealism for the next fall. Our meeting was le hazard objectif, or objective chance, that the Surrealists experienced quite often. When I told him I was doing research on the Women of Surrealism, he invited me to present a slide lecture on them at his important and festive conference to be attended by notables in Surrealism and the arts. Riding in the car that drove me to the conference was the important gallery owner, Julian Levy. This conference opened the door to my first public presentation on the Women of Surrealism. Back then, the response people had to my topic 12
Sometimes Leonora yearned to be a horse, or any animal other than a human being, and was only consoled when she learned that we are in fact human animals. There was no part of her own “Imaginary,” her dreams, or her yearnings that would have wanted to objectify men or and think of them as mere sex objects. She was attracted to their intelligence, creativity, and sense of humor. But horses were her sacred loves. We can now turn to Leonor Fini’s priorities in the context of what might be thought of as one variety of the “female gaze.” The diversity of women and their multiple talents precludes their ever being just subjected to one “essentialist” description
of the kind of gaze that men cast on women— that famous “male gaze”—that gives all women more or less the same role as sex objects, often accompanied by violent imagery such as we find in works like La Poupee (“The Doll”) by Hans Bellmer. Female artists turned their eyes inward to visions and outward toward the Earth and the other inhabitants of our planet. If one were to say anything about Leonor Fini’s “female gaze,” it would not be about the reverse of the “male gaze.” It would more likely be about Leonor’s passion for cats. It is well known that she lived with some thirty cats at a time and treated them all with loving affection. She knew them intimately and catered to all their needs and desires. If one disappeared, she would become terribly worried. Here, in the painting Dimanche après-midi, the love of women for cats relaxing together is sweet. They seem to be akin to soul sisters. Fini’s sexuality was fluid, and she had love affairs with both women and men. She lived happily with two male friends for many years until she died. She had also been Max Ernst’s lover, and when Leonora Carrington later became his lover, the two women became closer to each other. The closeness in their relationship grew over the years and has been described in moving detail by Whitney Chadwick in her recent book, Farewell to the Muse,2 in which Chadwick focuses on the intimate love and often sexual relationships among the women in the Surrealist Movement. There was an amazing generosity among many of the women of Surrealism who shared their male lovers with their woman friends, and they did not let these lovers destroy their friendships with each other. Leonor Fini spoke to me about her art during my visit to her. She told me she worked directly from the Unconscious and that her intuition would always lead her to the discovery of archetypal symbols that were also alchemically correct. In her series titled The Guardian of the Phoenixes
and The Guardian with the Red Egg,” the imagery she had intuited turned out to have precise alchemical significance. The Egg was the name of the alchemist’s oven, the vessel of transformation, and for Surrealist women artists whose interests turned to Alchemy, it was the symbol of the female, for women’s wombs are also vessels of rebirth and transformation that turn the fertilized egg into a newborn human being. The conclusion of the alchemical process is the production of the philosopher’s stone, which is usually red and represents the unification of opposites, or the integration of the conscious with the unconscious. Before and at the beginning of the Second Feminist Movement of the 1970s, the search for equality among women and men was related to the idea of androgyny, or the integration of both masculine and feminine energies within a single being. The purpose of androgyny was to unite the feminine and the masculine energies within both males and females. Today we know that the womb with its protective features and nurturing environment is like the athanor, an alchemical vessel of transformation. In her painting La Dame ovale, Fini depicts the woman as an alchemist and the womb as the alchemical retort. Her title was inspired by Carrington’s book of stories, La Dame Ovale. Her paintings The Spinners and The Seamstress depict the archetypal feminine principle of the Great Mother who weaves the web of life as she creates the fabric of the child within her body. In this exhibit, we have Fini’s Sphinge Jaune. We should add that Fini’s “female gaze” favored both the cat and the sphinx because of the mysteries both embodied. In the seventies, one spoke of androgyny and of masculine and feminine essences. Today, these concepts have been deconstructed to show that there is no single essence of either women or men. All of us, male and female alike, are complex and differ in many aspects of our lives, including sex, race, religion, class, and ethnicity. More importantly, and beyond all this diversity, we see that Fini’s world was often referred to as 13
a “matriarchy.” Using this term here might not be anthropologically correct, but her love of cats is, in part and as she told me, related to the worship of the Goddess, for in Egypt the cat was linked with the moon and sacred to the goddesses Isis and Bastet, the latter a cat-headed goddess. Fini’s women are bald in many works, which is how she represents the androgyne. She was not in favor of a world that worships virility and once said to me, “I am in favor of a world where there is little or no sex distinction.”3 Fini’s oeuvre makes us realize that a mature, independent woman could make works that a Femme-Enfant would not have the knowledge or maturity to create. In this exhibit, you can familiarize yourself with Fini’s Dimanche après-midi (Sunday Afternoon). Here women and cats are reclining together, sweetly cuddling and resting together on a Sunday afternoon. While the women are almost falling asleep, “perchance to dream,” the eyes of the cats seem to penetrate the viewer. They are clearly the Guardians of the Egg that she refers to in her alchemical paintings, where it is the androgynous woman who is the Guardian. These cats are on the alert, and this scene leads us to see why cats are often known as the “familiars” of witches. The cats seem to be fixated on things we humans cannot perceive. They are said to be the Guardians of the Unknown. Surrealist women artists were conscious of the importance of the alchemical Egg to the future of humanity. Another woman artist who used the symbol of the Egg to show the precarious situation of women was Kay Sage, whose oeuvre includes works such as The Minutes (1943), in which an egg rolls in spirals down a steeply inclined ramp and is being attacked by sharp, pointed objects that are aimed at it and chasing it down the ramp. It is possible that the egg, which is in great danger, will fall off and crash. Many of Sage’s other works show cities that have fallen and collapsed scaffolding that leads to immense destruction. The Answer Is No depicts only the backs of many canvases whose paintings cannot be seen. They are in storage forever. One can thus see the identification between the 14
erasure of women artists whose work cannot be seen and the collapse of entire cities, cultures, and civilizations, such as those whose pre-patriarchal Goddess-centered spirituality had already been erased from history. Women whose fertilized eggs contain the future of humanity are not womanchildren, but women responsible for continuation of all new lives. Their mission will be to create the world of the future. Having lived through two world wars, the Women of Surrealism were keenly aware of the importance of women in both their creativity and their child-bearing capacities.. Kay Sage’s works are poignant and perhaps more significant today when visions of the violence being done to the Earth are recognized more fully as our planet undergoes destruction. Women’s recent successes also continue to be fragile. There is no guarantee that the freedoms and rights that women have now will remain forever. I have called the Egg that appears in so many works by the Women of Surrealism “the Egg of Rebirth.” I think it expresses the meaning of the Egg when approached from the larger perspective of the Imaginary rather than the smaller one of the Imagination. We have in this gallery a construction that Sage made that seems to express the state of her soul near the end of her life. Contraband is a small construction made of stones and plywood on cardboard. The stones leave visible shadows behind them. One can see in this piece, one of her last works, that the solidity of the stone may represent the scaffolds before they collapsed and the world began to crumble before our eyes. The shadows cast by the stones reveal the psychic darkness and suffering Sage was in when she was creating this piece, which was shown in the last exhibition of her life. After the death of her husband Yves Tanguy in 1955, Kay Sage fell into a deep depression from which she never recovered. In 1963, she could no longer go on. She shot herself. Not only is there not one essentialist “female gaze,”
but thanks to the variety and number of women and their gazes, it would be completely reductive to reduce all those female viewpoints to just one stereotypical gaze. From their lives and works of art, we may conclude that while the women have different interests, sensibilities, and perspectives, they always return to prioritizing their artistic work. As dark as life had become for Sage after the death of Tanguy, she lived to complete the monumental work of putting together the catalogue raisonné of her husband’s art before she committed suicide. While all the passions that are embodied in the images of the female in art by the Surrealist men—depicting her as muse and as sex object, or woman-child—the Surrealist women artists did not similarly demean the men in their lives. They did not reduce the men to a single stereotype, as the men had done to them. But the distinctly different foci and visions of the Women of Surrealism do share one very important characteristic. With few exceptions, they do not choose to reverse or even refer to the “male gaze.” Instead, they free themselves from ever making sexual or even Surrealist sex-objects of men, even when a man may be the beloved who has continually betrayed them, as in the life of Frida Kahlo. Their female gaze is focused on the dreamworlds they will create if they manage to protect the Egg of Rebirth. They never abandon their dedication to giving art the highest priority in their lives. The Women of Surrealism awakened to the problem of their previous lack of agency and autonomy. They promptly engaged in studies of the magical and the occult, which enabled them to expand the scope of their vision. Their spiritual third eyes then focused on other realities that they perceived in trance or dreamed of inhabiting, e.g., living among hybrid creatures who would populate those dreamworlds. Their biological eyes, while admiring the male nude, as Leonor Fini did in many of her very sensitive paintings of male friends, never debase or degrade the men. 15
We are familiar with the way Frida Kahlo painted Diego Rivera in the place of her third eye in one of her self-portraits. This indicates that above all the other women and men she had love affairs with, Diego was the one permanent love obsession of her life. While she poured out her feelings in her diary, he continued to remain the focus of her spiritual vision, of her third eye, and of her love. What all these women’s gazes and preoccupations have in common is what today in the 21st century would be known as Ecofeminism. The Women of Surrealism placed a high priority on all the lives of all the varied species of life on the planet. They did not place either women or men at the center or at the top of any imagined hierarchy. The women intuited the web of the relationships between human beings and non-human nature. They fell in love with animals as easily as with humans. In terms of tenderness, devotion, and generosity, animals certainly ranked almost as high as any of their human lovers. Most of these women artists also shared an interest in the mysteries of life and sought to understand the magical ways of the universe by consulting the Tarot, experimenting with telepathy, studying Alchemy, and exploring new spiritual teachings and techniques for entering altered states of consciousness. We find a recurrence of interest in the Tarot and the ancient Mystery Schools in the lives of many of the Women of Surrealism, whose female gaze is far removed from the sexism of the male gaze as identified in art history. This is what I see as the “impossible dream” coming true. Surrealist women artists added new dimensions to their dreams through bonding with women artists in the countries to which they immigrated. The creation of Surrealist groups soon spread from Europe to the Americas and Asia. Back in the early seventies, just to teach Surrealism or to write about it was “outside of the box” in academia. The women artists I have met—Leonora Carrington, Meret Oppenheim, Jane Graverol, Alice Rahon, and 16
