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The Menil Collection displays graphic works by Dorothea Tanning made between 1950 and 2001
Dorothea Tanning, Second Peril (Deuxième péril), 1950, lithograph, edition 23/50, image: 14 1/2 x 11 inches (36.8 x 27.9 cm), sheet: 19 7/8 x 12 3/4 inches (50.5 x 32.4 cm), The Menil Collection, Houston, Gift of Barbara and Jim Metcalf and the Gallery of Surrealism, Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.


HOUSTON, TX.- American artist and author Dorothea Tanning (1910–2012) created more than 100 graphic works between 1950 and 2001. Thanks to a recent generous gift to the Menil Collection from Barbara and Jim Metcalf, the Menil now owns the complete set, many of which are being displayed for the first time in The Graphic Work of Dorothea Tanning.

These prints and illustrated books feature images that range from representation to near total abstraction, demonstrating the breadth of Tanning’s formal innovation. Experimenting with lithography, etching, and aquatint, Tanning produced a variety of surface textures, some crystalline, others cloud-like. She often introduces reoccurring motifs into her dreamlike spaces. Her ambiguously erotic embracing figures are the most recognizable. Tanning’s highly personal work addresses universal human emotions and experiences of ecstasy, elation, anxiety, and obsession.

Complementing these works on paper, Tanning’s sculpture Cousins (1970), one of the highlights of the Menil’s Surrealist collection, has also been included in the exhibition.

Dorothea Tanning began experimenting with various printing techniques when she moved to Paris in the 1950s. There she encountered a thriving industry of beau-livres–handsome, limited-edition books that paired texts by admired authors with illustrations by compatible artists. Tanning worked on several such collaborations over the next two decades. In the most accomplished of these projects, In Flesh and Gold (En chair et en or), 1973, Tanning played the role of both artist and poet, creating 10 etchings to accompany the same number of her own haiku-like verses. Tanning, with master printer George Visat, carefully considered every aspect of the elegant volume’s design: cover, typeface, paper, presentation. In addition to Tanning’s poems and their sensuous, vividly colored illustrations, each edition includes an embossed cover and title page, a prefatory poem/homage by artist Jean Arp, and an extra suite of etchings that could be separated and displayed as desired. Portions of the Menil Collection Library’s copy of In Flesh and Gold is on display in the exhibition The Graphic Work of Dorothea Tanning

Born in the small Midwestern city of Galesburg, Illinois, artist and writer Dorothea Tanning moved to New York in 1935, where she supported herself as a commercial artist. In the early 1940s Tanning began to incorporate dream-like imagery that she encountered in the 1936 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Fantastic Art: Dada and Surrealism, into her own work. She soon attracted the attention of the Surrealist painters who had taken refuge in New York, such as Max Ernst, who included her work in an exhibition he organized for Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery, Art of This Century. In 1946, Tanning and Ernst married and moved to Sedona, Arizona. They returned to France in the mid-1950s, where Tanning remained until 1980 when she moved back to New York. Tanning died at the age of 101, just after completing her second volume of poetry.






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