From 25 February to 26 June 2017, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
presents the exhibition Rita Kernn-Larsen. Surrealist Paintings, curated by Graina Subelytė, Curatorial Assistant of the Collection.
Rita Kernn-Larsen (Hillerød, 1904Copenhagen, 1998), a prominent Danish Surrealist artist, whom Peggy Guggenheim met in Paris in 1937, was invited by Peggy the following year to exhibit her paintings at Guggenheim Jeune, Peggys London gallery a show which inaugurated Peggys career with Surrealist art. This new exhibition brings together exquisite Surrealist paintings by Kernn-Larsen, to this day too little known outside Denmark, inaugurating two new exhibition rooms at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This is the first important presentation of Kernn-Larsens Surrealist period outside of her native Scandinavia since her one-woman exhibition at Guggenheim Jeune. More than half of the paintings selected for the show were also exhibited in Peggys 1938 exhibition.
The exhibition highlights how Kernn-Larsen was one of several women who played a noteworthy part in the Surrealist movement, both in Denmark and internationally. She trained with Fernand Léger in Paris in the early 1930s, distinguishing herself as a star pupil. In 1934 a critic referred to her as a female Danish Picasso. That year she made contact with the Danish Surrealist group, with which she began exhibiting the following year. She immediately established her prominence within the group and participated in the 1930s in key exhibitions in Europe, in cities such as Copenhagen, Oslo, Lund, London and Paris. These included the renowned Exposition Internationale du Surrealisme at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1938, soon after which she held her one-woman exhibition in Peggys gallery. On the latter occasion, Peggy Guggenheims friend, the art historian Herbert Read, wrote of Kernn-Larsens Surrealist work: The imagination is a focus introduced into the vague field of the unconscious. . . . These images are trolls, ghosts from the dark northern fastnesses which exist in our minds. . . . They reveal some of the terror and all the fascination of their mythical ancestors. (London Bulletin, June 1938). That same year, Kernn-Larsens works were included in two other group exhibitions at Guggenheim Jeune: Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture and Exhibition of Collages, Papiers-collés, and Photo-montages.
The Venice exhibition sheds light on how, in the Surrealist vein, Kernn-Larsens works combined memory and dream, as she employed an automatic painting method, aiming to generate a flow of images arising from within the unconscious. As the artist herself explained, I start with some realistic thing and its continuation is taken care of by the unconscious. Often the result surprises me. . . there is as such a certain connection to the psychoanalytic. The exhibition includes her masterpiece Dance and Counter-dance (1936), in which pulsating automatist rhythms play against each other. In Kernn-Larsens words, I consider it to be one of my most successful pictures.
The exhibition also highlights how she was inspired by the work of Paul Delvaux, one of whose paintings, The Break of Day (1937, Peggy Guggenheim Collection) portrays femme-arbres, women as arboreal figures. The identification of the Surrealist female artist with the fertile natural world is presented through several works, among them Kernn-Larsens unique Self-Portrait (Know Thyself) (1937), acquired by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 2013. Even if in her later years, Kernn-Larsen moved away from Surrealism toward an art based on abstraction and nature, she reminisced in 1967: The Surrealist period was splendid... it truly was the best time for me as an artist. Three of Kernn-Larsens paintings, including the Guggenheim self-portrait, were selected by the art historian and curator Arturo Schwarz for the 1986 Venice Biennale. This exhibition marks her return to the city after more than thirty years.
The exhibition brings together Surrealist paintings by Kernn-Larsen from public and private collections in Denmark, including the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen, Kunstmuseet i Tønder, and the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg. Last but not least, a film-interview with Kernn-Larsen recorded on the occasion of her participation in the 1986 Venice Biennale is on view in the museums veranda.
Rita Kernn-Larsen. Surrealist Paintings is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, in English and Italian, with essays by Graina Subelytė and the Danish art historian Johan Zimsen.