Lise de Harme, among others—had no scholarship done on their creations. They were far removed from believing that their artistic or literary career would ever amount to anything. As Leonora Carrington once told me, “I am Forgotten, Shelved, Eliminated. The men have all the books, exhibits, and articles, and the women have nothing.” What is “in plain sight” now is that the power the great dreams had to transform the world from the way it was back in the early seventies. That power has generated the acclaim and excitement and is also related to the close interaction, love, and respect the Surrealists had for each other, to the many ties the Surrealists formed and maintained from the beginning of the movement through the Second World War and the diaspora of Surrealists to the Americas. It is important to note the way they helped each other during the war, obtaining passports for those who could not otherwise get them and generously lending money to those in need so they could afford to relocate abroad. The ways they met daily for conversations in cafés or for study in the Bureau of Surrealist Research or for parties, games, and collective creations such as the cadavre exquis (“exquisite corpse”), where they all participated in one single collaborative work of visual art were important in forming the extended Surrealist community. This form of collective participation and dedication, working in a group in a continuous fashion over time, turns out to be an investment of energy that circulates and is strong enough to bring about definitive and observable reversals, transformations, and rewards. This also has much to do with the emergence of what one might call the female gaze, but which, while it is completely different from what had been referred to as the male gaze, is located in the passion with which the Women of Surrealism loved animals and nature, sought peace and justice, fought for human rights, and enjoyed interacting with a diversity of foreign cultures. The Women of Surrealism took root easily in foreign lands. They found that the cultural diversity they became a part
of was beneficial to their evolution. Now I would like to present the interpretation of Leonora Carrington’s feminist poster, which she shared with me as we packed up about a hundred copies of it to take with us to New York to distribute to women friends of mine and other feminists that we would meet there. Back in those days, when my friends first looked at it, every one of them asked me to decode it. I will therefore stop here for a moment to decode it for you. I have often called it a Surrealist Feminist Codex, for like the Mayan Codices, it tells a story in symbolic images drawn from the culture in which it was made. We have before us the image of the New Eve, on the right, handing the apple back to the Biblical Eve. The New Eve is saying that she refuses to be connected with the stories and myths about her that claim she was the cause of the so-called Fall of Man and is to blame for bringing sin into the world. Leonora’s feminist poster depicts the New Eve as an Ecofeminist Eve. We see her kundalini energy rising through her body, moving through the chakras to the third eye of enlightenment. Thus, the ideal of the New Eves of our generation is both to reach spiritual enlightenment and to rescue nature. Leonora claimed that when all women would undergo this psychic evolution toward the vision of the third eye, women would unite to tend to nature as it requires so that the Earth would become green again. For that reason, she made the poster green. Thus, the third eye’s spiritual vision is aligned with eco-vision and activism in this poster made in 1972. It was already finished when I arrived to spend some time with Leonora that summer. When I met Leonora (a story I will make as brief as possible, but which is necessary to explain what I have learned over time), I did not know what she meant when she alluded to her work with words like “magic” and “witchcraft” and spoke about Alchemy and Shamanism. These investigations were not pursued in academia and were not available in books that were easily accessible in 1971. I
supposed that if I were to understand her art, I would have to experience it for myself. I will begin with how I met her and show how that led to my growing realization among scholars of surrealism that the magical was taking place before our very eyes. Others who have written about Leonora also experienced her magical powers. Yet, unfortunately, the creative worlds of the Women of Surrealism were still, for the most part, invisible. If I wanted to understand the extraordinary and puzzling world of Leonora Carrington, I knew I would have to make contact with Mexico in some direct way, as through vibrations and dreams, if that was all I could find to fill the absence of books or articles on her. It was an act of desperation in the absence of all documentation and research materials. One day in July 1971, I bought myself a Mexican dress. All I could find about Leonora in print (as strange as it may seem today) were some publications of her plays by the Theatre Renaud-Barrault in Paris. Since I was studying the avant-garde theatre at the time, that, too, seemed like a treasure I had finally gotten hold of. At first, I did not know she was a visual artist. I began to write to her, and when she invited me to come to Mexico and visit her, I was not free to travel to Mexico. I did not have a job in a university yet and did not have my own money. How would I ever find out about her? I then intuited that if I were to put on a Mexican dress, perhaps its vibrations might penetrate my skin, travel through my bloodstream, and illuminate my brain. I had just received images of some of Leonora’s paintings hidden inside a letter. The reproductions from an article printed in Mexico were carefully folded into the deepest recesses of a greeting card addressed to “Dear Grandpa.” I opened the card completely—both vertically and horizontally, and there they were! The most astonishingly strange and beautiful images I had ever seen. At first I wondered who Grandpa was. What could she have been thinking? But I soon understood that she was hiding the images from 17
any police or government official who might have gotten hold of the letter and censored her words or even disposed of her artwork. She had participated in the student revolution in Mexico, though she went out to the protests dressed in a ghost costume or wearing some other form of camouflage. My heart was so thrilled by the visions I held in my hands that I felt I must have known her in a past life. These were not thoughts I had ever had before. The night I began to write about Leonora, I had the urge to do something special as an invocation. I lifted my arms to the cosmos and asked the creative source to let the dress help to “bring Leonora’s world to me.” After I did that, I had to leave with my friend Joanne Pottlitzer, who directed the Theatre of Latin America (TOLA), which brought important theatre creators from Latin America to New York. Joanne had met Leonora in Mexico and had plans to work on the production of her play, Opus Siniestrus, with her.
she was saying and was particularly baffled when she spoke of the Goddess in the singular and not in the plural, I knew I was truly entering a world that was previously unknown to me. Leonora (who died in 2011) was simply the most original, open, honest, delightful person I had ever met. She was brilliant and seemed to have read everything we never studied in our universities, from Alchemy and magic to witchcraft and Jungian psychology. My mind was spinning.
At the very moment I opened the door to leave, I heard the phone ring and ran back in to answer it. A voice with a deep English accent greeted me and asked if Gloria Orenstein were there. This was Leonora Carrington calling me. She had just arrived in New York and wanted to meet me before she left for Europe. There are no words to describe my reactions to her call. My life was so electrified and so overjoyed, yet it also seemed too good to be true. The simultaneity of my speaking to the cosmos and my receiving this phone call immediately after that was obviously an impossibility. But it had just happened! To me of all people! I was thunderstruck.
So Leonora and I bonded almost immediately, and then she stayed a few days longer in New York to meet with Betty Friedan and other women from the National Organization for Women (NOW). During that time, before she left for Europe on a ship because she had an intense fear of flying., there was something else she wanted me to know. She confided in me that she often traveled out of her body and saw into the future, where she met strange beings from other dimensions. She told me about the excruciating mental crisis she had lived through when she was put in the madhouse, a word she often repeated. I also heard about her love affair with Max Ernst. In fact, in our conversations there was so much of what we now call a download of information that I couldn’t digest it all at once. But I did know one thing that was certain: it was unlikely I would ever again meet another person like her in brilliance and originality. I was in a state of enchantment, living out events and knowledge that were almost unbelievable. But then, again, according to Surrealism, “the Imaginary tends to become real.” I began to believe that was the case because it had actually taken place in my own life.
And this was just the beginning. At dinner that night and on the way home, Leonora told me bits and pieces of her life story—that she practiced magic and that she was a Witch. She also announced that she had been in a madhouse. She said that proudly, as if she were wearing an immense Badge of Courage. While I was not clear about most of what
Today, some fifty years later, I am reflecting upon the real meaning of the statement that “the Imaginary is that which tends to become real.” We are having an unexpected—and truly long overdue—interest in the Women of Surrealism today. I have read about their group work together—in literature, in the arts, in games, in
travel, in friendships, in love affairs and marriages. I have come to understand their disputes and disagreements, which were taken very seriously (e.g., which would outrank the other in their hierarchy of importance, Communism or Poetry?). I have read about their many arguments and changes of affiliation, their belief in le hasard objectif, or what we call synchronicity, where somehow a positive outcome was frequent when they switched love partners within the group. Yes, having read about all that and also about how they supported each other during the Second World War financially and with extreme generosity in finding places for them to live in the Americas, I began to think that if, as they say “it takes a village to raise one child,” then what I have seen is that it takes an entire movement that is like an extended family through time to bring about the immense recognition that the Women of Surrealism have achieved today. In the beginning, the Surrealists wanted to seem to be doing actual scientific exploration of the Unconscious, so they created their own Bureau of Surrealist Research for studying the dreams and telepathic abilities of the members. Their goal was to vastly enlarge the domain of what we call “reality,” and thus it was named “surreality,” a reality that was above and beyond what our individual imaginations would come up with. This “surreality” is a reality that actually probes altered states of consciousness and investigates those other dimensions that Leonora used to talk so casually about and of which I had so little understanding back then. What I did have was astonishment. Extreme curiosity. Intense interest in absolutely everything she was teaching me. Sometimes, when she said things like, “But, Gloria, the Imaginary does become real!” I felt that she had popped right out of the books I was reading in graduate school. Now I think her explorations, her practice of magic, her study of other esoteric teachings, and her understanding of shamanism, as well as her travels “out of the body” were all important. The
fact that Leonora was coming to New York at the very moment that I was asking the cosmos to bring her, or that “something” would give me information about her art was the sign that she had used her private knowledge of magic to work with the Imaginary, which she knew “tended to become real.” In fact, during my second trip to Mexico, she took out the manuscript of her book The Hearing Trumpet and asked me if I thought she should get it published. Of course I thought so! I was surprised that she even asked my opinion about it. She was quick to say, “Gloria, this is the reason I brought you here to Mexico. I want to know what you think about this book.” I believe there was more than a phone call and a visit that had the power to change my life so completely. There were also the magical energies she had learned to put to use when needed. She put those energies into her paintings as well as into the food she prepared for her family. Noticeable for its absence from the list of names given above is the name of Dorothea Tanning. This is because she always insisted that she was NOT to be labeled a “woman artist.” She felt the term “artist” was sufficient and that it established equality with male artists, who are not labeled “male artists.” I corresponded with her in the early 1970s to try to convince her that it would be helpful to young female artists, as well as to women and men in general, to know that these amazing creative works were made by women artists. My argument did not convince her, and so, to respect her wishes, I did not include her in my “Women of Surrealism” article published in The Feminist Art Journal.4 Other artists, later on, were open to being called ‘’women artists” and even went so far as to claim they were feminists, too. But our moment in the early seventies may have been too soon for the women to realize that being called a “woman artist” would not taint their career or relegate them 19
