Louisiana Museum of Modern Art opens the first major overall exhibition of female Surrealists

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Louisiana Museum of Modern Art opens the first major overall exhibition of female Surrealists
Installation view. Photo: Poul Buchard / Brřndum & Co. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

HUMLEBĆK.- The exhibition Fantastic Women – Surreal Worlds from Meret Oppenheim to Frida Kahlo is the first major overall presentation of female Surrealists. More than 260 works by a total of 34 female artists from Europe, the USA and Mexico demonstrate an involvement and parti­cipation in the movement that was significantly stronger than generally known and previ­ously described.

“In no other artistic avant-garde movement have women played as important a role and been present in as large numbers as in Sur­rea­lism”. --Kirsten Degel, curator at Louisiana

This summer’s major exhibition at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art opened on Saturday, 25 July and presents works by among others Meret Oppenheim, Louise Bourgeois, Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Dora Maar, Lee Miller, Kay Sage, Maya Deren and Frida Kahlo. A large group of artists is presented for the first time in a Danish context. The exhibition also includes the Danish and Swedish artists Elsa Thoresen, Rita Kernn-Larsen and Greta Knutson.

When the Surrealist movement arose in the Paris of the 1920s, all the official members were men. After World War I, artists and writers sought spiritual renewal and alternative life modes and were inspired by Sigmund Freud’s theories of the unconscious and his interpretation of dreams. They practiced automatic writing, chance, sexual anarchy and artistic experiments at all levels. Erotic and sexual desire permeated their works, and woman or the idea of the female was a central motif in the fantasies of the male Surrealists.

Surrealism’s principal male proponents – Rene Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and Max Ernst, just to mention the best known – have achieved great attention through their many exhibitions, and they have occupied their fixed positions in the history of art.

Today, few are aware of the female Surrealists – this despite that fact that many of them were part of and in contact with the inner circle of Surrealism around the founder of the movement, André Breton; not just as partners, muses or models as many of the women were in the beginning, but very much as actively practicing artists who exhibited side by side with their male colleagues in the great Surrealist exhibitions of the time. If we look more closely at the historical material, it emerges that their contributions to one of the most significant artistic movements of the 20th century were much greater than previously supposed: In no other avant-garde artistic movement did women play as important a role and appear in such numbers as in Surrealism.

Major Survey
Featuring more than 260 works the exhibition shows the great thematic, biographical and stylistic diversity of 34 female artists from 14 countries, making it the first overall presentation of the female contribu­tion to Surrealism

The artists are presented in a selection of significant works emphasizing their special contribu­tion to the formal and visual language of Surrealism. At the same time, the exhibition aims to demonstrate the shared thematic concerns and the interrelations among the various artists by grouping them in geographical regions. Many of them formed networks in the various centres of Surrealism: France, England, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and later the USA and Mexico.

Surrealism is not a true stylistic direction, more an artistic way of thinking that was manifested in various ways and in many different media. Its scope is also reflected in the exhibition, which encompasses painting, sculpture, drawing, collage, photography, film and performance.

Chronologically, the exhibition takes its starting point at the beginning of the 1930s, when the first examples of women’s artistic contributions to the collective activities of the Surrealist group in Paris were realized, and on display is a selection of so-called Exquisite Corps drawings.

Works by Meret Oppenheim (1913-1985) are presented as the first in the exhibition. She was one of the first female Surrealists to achieve fame, and she was associated at an early stage with the inner circle of Surrealism. The exhibition ends – and points forward in time – with works by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010). She belongs to the same generation of artists as Meret Oppen­heim, but her work was only acknowledged and appreciated far later, and she is now regarded rather as a contemporary artist.

Works by the following artists appear in the exhibition: Eileen Agar, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Rachel Baes, Louise Bourgeois, Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Ithell Colquhoun, Maya Deren, Germaine Dulac, Nusch Éluard, Leonor Fini, Jane Graverol, Valentine Hugo, Frida Kahlo, Rita Kernn-Larsen, Greta Knutson, Jacqueline Lamba, Sheila Legge, Dora Maar, Emila Medková, Lee Miller, Suzanne Muzard, Meret Oppenheim, Valentine Penrose, Alice Rahon, Edith Rimmington, Kay Sage, Jeannette Tanguy, Dorothea Tanning, Elsa Thoresen, Bridget Tichenor, Toyen, Remedios Varo, Unica Zürn.

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