Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"In Wonderland"

"Frida and Diego Rivera" by Frida Kahlo
Kahlo portrays herself as miniature alongside her "greater" husband Diego Rivera 

Sometimes we see an art exhibition that makes us vividly aware of the creative process.  Looking at the art reminds us of the exhilarating human experience of creativity.  The artists have not only created astonishing art work, but the theme of their art is creativity.  This was my experience when I saw the art exhibition "In Wonderland:  The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and The United States" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

If you would you like to meet some extraordinary women who boldly explored their dreams and subconscious through their art, then this is an exhibition you should not miss.  This groundbreaking exhibition of surrealist art by women in Mexico and The United States is the first of its kind.  It brings iconic works from well-known artists such as Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington and Louise Bourgeois together with those of lesser known female artists, all of whom used the tenets of Surrealism to explore identity, creativity, gender, and personal narrative.  Two characteristics of this show that stand out are fearlessness and enlightenment.      

"The Lady Magician" by Sylvia Fein

The essays in the catalogue that accompany this exhibition explain why it is groundbreaking.  The surrealist movement in art is mostly identified with male writers and artists, such as Andre Breton, Man Ray and Salvador Dali. These men often cast women in their paintings and books in secondary roles.  Women  functioned primarily as symbols and objects of desire and inspiration, simply there to satisfy male fantasies.  They were looked upon as muses rather than independent beings.  

The exhibition at LACMA offers a fresh new look at Surrealism, through the eyes of women.  Their art is an expression of their search for self-knowledge and realization.  They delve into their own subconscious and dreams for their subject matter.  They allow themselves to be transformed by the creative process and to create works that reflect the mystical and magical act of creativity.   These women surrealists made important contributions to the surrealist movement and because they were practicing in North America (as opposed to Europe where most of the male surrealist artists were) they found the freedom to produce important art that made a difference.  The time frame of the art in this show is from the 1930's to the 1960's.

"Europa" by Juanita Guccione
This painting combines imagery from a battlefield and a cemetery

The art works are honest and brave creations that convey messages about life as a woman.  I went to this show last week with a friend and haven't been able to stop thinking about it.  The images are compelling and take the viewer on a journey into the dreams and psychological worlds of some introspective and independent women artists. These women were obviously passionate about exploring issues beyond the domestic realm and allowed their minds to get in touch with their subconscious.  This exhibition will give you insights into the imaginations of some fascinating and unconventional women.  Their art is filled with dream-like and personal imagery, and make us aware of how rich and powerful the creative experience can be. 

"Self-Portrait (with Landscape)" by Helen Lundeberg

In some of these works, the artist's creative life merges into her being.  For example, Remedio Varo's  painting "Creation of the Birds" shows a woman painting an image of birds and turning into a bird herself.  Really, it is fantastic to see!   Worlds of imagination and creativity meld into the bodies of women in the paintings to produce some very compelling visual art.  These images are haunting and arresting.

"Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird" by Frida Kahlo

"My Dress Hangs There" by Frida Kahlo

"Celestial Pablum" by Remedios Varo
This woman seems to be turning stardust into food to feed the moon, suggesting ideas about cosmic powers and creation

"Self-Portrait," also known as "Alice in Wonderland" by Alice Rahon
Alice Rahon was a French-born surrealist artist who was inspired by pre-historic and Pre-Columbian culture and artifacts.  She moved from Paris to Mexico City.

"The Escape" by Remedios Varo

"Mimesis" by Remedios Varo

"The Chess Queens" by Muriel Streeter
This made me think of "Alice in Wonderland," a book that is referenced by some of the artists

"Creation of the Birds" by Remedios Varo
 The artist has become a bird as she paints an image of a bird.   Everything is interwoven here and seems to be expressing the artist's immersion into her art.

"Harmony" by Remedios Varo
   This painting seems to suggest the hallucinatory quality of creation

At the end of the exhibition is a wall that contains photos and biographies of all the artists in the show.  This continuous biography of the artists was fascinating to see.

The American writer May Sarton wrote about the creative process,
 "It always comes back to the same necessity:  go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard." 
These women surrealists went deep into their imaginative world and produced some startling and fascinating art.

The first five photos via here


  1. What an amazing exhibition this is. I've been pouring over the book from the show ever since. Have plans to see it again - it's almost too much to take in at once. Such powerful and courageous women. Thanks for the post and giving people not in LA a chance to experience it.

    1. Kathy, I agree that this show needs a second viewing. You just can't take it all in the first time. And it is a big show, I was surprised each time I discovered a new room. I bought the book also, and it is so interesting.

  2. Marvelous!
    I'm so taken with the Varo work!!

    1. Pamela, Remedios Varo was my favorite artist in this show. There is something so beautiful about her paintings.

  3. Sunday, this is just a fantastic post, extremely well written and with great illustrations and insights. Any of your readers who hasn't seen this show- and after your spotlight- I don't know how they could stop themselves, should run to LACMA.
    It's really a revelation. The show is so provocative, intense, and visually stunning. These women take us on a wonderful, deep journey within. It's also exciting to see the them in context of the better known male hegemony that ruled Surrealism in the popular mind. Thanks for a great post. I'm going right back to see it again.

    1. David, it was so interesting to learn about the division between the male and the female surrealists. And it made sense that the women felt freer once they left Europe and went to Mexico and the U.S. The show is so good, and I agree with Kathy that it should be seen twice! Thanks for your kind words!

  4. Loved the exhibit too! How wonderful that the LACMA curators are presenting the other half of our story!

    1. Galli, yes I agree, how wonderful that LACMA is presenting the other half of the story! And I really enjoyed learning about so many artists I had never heard of. I think this exhibition will be very popular.

  5. Amazing pieces! I would love to spend some time with them and read about the women who created them. I am drawn to the Varo pieces and adore Streeter's "The Chess Queens". I enjoy art I can spend time with, dissect and create a story. Many of these painting would be perfect. Thanks for sharing. Bonnie

  6. Sunday, Remedios is the key to a group of Surrealist Women including Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini. Her father was an engineer in Spain, she watched him draw blueprints and schematics...she immersed herself in the studies of Alchemy, Astronomy, Astrololgy, the Occult and ALL religious ties that bind all within the Living Universe.

    There was recently an exhibition in San Francisco of her works...which 300 were created before she died at 54. CELESTIAL PABLUM, has been my favorite for years, the Moon represents her miscarried child within the cage of her mind and she feeds it by spoon the crushed Stars of Hope.

    She loved birds for they are symbols of the Soul

  7. looks like a fantastic exhibit and thank you for such an in depth review. I sure hope it travels up north.

  8. Lovely art post. I always loves Frida Kahlo's work.