to an inferior position in the art world. Indeed, it would enhance the knowledge of the art public and, specifically, of young women who did not have many examples of women artists to be inspired by. Behind the scenes, however, new books were being written, the knowledge was spreading, and the “impossible dream” was becoming real. As many books and photos show, Dorothea Tanning was always very close to the Surrealists, all the more so after she married Max Ernst and they moved to Sedona, Arizona. Dorothea was also a gifted writer who published several memoirs and books of poetry. While she expressed herself with great sensitivity in some of her verbal depictions of Max, as she was deeply in love with him, and her focus on him was central, her gaze at him was not anything like the “male gaze” in works done by men in their depictions of women. In Dorothea’s early paintings like Children’s Games (1942) and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943), young, pre-pubescent girls are depicted in explosive images that convey early sexuality and definitely could be interpreted as contradicting Breton’s definition of the Femme-Enfant, for these young girls are transgressing the categories of innocence and purity of the child. Dorothea’s paintings portray energetic vitality in the girls’ subconscious longings and express their suppressed, but now exploding, psychic yearnings as they approach the time of puberty. We also find Dorothea’s close affiliation with animals, especially in her love of dogs and cats. Much of her later work involved visions of wild, erotic lovemaking among women who are tumbling, turning, and interacting with each other, showing the beauty of their flesh in erotic engagement with other women, landing occasionally in extremely contorted positions, and delighting in passionate orgies together. Dorothea definitely painted and wrote from the perspective of a feminist who crosses the boundaries of all taboos in her visionary work. 20
In this show, we have a print by Dorothea that I interpret as a flirtation between a cat, on the right, and what could be a hybrid male-female being standing on the left. The mystery of the exact sex of the standing being invites us to inspect this work more carefully. But the mystery remains. A recent show of Dorothea’s work by the Frey Norris Gallery has a catalogue that borrows its title from her writings: Unknown but Knowable States. She has said that she wanted to make the unknowable so real that it became as real as (or more real than) what we take for reality. I think that Dorothea means that the Imaginary has become real for her in an “unknown” but not an unreal state. She is referring to creative states of exaltation that are also possible for many people to attain, at least those who are open to them and could be capable of experiencing them. In this print, I see this creative state as a possible way to interpret the mystery of a cat beckoning an “unknown” being able to join in the dance of love. It is charming and seductive, and it succeeds in bringing this almost impossible encounter before our eyes with such appeal that we can practically enter into this flirtation and believe that it is possible because the artist who created the image knows it is real. Dorothea’s oeuvre is always playing with achieving the reality of these “unknown states,” but she wants us to stretch our imaginations and see what was so real in that state that it became real for her. Yet one could simply say that her gaze crosses the boundaries between human and animal, that it breaks taboos in general, and that it is an invitation to raise our consciousness to match the frequency experienced in these unknown states she has known as real. Considering the mystery of desire, to love the “other,” which can be the other sex, another species (or a hybrid being from what another Surrealist-affiliated woman artist, Juanita Guccione, has called Otherwhere), the love that Dorothea portrays is potentially real for many of us and could lead to the encounter with “the Marvelous.” This attraction between opposites is always reconciled in Breton’s definition of
Surrealism’s highest ideals, whether in reference to the opposites of life and death or (taking it further to the extreme) a vision that one day the opposites might be those who have completely different cosmic origins from us. Over the years after my transformational meetings with Leonora Carrington, it became evident that other scholars in my generation were writing important books on Surrealist women artists. Some books come immediately to mind: • Janet L. Kaplan’s Unexpected Journeys: The Art and Life of Remedios Varo (1988) • Hayden Herrera’s A Biography of Frida Kahlo (1983) • Susan Aberth’s Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art (2004) • Whitney Chadwick’s Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement (1991), which is the classic volume that introduced many more Women Artists of Surrealism. • Mary Ann Caws, Rudolf Kuenzi, and Gwen Raaberg’s Surrealism and Women (1991), which includes essays on women artists and adds to our lost knowledge of the details of the lives and works of Kay Sage, Valentine Hugo, Meret Oppenheim, Aube Elleouet, and Eileen Agar. By the 1990s, new scholarship about these women artists and others was appearing in publications that closely examine the lives and works of other formerly unknown, but yet astounding, Women of Surrealism. An extraordinary exhibition was curated by Ilene Susan Fort, Teresa Arcq, and Terri Geis at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2012. Titled In Wonderland, the show brought many new Women of Surrealism from the Americas to our attention. It also added to the important themes of women’s activism in the post-war era. With its accompanying large catalogue, the show brought forward the lives 21
and works of women we had no knowledge of before. Some were Americans, others were from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. The show created great excitement, and word spread quickly, especially with the advent of the new cyber technologies. In Wonderland, both show and catalogue, have quickly become classics in the way they supplement what we thought about Surrealism before so many new women were brought to us “in plain sight.” They had been there all the time, of course, but they had been unrecognized by the art historians and the documentation. It was the activism of women that began to pull things together by adding the Women of Surrealism in the Americas to our former European optique, which had largely omitted women artists from equal coverage. I suggest that those interested in the women whose work we saw for the first time at In Wonderland consult that show’s catalogue, which delves deeply into the historical circumstances surrounding the life stories of these women. You will understand the great price that cultures pay for keeping women’s art out of the public view and the historic record. Most of the women I have mentioned here also took part in the political activism of their time. Some did resistance work during the Holocaust. Others, disguised in costumes, paraded in the streets during the student revolt in Mexico City. Leonora had to leave the country when she was denounced to the police. It continues to stun me that women who showed such bravery and daring when the forces of oppression were occupying their homelands and murdering their families, but whose art was beautiful and visible to all who knew them, remained invisible to the public as artists. It seems quite impossible that anyone could think of them as not being relevant to create culture because they were no-longer the “Woman-Child” of the male Surrealists. We can read about these women and also the many Women Writers of Surrealism from all over the world in Surrealist 22
Women: An International Anthology (1998) by Penelope Rosement of the Chicago Surrealist Group. Another very important presentation of texts by the major Surrealist women writers is Scandaleusement D’elles (1999), edited and presented by Georgiana Colvile in a large volume filled with beautiful photographs. The quest for Women of Surrealism about whom we have not heard enough and whose presence merits inclusion in future shows and volumes has led the curators of this exhibit to include works by women who were connected with the original Women of Surrealism. There are today many young scholars who have been doing research on the women Surrealist artists whose absence is being studied and whose presence is being revived today. Yet there still remain several Surrealist women artists who have quite impressive reputations, but who have not become known to the wider public. We hope that over the coming years the full portrait of the Surrealist Movement will come to look very different when we realize how active most of these female artists were in their personal quests and political lives, all the while pursuing occult knowledge that was kept from the public but with which they resonated, not only because of their interest in the subject matter, but also perhaps because they must have realized that all that esoteric knowledge has generally been kept “out of plain sight” and like their own works, has now become visible despite the immense contribution that the women made to the history of Alchemy and other spiritual practices. With the number of new studies and discoveries of women Surrealists or Surrealist-affiliated women artists in this exhibition, we now turn to another group in the Americas. Kati Horna, who came to Mexico from Hungary, where she had been a professional photographer in the Second World War and the Spanish Civil
War, had a great talent and enormous initiative for a young woman of her era. She went, camera in hand, to photograph the action of the wars. This was a form of resistance, as she portrayed the working class people she met in jobs she took for a while to understand how they really lived and what their true needs were in times of extreme trouble. In the war zones, she used her photography again to bring out the suffering of soldiers and citizens from all the devastating killing the wars brought. Her photographs, coming into public view only recently, are some of the earliest taken from her point of view. They reveal her passionate interests in awakening the world to the horrors of war and its impact on ordinary citizens, on mothers, children, and the elderly who were the most fragile and who suffered more easily from extreme physical and psychological damage. As a European Jew, she identified with the persecutions. Her passion to use her camera to protest all fascist takeovers of innocent people also led her to Spain to document the Spanish Civil War. Again, her photos showed the events of the daily lives of those who lived through the terror. In Horna’s Stairway to the Cathedral from 1937, we see that a woman’s face is fused with the bricks of the cathedral wall, but her one eye that can still see is enlarged, for her eye is capturing a photographic document of the horror before her. Her other eye is covered in dark shadows, and we can assume that even with just one eye able to take in the scene, the memory of this vision will be immortalized for the world to witness. The commitment of a woman whose means of sight is a weapon against war shows the newly discovered powers that women came into touch with as they followed their hearts and abandoned the conventional roles of women and sought to stand with other citizens to become a silent wall of resistance. Before moving to Mexico, Kati had long been friends with Chiki Weisz, whom Leonora married. Kati was also very close to the Hungarian
photographer Capa, who wanted to make a life and have a family with her. But she rejected that offer because she was strong, independent, and determined to follow her mission. Eventually she did marry Jose Horna, a sculptor, who went with her to Mexico and worked with Leonora and others in the Surrealist group. Although he died prematurely, Kati continued her work in photography for many years, leaving to us the humorous and sometimes black-humored photos of many of the Surrealists. I have often been asked if any of the Surrealist women had children. They did. The children of Leonora and of Kati played together in their childhood, and today they are managing the estates of their mothers. The Surrealist women had love affairs and marriages and chose to focus on their art as well as their families. It was a long road they traveled until they found the partners they would spend the rest of their lives with. The husbands of Kati Horna and Leonora Carrington supported their art. Chiki also supported Leonora when she underwent periods of deep depression or psychological distress, never letting anyone commit her to an asylum. Kati and Leonora formed a powerful threesome with Remedios Varo. These three women pretended to be chatting about recipes and cooking, but were really discussing politics in Mexico as they also studied esoteric practices. All three of them have now been recognized by Mexico for the immense contribution of their talents in the land where they found safety from the wars in Europe. Unlike many of the Women of Surrealism who came to Mexico in the early 1940s to escape the Second World War, Bridget Tichenor, who humorously called herself a “sub-realist” (because her works were very small in size), arrived in Mexico ca. 1953, a decade later than the others, but became close friends with the women who had settled in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma. She abandoned her life as a married woman and professional fashion editor at Vogue Magazine 23
in New York. After visiting Mexico in 1953, she divorced her second husband, Johnathan Tichenor, and made Mexico her permanent home. She had been born in Paris in 1917 and attended schools in France, Italy, and England. Having already changed cultural locations several times, she must have seen that her own experience of cultural diversity was reflected in the Mesoamerican Cosmovision. 5 The Mexican Cosmovision—a word from David Carrasco’s Religions of Mesoamerica (1998, 2013), relates the powerful pre-Columbian civilizations whose myths stress a cyclical vision of creation, destruction, and renewal of worlds. Bridget must have resonated with the diversity of cultures in Mesoamerica, for she was open to the knowledge of the interrelationships between the realms of the dead, the gods, and the living. She also seems to have known that there have always been, and will always be, cataclysms that destroy old cultures and ceremonial ways that create the birth of new worlds. In Bridget’s art, we encounter many beings, some of whom seem to be the European colonizers. Bridget always identified with the indigenous peoples who suffered under the European invaders. The surreal aspect of Bridget’s work lies in her portrayals of the interminglings of beings from various dimensions of time and space. The Surrealist understanding of art and life, i.e., dream and waking reality as interpenetrating and communicating, was much closer to the preColumbian concept of art than to the European concept of the Fine Arts. For both Surrealists and Mesoamericans, art was magical and could transmit great power. Art could open doors to revelation, initiation, and illumination. In other words, what we think of as magic today was once considered the norm. Humans could communicate with plants and animals. People could see auras. Mental telepathy was common. Bridget maintained that the Surrealists were important because they opened doors both to 24
the unconscious and to the rebirth of realities within the invisible. While Surrealists like Leonora Carrington refer to the iconography of the ancient religion of the Great Goddess in order to invoke a return to the values symbolized by the cultures of Crete or Celtic Ireland, Bridget’s cosmovision uses eggs, serpents, snails, and the antennae-like horns of consecration of the moon as icons of memory from the ancient past. She does so to prepare us for the yet unknown mythos that will emerge in the future, when (and where) prophecies of the world to come may be read in the skies. In her paintings, her people either lie out under the open sky or perform a fire ceremony to make contact with the source of creation. These people are waiting for word from the future, from beings that may be otherworldlings or spirit guides from both celestial and natural phenomena. Bridget’s vision of future harmony has more to do with the cultures of earth-based peoples dwelling lightly on the land and have maintained contact with beings from other dimensions via shamanic practices than with the worldviews of ancient alchemists, astronomers, or Western (European) occult and esoteric practices. It is important to notice the effects of chiaroscuro in Bridget’s work. Because her paintings are all set outdoors, there is no source of artificial light. In paintings like The Surrealists (1956), Leonora Carrington, Chiki Weiss, Kathy and Jose Horna are in eggs. In De Hecho (1965), the source of light seems to be located within the beings themselves. They radiate in the darkness of the night. Trees also glow in primary colors. Light itself is the major influence on everything for this artist. The only interiors in her oeuvre are in caves or tents. By masking and unmasking ordinary people and objects whose realism we have always taken for granted, Bridget reveals their expanded and hidden dimensions, their inner lives, and their obscured Underworlds. Some people come masked as harlequins and represent white westerners, for even when they are sporting horns or bird masks,
their limbs show through and reveal that they are in costume. The deities and animal powers of Mesoamerican mythology were as real to the Aztecs, the Maya, and the Toltecs, as the snail people, the egg people, and the pyramid people are to Bridget. In her work we see a pageant of beings from many worlds and dimensions and moments in the sacred histories of various civilizations that she invents, including those of the Egg Beings, the Pyramid Beings, the Unicorns, the Otherwordlings, the Guides, the Multi-eyed Ones, the Shell Women, the Spirit Trees, the Winged Horses, the Third-Eyed, the Flames, the Bird Women, and the Tortoise People. All of these forms of matter and manifestation are conscious. They watch each other in awestruck gaze. All are alive, enigmatic, and sentient. With open third eyes or organs for perceptions of other dimensions, they are possibly enlightened beings. We are fortunate to have Bridget’s portraits of Spirit Guides, all of whom wear a crown or headpiece These (non-royal) crowns may be decked out with insects, flames, rams’ horns, snail shell motifs, and other organic shapes. She thus makes us realize that our true guides are not royal kings of old with crowns of gold, but dream beings or masters from shamanic realms whose crowning glories are the organic world of nature and the four elements. We may think we come from eggs, but that’s only our biological lineage. Spiritually, we all descend from the crowns of the Masters and Guides who are our real noble ancestors in the other worlds. Because Bridget Tichenor is known to have descended from English royalty, these natural crowns that she paints make us aware that there are many other kinds of crowns that show nobility of spirit. In one of Bridget’s most famous paintings, the theme of the Egg Beings is carried through the decades. This is her famous portrait of the Surrealists in costumes resembling eggs and 25
perhaps born of the egg-shaped beings who accompany them. The Egg Beings of different generations perhaps form a lineage showing the importance of the female womb. We have in the exhibition some portraits of the Guides who often wear blackface, though their white hands reveal their true race. It is usually Caucasian women who appear in blackface or in vegetal masks. I interpret this as revealing Bridget’s Ecofeminist vision of how women work behind the scenes and use camouflage to disguise their true identities. They may be hiding behind their masks as activists in their own resistance movement to liberate those taken as slaves by the white male conquerors in Harlequin costumes. Bridget Tichenor’s work needs to be brought into public view more often. Her oeuvre deserves greater and deeper analysis by art historians.. Aube Elleouet, the daughter of André Breton and Jacqueline Lamba, is a collage artist living in Sache, France. I visited her while I was directing the Rutgers Junior Year in France in the late 1970s and my students attended the Université de Tours. I spent several hours with her and learned how she acted as a Surrealist would when she was a social worker living in Paris with her painter/poet husband, Yves Elleouet. As she explained what she did as a social worker, I think I couldn’t give a clearer explanation of the way surrealism was embedded in her life. She was able to make a graceful leap into using it in her daily life and in her job. Generally, a social worker sees to the needs of the people she works with. Because Aube knows deeply that our needs are both material and spiritual, she addressed her clients’ spiritual needs. These were not religious needs. She tried to give her clients gifts that might fill the emptiness in their souls caused, in one case, by the fact that they had not ever seen the sea. She arranged for a trip to the sea to fill their eyes with beauty and their hearts with joy. And that was not all she did for them. If clients had never seen the mountains, 26
she took them to the mountains and introduced them to the view from the heights and led them to feel the glory of being so much closer to the sky. Further, she knew that some clients had never been to a village fair (a kermesse, or medieval fair). The fairs offered elaborate feasts, days of dancing, and creative processions. They brought ecstasy to those who attended them. Aube understood that her social work with people who had never seen such a village fair could be just as nurturing to them as any festival might be to us today … but far more. She managed to have her clients participate in a village fair. In these and many other ways, Aube taught people that the values of experiences are every bit as important to one’s spiritual nourishment as the material items like food they also need. Without the perception of the Marvelous that people would acquire by going on these trips into nature and into joyful celebrations of the pleasures of life, they would remain incomplete, even if they had more material goods in their lives. To me, Aube is a true daughter of Surrealism. Her father, after all, was André Breton, the poet-founder of the movement, and her mother, Jacqueline Lamba, was an artist. Aube’s collages came later in her life. I have only seen two small catalogues of them, but I have the honor of receiving every New Year hand made postcards from Aube with warm blessings for the next year hand written on the blank side opposite the collage. These cards bear the most loving and caring messages and blessings for the future. I believe that Aube’s art is best experienced. The composition of the photocollage creates for the viewer an idea of what is meant by “the Imaginary tends to become real.” The way I came to experience this is that one year I received an invitation in a package whose contents contained sixteen pieces of a puzzle for the recipient to put together. You could not read the invitation if you did not put the puzzle together yourself. And so I began to place the pieces where I thought they
might belong. The first thing I noticed was how I could not do this by putting things together whose subject matter matched; a piece with part of a leg on it, for example, could not be set next to another piece that is another part of a leg. Absolutely not! This is the antithesis of how the journey to the Marvelous would take place. I looked at the shape of a piece and then searched to find another piece that could be put together with it. When the picture on the two pieces made came together, I gasped. The beauty took my breath away, and yet it still seemed that I did not understand the meaning of the combined images. That is what the invitation was meant to be: the completion of each part of the whole created a most marvelous scene whose meaning might escape us, but whose spirit won me over. That is how I became completely aware of what the Surrealists meant by the “explosivity” of the spark that bursts through when these juxtapositions created something so new, so beautiful, and so unexpected and mysterious that I was riveted to the process. Aube’s art truly brings a kind of visual poetry to everyday life by showing us how we don’t need much in the sense of what we have called “riches” because the truest riches are found in nature, in village fairs, and in the making of art when you are guided by the Imaginary and your unconscious. I saw in the finished puzzle the love, guidance, caring, and healing capacities of a young woman who is also saving underwater creatures from danger. As opposed to the “male gaze” in which the female is the object of desire, Aube’s woman in the underwater realm is the subject, the one who desired the relationship with fish, octopi, and other underwater beings that she discovered on her mission to save endangered species. The invitation I received was an invitation to more than what it said on the card. It was an invitation to open one’s heart, mind and third eye, if not the two physical eyes we also need to open in order to grasp the fact that the Marvelous is REAL. It was
an invitation to open your ”surreal” eyes and look for the Marvelous because when you eliminate false hierarchies of species, prejudices about what constitutes a normal or acceptable “essence” of a species, and when you are open to loving the octopus, the dolphin, and the others the way Carrington loved her horses and Fini loved her cats, well, it is everywhere. These are new, hybrid relationships among diverse kinds of underwater beings that are always there as a potential if we take the time and effort to open our true inner sight, which is insight. This is what has always been “Present in Plain Sight.” One of Aube’s works on exhibit here makes use of diverse objects that she must have collected at flea markets. One of the most important excursions a Surrealist can, in fact, make is an excursion to a flea market. This is where they wander in a slightly altered state of consciousness until they find the exact relics or unusual objects that “call” to be inspected for inclusion in a work of art. Here, in Aube’s piece, The Prophet, she plays with objects that have astrological symbols. There is a man or woman in the blue moon and on other disks. The small, round, silver disks have the phases of the moon inscribed on them. Aube often has playing cards in her collages. Using the cards to read one’s astrological predictions or receive answers to questions, whether with the cards’ images or numbers, can be significant when we want to make predictions. Here the round silver pieces with moons on them show the moons’ smiling mouths. They seem to be smiling or winking at us. Perhaps the tickets and the tiny records relate with humor to the Akashic Records, in which all of our lives are inscribed in detail. The Prophet’s head is large and blue and his eyes are winking, and whether her depiction of the kind of reading one might receive from this Prophet is humorous or serious, we can know that these astrological signs of the moon’s position at a certain time will most likely reveal the way reality can simultaneously be both poetic and magical.
Each visitor to the gallery will be challenged to create a narrative that incorporates the elements presented via unconscious juxtapositions. Can we imagine that these hybrid images will one day reveal the unexpected, the unforeseen, the explosion of the spark of beauty that Breton knew we could create? The works are created purposely to send the imagination of each viewer on her or his own journey and thereby cause the viewer to invent a starling new version of the uncanny. Itâ€™s the surreal vision encountered by surprise. If the Women of Surrealism have shown us something important, it is that when our minds are released from the straightjackets of logic, rationalism, and judgments that put limits on our power to perceive in completely new ways, then fabulous and irrational but stunningly beautiful yet humble objects will appear to us like dream objects. In this way, ordinary tickets can be seen in combinations that reveal the unexpected answers that come from the great realm of the Imaginary. Nothing is censored. Everything is possible. Aubeâ€™s way of bringing us to her special kind of enlightenment is by proposing this art as a way to heal from the disasters we have brought about by omitting the poetry and prophetic powers of unexpected encounters. Surrealist art can heal us when we stop putting our belief in the validity of rationalism for obtaining secret knowledge of life and turn to the universe that often rewards our encounters with the uncanny by transforming ordinary objects into precious sacred possessions. Behind this creative method is the foundational belief that everything in the universe is alive with spirit. The ordinary objects we pick up will emit their own messages to us if we can only learn to see or listen to them. There have been many women artists who spent time with the male Surrealists, but while they did not join their group for valid reasons, they were friends, wives, lovers , and collaborators with the men. It is time to bring to light the Surrealist art of Manina, nĂŠe Tischler. She was born in 1915 28
in Vienna, Austria, to Jewish parents who were well known and very active in the Vienna art and music worlds. Her father, Victor Tischler, was a noted painter, and her mother, Mathilde Tischler, née Ehrlich, was an opera singer. When Manina was a child, friends of the family in the art world that surrounded her included Oscar Kokoshka, Egon Schiele, and Alma Mahler Werfel. The story of Manina’s life moves through the history of the 20th century and was touched by the threat of the Holocaust to all Jews as well as by the absence of women artists in the larger world of Surrealism. Her Jewish lineage shows that she descends from Rabbi Jehuda Loew ben Bazalel, who, as legend tells us, created a Golem in 16th-century Prague. The most famous rabbi of his time, he was a Kabbalist. He also married into the family line that Manina descends from. She was extremely interested in the Kabbalah, and was inspired by some Kabbalist teachings as she created her art. Her relationship with the Surrealists includes her second marriage to Surrealist poet Alain Jouffroy, who also collaborated with her in creating a book, Les Quatre Saisons d’une âme, in which his poetry was accompanied by her drawings. She also created a Surrealist art group in Venice. Andre Breton recognized her as a “born Surrealist” and included her work in the International Exposition of Surrealism in 1950. He also published her drawings in the the journal Le Surréalisme, même, No. 5. When Manina met Breton in his Paris apartment through Sonjia Sekula , he was so impressed with her art that he told her that her work “speaks of the true nature of things. These works are pure poetry. You are a born Surrealist.” There was an important exhibition of Manina’s work in 1957 at the Galerie Furstenberg in Paris, which was run by Breton’s first wife, Simone Collinet. Breton invited everyone connected to Surrealism to the vernissage, or first night of a show. A list of those present at her opening is given in a book titled Manina, by R.B. Kleinschmidt (published in 2002 by Leonhard Frebort Kulturmarketing in Vienna).
The list includes Man Ray, Victor Brauner, Leonor Fini, Dorothea Tanning, Toyen, Lise de Harme, Henri Bellmer, Marc Chagall, Jose Pierre, Gregory Corso, Max Ernst, William S. Burroughs, Nanos Valaoritis and Marie Wilson, Bona and Pieyre de Mandiargues, Tristan Tzara, Gherasim Luca, and Henri Michaux. The exhibition was a huge success, and it is this, as well as the praise of many others, that permits us to call Manina a Surrealist, although (like Frida Kahlo) she preferred to maintain her independence and not to align herself with any group. When she was briefly in Mexico, she met Frida and became a great admirer of her life and art. Manina and Alain Jouffroy, were involved in a celebration that is interesting to note because of the link to Max Ernst and the complexity of her relationship to the Surrealist group. In 1954, Ernst was awarded the Grand Prix at the XXI Biennale in Venice. He decided he had to accept the award because it would mean financial support for continuing his career. If he were to accept this award, however, he would be defying one of Breton’s requirements for belonging to the group, i.e., Breton was opposed to accepting awards from the “establishment.” It was Breton’s form of social critique and resistance to the way the art world functioned. Manina, always thinking independently, supported Ernst whole-heartedly, and to express their full support for his acceptance of the Grand Prix, she and Jouffroy threw a huge party at a small palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice, where they lived. (Manina had loved Venice since she’d visited there in her childhood. The city eventually became her permanent home.) The guests arrived at the party in gondolas, and they all supported Max Ernst in his right to accept his well deserved, and greatly needed, award. Manina’s love of Surrealism and its poetic vision of abandoning the restrictions of logic and reason was accompanied by the praise her art received 29
from the members of the Surrealist group. It was because of this praise that she never abandoned her closeness to the Surrealists who became her friends, although she also maintained her personal objection to belonging to the group itself. It is for these and many other reasons that we may give her a place in the lineage of the Women of Surrealism, many of whom also did not ever join the official group. In covering the main events of her life and their relation to her art, I have skipped over her marriage to her first husband, Robert Thoeren, who was an author and screenplay writer, one of whose stories was the basis of the film Some Like It Hot. When the Nazis invaded Austria, Manina and Robert moved to Hollywood. But he did not enjoy the Hollywood social world, and so they moved back to Europe after the war. The great tragedy of Manina’s life occurred while she was married to Jouffroy and living in Venice. Her daughter Nina (whose father was Robert Thoeren) had gone to study at the University of Southern California. Manina received news in 1960 that her beloved daughter, her only child, so gifted, so filled with love, had been murdered on the USC campus. Although I was not teaching there, years later, in the course of my research, I came upon the name Manina. I was very interested in meeting her, and in my first letter I told her that I was teaching at USC. That must have given her quite a shock. In her letter to me, she had said how uncomfortable she felt just talking about her daughter’s death because it had happened on the same campus where I was teaching. I began to correspond with Manina while she was living in Venice, and when I attended the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1985, I planned to fly to Venice after the conference ended. But the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place while I was in Nairobi, and the news reports warned us that the radiation was reaching southern Europe. I went home instead, and never got to meet Manina. There are so many explanations as to why her 30
name is unknown in art circles today. But there is one reason that helps us understand why there is always a contrast between the light and the dark in Manina’s work. Although she grew up in an artistic atmosphere filled with privileges associated with her incredibly gifted parents, it is pertinent to observe how her own period of darkness took her away from art for a while so that she could go inward, devote herself to mourning the loss of her daughter and meditate on how to re-birth herself and emerge from her retreat from the life she had previously known. When Nina was murdered, Manina entered a period of intense sadness and depression where no one could help her. Eventually she was given a studio in Venice by some friends, and there she felt a little better. She had also undergone therapy with a Jungian analyst. While she felt that the therapy helped her to come out of her state of mourning, the most important sign of healing was that she noticed one day that “her hands came alive” and she was called to begin anew. As I read about this time in her life, I felt that she knew intuitively that she had to accept what had happened and return to the art she loved making. To move forward after a long period of retreat, she began concentrating on painting as her priority while always continuing with her drawings. Because her passion had always been for painting , she felt that the time of reinventing her life was the moment to move into what spoke to her more intensely. She felt, in fact, that her hands were literally coming alive. Jouffroy had taken her on a trip to Spain to try to take her mind away from the tragedy and to help her heal and reenter the world, but that did not help. In fact, their marriage began to fall apart soon after this trip and ended in divorce. Manina’s art was also greatly supported in Venice by her friend Domingo de la Cueva, who taught her how to work with jewelry. Soon she began to experiment with works that incorporated jewelry, like talismans that radiated positive energies to the world. Their friendship was clearly one of the
most healing elements that inspired her to return to her art and to concentrate on painting. Her spiritual challenge was to reawaken almost the same ecstatic, passionate spirit that she had always exhibited before the death of her daughter. While the darkness in her work is always there, it also leads to the light, and her work always directs the viewer away from the shadows and the sadness, and turns our attention toward the light and rebirth.
as a child, she had watched her father, the famous painter Victor Tischler, work at his paintings. As an adult, she went through so many moves because of the Nazis, so many changes in love partners, and so many moves between Hollywood, New York, and Paris, and worked so hard with the Resistance to get her parents of of Nazi camps, that Venice came to represent beauty and calm to her. She knew her dream of rebirth could be brought into reality in Venice.
Living in Venice, a city she had always loved, inspired Manina to create the first painting after her daughter was killed. In the following years, her productivity was spectacular as she created twelve large paintings annually. Equally spectacular were her talent and the depth of her spiritual vision. She lived to complete an oeuvre that includes many drawings, paintings, some jewelry, and some writings. She reinvented herself as what I like to refer to as a Surrealist Salon Woman in Venice. The way she dressed and presented herself in public made the world take notice when she entered a room. She has said that her life was devoted only to art and to helping others.
Not wanting to join the Surrealist groups in the diaspora, she chose Venice rather than Paris or Mexico, where the Surrealists who had left Europe gathered. Her choice of the Venice she had always loved as her permanent home reveals once more her need to maintain her independent identity. She never gave up her love for Surrealism or for all the Surrealists that were her friends, and eventually she created a Surrealist art group in Venice. The only Surrealist group in Italy, it was called “The Group A-Z” and members took Death to be their main subject of investigation.
It was after a trip to London with Domingo de la Cueva that Manina had a strong realization that what she had been doing before each painting was entering into a state of meditation and painting in a light trance. So many of her expressions about the way she painted resonate with the techniques of the Surrealists that her description of her hands “coming alive” and her painting in an altered state of consciousness are what convince me (apart from the way Breton admired her work) that she belongs in the legacy of Women of Surrealism. Like Leonor Fini, Dorothea Tanning, Frida Kahlo, and others, Manina did not want to be placed in a specific category of artists. While her spirit was open to many encounters and styles, she was determined to maintain the integrity of her beliefs. She felt strongly about her way of painting without affiliating with anyone’s group. Finding her own style was what, in fact, had constituted her art training:
During the period in which Manina was almost literally giving birth to her new self in a world without her daughter, she also invented a logo that one sometimes finds with her signature on her art. It is known in English as her symbol De-I-Ing. The most meaningful lesson Manina learned through all of her changes and trials was how important it is to free oneself from the Ego, which, in fact, deprives one of the ability to see the deeper and larger view beyond the superficialities of life. The symbol was an empty circle with four arrows pointing inward. In 1960, she also made a drawing titled De-I-Ing or sometimes Demoiisation, which means getting rid of the ego. Such thoughts are related to the Kabbalah, where it is taught that God removed himself and pulled back from the site of the origin of the cosmos in order to leave more room for the creation of the world. Now I will examine some of the works we are fortunate to have borrowed from friends of 31
Manina. In Day to Night (1973), a woman’s face peers out of the center of a heart. The woman is a hybrid, part bird and part human female. Her bird body is a light yellow-green and represents Day. Night is the flamboyant red-pink of the expanded, leaf-like wingspread that occurs at Night. The heart signals the woman-bird transitioning to the mysteries of a night of passion. The particular red tones that we find in many of Manina’s works all convey the burning of the flames of passion, and that red even informs the orb in the sky that the red aura of her winged leaves has spread to light up the night with her reborn spiritual energy and love. I think the overall feeling is of possible flying, but with feet planted firmly in water; she will be rooted to our planet while taking wing. This painting expresses the great potential of a new hybrid being whose heart-shaped halo springs from her crown chakra and turns on the sun at night. The power of this new being has also rearranged some things in the universe: the white moon is out in the night sky, but it’s in the daylight part of the painting, while the red sun is blazing in the night sky. For Manina, it seems that night is the time of mystery. However we may interpret this completely new species of being, it is clear that in the time of rebirth and reincarnation, the unexpected birth of this incredible new being symbolizes a leap into the future and the vision of a new, mixed-species identity. Will these beings of love be understood despite their “outsider” status? The love energy that permeates the painting depicts the being as an angel of light and love. Manina always has her paintings transform the world and so we find the daytime is more akin to her darkness , but her wings are uplifted, at night when flight could occur. Happiness awaits in the dark of night where the red sun, aligned with the red wings, has already transformed the aura of the cosmos. One of the other works by Manina in this exhibit is Renaissance of a Center (1969). The crossing of two birds in the center opens up a huge circular wing space on either side that forms the symbol 32
of infinity. We can see that she was thinking about infinity and eternity and perhaps contemplating the soul’s journey from one incarnation to another over cosmic time and space. Some definitions of the infinity symbol remark that it is the antidote to all the darkness and lack of harmony in life. If so, Renaissance of a Center has two birds moving in opposite directions, but intertwined through their linked wings, for they are being pulled apart from each other at the center. And yet the energies of the detailed circles in red, blue, and coral on the wings create an illusion of the flapping or movement of the wings. It seems to be a sign of the interconnectedness of all of us despite the lack of harmony and it somehow uses the structural symbol of infinity to create the harmony despite the way the birds are moving in opposite directions. The large empty space in the center of the right wing suggests the shape of an egg radiating light, a Red Egg, at that. Thus it is the sign of the completion of the Alchemy of the Egg, not just an end to a process, but a symbol of an infinity of interconnectivity and a balancing of the tugs in different directions by the frequencies of the colors. It is an iconic symbol of life’s beginning, the completion of the Alchemical Process, and the everlasting existence of the interconnected web of life. By presenting these works here today, we hope to interweave Manina’s use of the symbol of infinity into the lexicon of particular Surrealist choices and the uses of symbolic icons whose resonances convey information and meaning to the entire oeuvre of her works. With Manina, the Alchemical Process moves through the Red Egg, but takes the narrative further to the dimension of the infinity sign, which, located outside of time and space, in contrast to eternity, which is within time and space, leaves the viewer who is initiated to the symbolism of hope for the continuation of life energies on an infinite dimension beyond the limitations of our current understanding, but also with a belief that there is no end to the journey of life, death, and rebirth somewhere in the worlds yet unknown to our human fund of knowledge, but which await our discovery.
Conclusion The arc of this introduction to the problem of the female gaze began with the problem of the FemmeEnfant and the omission of the earlier Women of Surrealism from the Surrealist group if they were too old to fit the image of the Ideal Woman as Breton had defined it, i.e., Woman-Child. We moved through the years to find that the Women’s Movement had begun to publish important works in art and literature to fill in the blanks on the Women of Surrealism: studies of the women’s lives and works and catalogue and books accompanying large exhibits of their art, now including exhibits of the Women of Surrealism who either lived in the Americas before the Second World War or who had left Europe and emigrated there during and after the war. These refugees, who settled in New York City and Mexico City, somehow found each other and were glad to rediscover friendships that had been formed previously in Europe. The women grew closer in their group relationships and created their own communities. They also began to function through time and space as an extended family and found great pleasure in discovering the arts of the various countries they visited. They formed new connections with the artists whose work they found that resonated with their own.
for animals and all the creatures on the planet by drawing and painting shared intimacies that might have shocked the public in earlier eras. Hybrid animal-humans appear in some of their works, both as masks to protect the identities of women artists who were participating in political events and to extend their search for their new identities by studying their own faces and bodies and learning more about the new strengths they acquired by becoming liberated from the constrictions that bound them to silence and erasure, especially if they were over the age of thirty. The patriarchal, sexist stereotypes and roles that kept women domesticated rather than liberated have been slowly disappearing as new worlds of hybrid and spiritual beings from other dimensions and have inspired the Women of Surrealism as the great Realm of the Imaginary has touched their unconscious revelations.
As the women’s work came to be recognized, their particular, nonsexist gaze that did not in many cases even refer to the “male gaze,” prevailed. It was noted that the art by women, no matter where it was created, was diverse. While there is not and cannot be any “essential” or standard female gaze, there is definitely a turning away from selfpresentation that conforms to the male gaze, or fantasy of woman as “sex object.”
We have encountered the stunning and visionary art of Bridget Tichenor and Aube Elleouet and the newly surfacing art of Manina, all of whom seem to have been in touch with the occulted realms of vision that previous artists alluded to and studied in order to understand the writings from the distant past about the esoteric, the use of magic, and the hidden knowledge that the guardians of control kept from the public for centuries. The Women of Surrealism have dived down into the depth of their own visions and carried them up to their own conclusions, resulting in the entrance of new beings and concepts to their works. These often demanded great attention from the viewer in order that viewer be able to penetrate the meaning of the new expressions about the diversity of cultures, of habitations, and hybrid beings, here and “otherwhere,” all embedded in the of the contrast between the worlds of Europe and the Americas and the artists’ own histories.
Today women are answering the “call” to paint with their newly empowered freedom. They are focusing on the beyond, on creating new worlds for the future, and on expressing their deep love
It is important to have images by women artists that can inspire these same quests in younger generations. The new openings into the diversity of cultures and practices lead the female artists 33
to the works many women are creating now. This will lead us to uncover many more female artists whose art has always resonated with aspects of Surrealism, but whose cultural practices were still scrutinized by the eyes of the patriarchal censors who leveled the same judgments on women artists and on what the “essential” role of women should be. The world still often prefers to award prestige to those whose art remains closer to their specific culture’s sexist optiques.
Egg can signal a reclaiming of power by all those groups of “others” who have always been INVISIBLE BUT IN PLAIN SIGHT.
With the advent of the Women’s Movement in the arts, however, women artists have globally drawn strength from the collective critiques of sexism. They have created art that looks far into other dimensions and into the possible futures where encounters with other inhabitants of the cosmos will become possible as we become more and more liberated in our abilities to see with our third eyes.
I think artists are also recognizing that paintings emit strong energies. These energies have been known throughout time, but have also been forgotten or erased during our so-called Enlightenment period, known by some as the Endarkenment. Perhaps the revival of the Egg today suggests that henceforth it will become a symbol used in art to pass on the knowledge of the alchemical importance of the Egg for the sustenance and liberation of all beings of future generations in all the infinite and as yet unknown dimensions of the universe.
The Women of Surrealism share in the belief that with more understanding and love, the multitude of beings that inhabit our universe can come to know and respect each other, beginning with the earlier female Surrealists taking their deep love for animals and the natural world seriously, falling in love with their animal avatars, and leading to a visionary future perhaps filled with additional “strange encounters.” When correctly understood, we are as strange to the others as they are to us. We still have a lot of expansion of consciousness to develop if we are to follow Leonora Carrington’s poster with its roadmap for the psychic evolution of the female body to the Enlightenment of the Third Eye. The symbol of this trajectory and evolutionary expansion is the egg of rebirth, the Egg that was the alchemical oven and is now the protector of life itself. The magical powers of female Surrealist art project the energies of the Egg, reminding us both literally and energetically that the egg shape is becoming a form of sacred geometry. When combined with the symbol of the infinity sign, the 34
At this time in which everything on the planet seems to be headed for toxic and tragic endings, one powerful way we can enact a resistance is to continue to hope for this rebirth to occur by reviving the potencies of the image of the Alchemical Egg and the symbol of infinity.
1 André Breton, Arcane 17 (Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert), p. 62. 2 Whitney Chadwick, Farewell to the Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism (London: Thames and Hudson, 2017). 3 Quoted in Constantin Jelenski, Leonor Fini (New York: Olympia Press, 1968), pp. 14-15. 4 Gloria Orenstein, “Women of Surrealism,” The Feminist Art Journal (New York, Spring, 1973). 5 Gloria Orenstein, “The Surrealist Cosmovision of Bridget Tichenor,” FEMSPEC, I.I, 1999). I am borrowing material from the article I wrote for FEMSPEC in 1999.
Female Artists and the Surrealist Body in East Central Europe after 1945 Patryk P. Tomaszewski A photograph taken in 1967 by Antoni Miralda shows the Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow holding a resin cast of female breasts up to her chest. Standing in between an ambiguously biomorphic sculpture and a cloaked human statue, the artist looks directly at the camera and smiles. Though seemingly playful, this act of bodily duplication may also be understood as an unveiling, revealing in turn the basis of Szapocznikow’s visual idiom: a sustained formal and conceptual investigation of the human form. Five years later, in an essay titled “The Roots of My Oeuvre,” she would posit that the body was the only “source of joy, of pain, and of truth.”1 Arguably, Szpocznikow’s decision to engage with the human form was intimately tied to both her war-time experiences and her subsequent artistic upbringing. She was a Holocaust survivor, imprisoned during World War II in the ghettos of Pabianice and Łódź, and later Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Theresienstadt Nazi concentration camps. Having seen first-hand the killings of thousands of innocent people, Szapocznikow thus repeatedly witnessed the act of physical dissolution of human lives. Moreover, during the late 1940s the artist lived between Prague and Paris and was subsequently exposed to Western avant-garde vocabularies. The body, then, may have offered the artist a particularly well-suited device for both illustrating the transitory nature of life and for making a record of its perseverance in the wake of unimaginable destruction. By focusing on three case studies, this essay seeks to explore the use of the human form by East Central European female artists coming out of 36
the immediate post-war period.2 My intention in this essay is not to establish an overarching framework for examining this admittedly complex and heterogenous socio-cultural milieu. Rather, by limiting my discussion to three women—Alina Szapocznikow in Poland (1926-1973), Toyen in Czechoslovakia (1902-1980), and Margit Anna in Hungary (1913-1991)—I suggest that the Surrealist act of transgressing, dismembering, or otherwise de-constructing the body was but one device deployed by female artists working in the region to both mediate and encapsulate the traumatic experiences of the war more broadly and the atrocities of the Holocaust in particular.3 While the issue of gender remains relevant throughout this analysis, it will become clear that these women artists were not limited to investigating the female form.4 Further, it is important to recognize the idiosyncratic socio-political backdrop against which all three of these artists operated. Devastated by the war, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were almost immediately taken over by the Soviets, a political shift that effectively stifled the development of the post-war avant-garde. At the same time, these so-called Soviet satellite states did not officially adapt the tenets of the Socialist Realism, which mandated the use of politically-oriented and often propagandistic form of figuration, until 1949. For a short moment in the immediate aftermath of the war, and contrary to the USSR proper, they retained a certain degree of cultural exposure to the West.5 Surrealism, which had already established itself in the region prior to 1939, arguably provided these post-war artists with a heterogenous visual language that they adopted and subsequently transformed as a means of addressing the horrors they witnessed.6 For the Czech artist Toyen, whose career as a Surrealist began in the 1930s, the human form was but one of the several tropes within a prolific oeuvre that spanned over six decades.7 Discussing the use of the body in Toyen’s work,
art historian Karla Huebner recognized the artist’s sustained interest in inventing “haunting images of strangely spectral, disembodied women and girls.”8 Between the end of World War II in 1945 and the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1947— an event which forced Toyen to relocate from Prague to Paris—two works in particular seem to capitalize on the body in relation to suffering wrought by both the war and the Holocaust. Both of them, however, remain ambiguous in relation to gender, possibly pointing to the universal nature of pain caused by human conflict. In a 1945 composition titled War (Fig. 1), Toyen placed an enigmatic anthropomorphic figure dressed in a military uniform in the middle of a largely indeterminate space. Its arm is covered in bandage while its head appears entirely obscured by a swarm of bees. With hay sticking out of its torso, we see the figure slowly morph into a scarecrow, vestiges of skin on its neck possibly revealing that it once may have been alive. The mannequin-like effigy in Toyen’s composition recalls Salvador Dali’s Woman with a Head of Roses from 1930, in which the artist concealed the head of a standing female figure with rose petals. By replacing flowers with bees, Toyen may have pointed to diverse, perhaps intentionally contradictory symbolism. While bees often represent a living model of social organization, they may also embody fear, their stingers akin to rifle bayonets. Classical marble busts that Toyen proliferated in the composition’s background, which constitute ciphers of Western culture, meet the same fate, some of them entirely swarmed by insects. Turning living beings into mere imitations of life, Toyen illustrates that war devours humanity at large, destroying its people as well as its cultures. If Toyen’s 1945 War offers a more universal narrative on human suffering, then her 1946 work titled Myth of Light reveals her own experiences of World War II and Holocaust specifically. The composition depicts a shadow of a man holding a naturalistically rendered plant and standing
War (La Guerre), c. 1945 oil on canvas, 75 7/8 by 43 3/8 in.
© 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
against a door, while two hands cast a shadow shaped like a wolf ’s head, slowly approaching from the composition’s right-hand side. In this autobiographical work, Toyen paid homage to her friend, a Jewish poet and Surrealist artist Jindrich Heisler, who was hiding in Toyen’s apartment during the war to avoid being captured by the Nazis. Living in permanent fear and almost complete darkness for most of the time between 1941 and 1945, Heisler longed for light, both literally and figuratively. In Myth of Light, the artist deploys shadows as a way of both indexing the human presence and pointing to the fright of the unknown. Her use of shadows for such purposes has precedence in Surrealism, especially in the work of Dali and Magritte. Scholar Dennis Hollier recognizes that shadows are nondetachable from the objects they double, noticing that “the relation of sign to the thing signified escapes the metaphor of the separation of body and soul.”9 Placed against a door with no handle, Heisler appears as a phantom, but not a proxy. Inseparable from its soul, Heisler’s is a body at once absent and present. At the same time, his fear is magnified by what cannot be readily experienced.
Bábu (Puppet), c. 1950 oil on canvas, 13 x 9 1/2 in. Deák Collection, Székesfehérvár, Hungary
Whereas Toyen at times concealed the physical body by using diverse Surrealist tropes, Alina Szapocznikow seemed to have always emphasized corporeal presence in her work. Her focus on war and Holocaust trauma is perhaps most evident in sculptures made after the 1956 thaw—where severed limbs and other body parts gradually turn into bizarre and often monstrous autonomous objects—although an ostensible intention to transform the body permeates her entire oeuvre.10 Allegra Pesenti notes Szapocznikow’s interest in expressive carved stone sculptures by Baroque artist Matthias Bernhard Braun of hunting scenes, which she saw near the village of Kuks in former Czechoslovakia shortly after the war ended.11 Characterized by its physical durability, stone carving was for the artist “representative of permanence and eternal memory.”12 But if the immediate postwar years exposed her to diverse
artistic stimuli, upon her return to Poland in 1951 Szapocznikow was confronted by the tightening of the communist grip and the official imposition of Socialist Realism as the only acceptable form of artistic expression. While seemingly conforming to the cultural directions mandated by the Soviets, Szapocznikow’s works of the early 1950s nonetheless disrupt the rigid figuration characteristic of Socialist Realism to emphasize the body’s affective potential. One of the earliest works made by Szapocznikow as a response to war-time suffering was a 1957 sculpture titled Exhumed. Completed four years after Joseph Stalin’s death—which ushered the region into a period of cultural thaw— Szapocznikow’s work depicts a human figure that lacked human traits. Reminiscent of the plaster casts of doomed Pompeiian citizens, Szapocznikow’s Exhumed seems hopeless, its contorted body caught in an unusual seated pose with one of its knees raised and the torso slightly leaning forward. It is here that we may witness a sense of physical dissolution of the body, which literally melts down in front of our eyes, perhaps directly inspired by the memories of the Holocaust. And yet, despite being ostensibly dehumanized, the exhumed figure appears oddly contemplative, bringing to mind a well-known remnant of Greek classical culture— the Hellenistic Boxer at Rest, a sculpture traditionally understood as embodying the ideal of human endurance. The concept of perseverance was, in fact, an important point of reference for Exhumed, a work which Szapocznikow originally dedicated to László Rajk, a Hungarian politician who fell victim to the communist purges and was executed in 1949.13 The trope of resistance similarly manifests itself in other works of the period, perhaps most notably in Difficult Age made in 1956. Read by some art historians as a “challenge to Communist notions of privacy and the female body,” Difficult Age exemplifies human tenacity expressed through the female form.14 In the case of Margit Anna, who lived and worked
in Hungary, the sense of bodily transformation manifests itself through the motif of puppets, a trope she began using more prominently in her painting after the death of her husband, Imre Ámos, in the Ohrdruf Nazi concentration camp in 1944. Though not themselves part of the Surrealist group, both Ámos and Anna were strongly influenced by the lyrical and emotionally-charged work of Marc Chagall since the mid-1930s. In a letter dating from 1938, Ámos specifically described his interest in translating his dream-like visions into painting and recognized the influence of Chagall’s work on the artist’s use of color.15 While Anna’s work often drew upon the new form of lyrical figuration employed by her husband, the emotional impact resulting from the loss of her husband likely became a potent stimulus in developing her new visual vocabulary. Debra Pfister describes the tragic last encounter of the couple, according to which Ámos was able to pass Anna his personal notebook shortly before his deportation. Filled with drawings he made while imprisoned as a forced laborer in Hungary, the notebook constituted for Anna the last memory of her husband who perished in Ohrdruf without a trace.16 Her use of the puppet motif, a Surrealist trope previously harnessed by artists working in Western Europe— which in Anna’s work developed between 1945 and 1948—pointed to the senselessness of war, while at the same time stressing one’s powerlessness in confronting it. Whether Anna was directly inspired by the use of dolls in the work of Western artists like Hans Bellmer or Hannah Höch is unknown. Nonetheless, the iconography of some of Anna’s late 1940s composition, for example Puppet (1947) (Fig. 2), bears strong resemblance to the kind of grotesque imagery of dolls deployed as a device to capitalize on the primeval and mysterious nature of human existence by artists associated with Dada and, later, Surrealism.17 The 1947 painting, in which a head made up of a white cloth is connected to the doll’s torso by loosely tied strings, depicts a marionette incapable to exist without a puppet master. 39
Monochrome XXXXC, 1975
Magdalena Abakanowicz Mask, 2002
The face of the figurine—its features drawn in a simplified manner—appears psychologically blank, perhaps acting as a mockery of the depth of human consciousness. This apparent interest in engaging puppets as Jungian archetypes bears resemblance to the radically geometrified marionettes made by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, a Swiss artist associated with the Zurich Dada, for Carlo Gozzi’s 1918 König Hirsch (King Stag) production.18 As art historian Patricia Palmer points out, the pioneering deployment of the puppet by artists like Sophie Taeuber-Arp was, in fact, “predating male appropriations of the trope” and indicating that the doll is “firstly a site of feminist innovation and intervention in Dada and subsequently Surrealism.”19 Coming directly out of the traumas of World War II, Anna’s puppets were similarly inventive, channeling a modernist trope to both express her personal grief of a partner who perished in the Holocaust and to indicate men’s helplessness in the face of history. Working in different countries but sharing a similar socio-political landscape, these three female artists arguably gave Surrealism a second wind in the aftermath of the world’s deadliest conflict. One can think of further examples of such practice within the post-war milieu of Eastern and Central Europe—each productively expanding the Surrealist practices outlined above, even if not directly involved with the movement of Surrealism itself. The Polish painter Teresa Pągowska, for instance, assiduously dissected and reassembled the human form throughout her longstanding career, often seamlessly fusing abstract and figurative idiom to striking emotional effects (Fig. 3). Magdalena Abakanowicz, a Polish sculptor who lived and worked in the United States, likewise showed a sustained engagement with the visual potential of corporeal forms, evident in the apparent strangeness of her meticulously constructed anthropomorphic sculptures (Fig. 4). Lea Grundig, a Jewish artist born in Dresden—a city which after the war became part of the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic—
captured the horrors of Nazi persecution through black-and-white works on paper in which groups of tormented individuals silently speak to the evils of mankind. These and other women artists developed diverse visual vocabularies based on the human form to explore its affective power and recognize the body––echoing Szapocznikow’s words––as the only source of joy, the only the source of pain, and the only source of truth. I would like to thank Romy Golan and Chelsea Haines for their critical feedback on this essay. Moreover, I would like to acknowledge the help of Andrzej Kenda, an unrelenting advocate of Polish modern art and a person of exceptional kindness, in securing important loans for this exhibition.
1 Alina Szapocznikow, “Korzenie mojego dzieła,” 1972, Alina Szapocznikow Archive, Artist’s Writings, Illustration No. 7496, Archives of the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw. 2 I adopt the term “East Central Europe” in order to delineate a specific geopolitical region that included countries referred to as Soviet Satellite states (which included the GDR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and, until 1960, Albania), although it is important to stress the arbitrary nature of such geographical and geopolitical terminology in relation to the countries situated behind the former Iron Curtain. For an overview of the changing geopolitical landscape of the region and subsequent problems in establishing a clear geographical terminology, see Lonnie Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). 3 Regarding the diverse Surrealist vocabularies and their used by modern artists in post-war Eastern and Central Europe, see Piotr Piotrowski, In the Shadow of Yalta: Art and the Avant-garde in Eastern Europe, 19451989 (London: Reaktion Books, 2009). Regarding the history of Surrealism in Eastern and Central Europe, see Krzysztof Fijałkowski, “Dada and Surrealism in Eastern and Central Europe,” ed. David Hopkins A Companion to Dada and Surrealism (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2016), 161-177. 4 The question of gender is particularly relevant in the case of Toyen, born Marie Čermínová, who intentionally spoke of herself in masculine pronoun and dressed in men’s clothes. On gender and Czech Surrealist female artists, see Karla Huebner, “The Czech 1930s Through Toyen” in Czech Feminisms: Perspectives on Gender in East Central Europe, ed. Jusová Iveta and Šiklová Jiřina (Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016), 60-76. 5 See Antoine Baudin, “Why is Soviet Painting Hidden From Us?: Zhdanov Art and Its International Relations and Fallout, 1947-53,” In Thomas Lahusen and Evgeny Dobrenko ed., Socialist Realism Without Shores (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), 227-55. 6 Piotrowski, “Surrealist Interregnum,” (2009), 33-61. 7 For a comprehensive scholarly analysis of Toyen’s oeuvre in English, see Karla Tonine Huebner, “Eroticism, Identity, and Cultural Context: Toyen and the Prague Avant-garde,” (PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh, 2009). 8 Ibid., 2. 9 Denis Hollier and Rosalind Krauss, “Surrealist Precipitates: Shadows Don’t Cast Shadows,” October 69 (1994): 111-32. 10 Art historian Cornelia Butler points out that Szapocznikow’s exposure to Western Surrealism, and the subsequent fracturing of the body, developed primarily in the late 1950s, although it is important to recognize the artist’s engagement with the body as medium also in her earliest, post-war practice during the 1940s. See Cornelia Butler, “Soft Body/Soft Sculpture: The Gendered Surrealism of Alina Szapocznikow” in Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone, 1955-1972, ed. Elena Filipovic and Joanna Mytkowska (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2012), 32-64. 11 Allegra Pesenti, “Traces of Passage: The Drawings of Alina Szapocznikow”, Ibid., 96. 12 Ibid. 13 Jola Gola, “Chronology of Alina Szapocznikow’s Life and Work” in Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone, 1955-1972 (2012), 183-184. 14 Butler, 39. 15 Debra Pfister, “Lost Dreams and Sacred Visions in the Art of Ámos” in ed. Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek and Louise Olga Vasvári, Comparative Hungarian Cultural Studies (West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 2011), 177. 16 Ibid. 17 See Samareh Mirfendereski, “Puppetry Elements in the Works of European Surrealists,” in ed. Kamil Kopania, Dolls and Puppets as Artistic and Cultural Phenomena (19th – 21st Centuries) (Warsaw: The Aleksander Zelwerowicz National Academy of Dramatic Art, 2016), 18-34. 18 Regarding the work of Taeuber-Arp in the context of women artists in Zurich Dada, see Ruth Hemus, Dada’s Women (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009). 19 Patricia Allmer, “Feminist Interventions: Revising the Canon” in ed. Hopkins, A Companion to Dada and Surrealism (2016), 377.
Magdalena Abakanowicz Gertrude Abercrombie Leonora Carrington Dorothy Dehner Aube Elléouët Leonor Fini Frida Kahlo Helen Lundeberg Teresa Pagowska Alice Rahon Kay Sage Stella Snead DorotheaTanning ManinaTischler NancyYoudelman
Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930-2017)
Mask, 2002 resin on a wooden base 25 1/4 x 7 3/4 x 7 7/8 in. 46
Koziol, 2003 burlap and resin on an iron base 85 1/2 x 25 x 31 1/2 in. 47
Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977)
Compotes and Grapes, 1941 oil on masonite 7 x 7 x 1 1/8 in. (framed) 50
Dinah Enters the Landscape, 1943 oil on masonite 20 1/2 x 42 3/8 in. (framed) 51
Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977)
Landscape with Church, 1939 oil on canvas 24 x 30 7/8 in. (framed) 52
Solitude, 1942 oil on masonite 28 1/2 x 48 1/8 in. (framed) 53
Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977)
Untitled (Figure on Moonlit Path) oil on board 18 1/2 x 15 1/2 in. (framed) 54
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
Woman with Bird, 1978 color crayon, pen and ink, graphite on paper 25 1/4 x 30 7/8 in. (framed) 58
Bayan, c. 1980s pencil on paper 22 x 30 in. (framed) 59
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
Mujeres conciencia, 1971 poster 31 1/8 x 21 1/8 in. (framed) 60
Owl with Prey, 1960 graphite on paper 16 3/8 x 13 7/8 in. (framed) 61
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
Paloma, 2001 offset lithograph on paper 24 5/8 x 27 5/8 in. (framed) 62
Untitled, c. 1940s tempera on masonite 17 1/4 x 12 7/8 in. (framed) 63
Dorothy Dehner (1901-1994)
Balloon Ascension #3: Dithyrambe Played by the Ashraf, 1947 ink on paper 24 7/8 x 33 3/8 in. (framed) 66
The Courtship, 1949 ink on paper 24 5/8 x 32 3/8 in. (framed) 67
Aube EllĂŠouĂŤt (b. 1935)
Intrusion, 2008 collage on paper 22 3/8 x 12 1/8 in. (framed) 70
Le prophĂ¨te, 2006 collage on paper 25 5/8 x 18 1/8 in. (framed) 71
Aube EllĂŠouĂŤt (b. 1935)
Les 3 stations, 2003 collage on paper 20 7/16 x 24 7/8 in. (framed) 72
Leonor Fini (1908-1996)
L'envers d'une geographie, c. 1962 oil on canvas 47 1/8 x 36 5/8 in. (framed) 76
Les jumeaux ingrats, 1982 oil on canvas 44 5/8 x 37 1/8 in. (framed) 77
Leonor Fini (1908-1996)
Sans Titre 2 (Council of Love Suite), 1970 engraving on Japanese paper Edition 92/100, 28 x 22 3/8 in. (framed) 78
Sphinx Ariene, c. 1970 mixed media (miraflage) on paper on canvas 37 3/4 x 31 5/8 in. (framed) 79
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
House in Harmony, c. 1947 pencil on paper 23 1/2 x 18 1/4 in. (framed) 82
House on Fire, c. 1947 pencil on paper 23 3/8 x 18 1/4 in. (framed) 83
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Postcard / Hands in Heart, c. 1946 post card / pencil on paper 12 x 13 1/4 in. and 13 x 14 1/2 in. (framed) 84
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Love Birds, c. 1946 pencil on paper 14 x 16 in. (framed) 86
Helen Lundeberg (1908-1999)
A Girl and Her Shadow, 1946 oil on canvas 15 3/8 x 17 1/2 in. (framed) 90
Watch Woman, 1946 oil on board 11 5/8 x 16 3/8 in. (framed) 91
Teresa Pagowska (1926-2007)
Monochrome XXXXC, 1975 acrylic on linen canvas 47 1/4 x 51 3/16 in. 94
A Sitter, 1970 acrylic on linen canvas 57 1/8 x 51 in. 95
Teresa Pagowska (1926-2007)
Dream About Empty Room, 2002 acrylic on linen canvas 56 1/8 x 52 3/8 in. (framed) 96
Washing Head II, 1976 acrylic on linen canvas 59 1/4 x 51 3/8 in. 97
Alice Rahon (1904-1987)
A la media noche, Mexico, 1953 paper laid on panel 33 x 41 in. (framed) 100
Los amigos del sabado (El viento en la playa), 1960 oil and sand on canvas 23 1/2 x 19 3/4 in. 101
Kay Sage (1898-1963)
Contraband, 1961 assemblage 20 1/4 x 15 5/8 in. 104
PassionnĂŠment, Pas du Tout, 1961 assemblage 18 1/4 x 15 1/4 in. (framed) 105
Stella Snead (1910-2006)
Feet, 1938 charcoal on paper 32 5/8 X 45 5/8 in. (framed) 108
Sulky Lion, 1943 oil on canvas 44 1/4 X 31 1/4 in. (framed) 109
Composition Surrealiste, c. 1965 color lithograph on paper Edition 65/500, 35 1/8 x 26 7/8 in. (framed) 112
Ouvre-toi (Open Sesame), 1970 watercolor, pastel, charcoal and pencil on paper 29 1/8 x 23 1/4 in. (framed) 113
RĂŞves deux femmes 1988, 1988 pastel on colored paper 21 5/8 x 24 3/4 in. (framed) 114
Untitled (Frieze), 1965 pencil, pen, gouache on paper 5 1/2 x 26 in. (each) 115
Day to Night, 1973 oil on canvas 25 x 48 5/8 in. (framed) 118
Renaissance d'un centre, 1962 oil and collage on canvas 16 5/8 x 24 1/2 in. (framed) 119
The Trap, 1973 mixed media 11 in. diameter 120
NancyYoudelman (b. 1948)
Pink Boot with Eggbeater, 2014 mixed media sculpture with encaustic 15 x 4 1/4 x 9 3/4 in. 124
Bonnet, 1972 mixed media dimensions variable 125
Heather James Fine Art would like to thank the following people for their expertise and assistance in our Female Gaze catalog: Gloria Orenstein, Patryk Tomaszewski, Bruria Finkel, Ilene Fort and Barbara Ardinger. We would also like to give a special thank you to all of our generous lenders to the exhibition. Lastly, we would like to thank Todd Hunt, Christopher Huynh, Monica Matula and Timothy Tompkins for all their efforts in organizing this exhibition.
The Female Gaze exhibition catalog