Still crazy after all these years
The first major international exhibition of surrealist art by women in more than 60 years opens in Manchester. It was worth the wait
Above: Dora Maar, Sans Titre, 1934, photomontage–a woman famous as Picasso’s muse, but not as an artist in her own right
Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism26th September to 10th January 2010, Manchester Art Gallery
Women are often the subjects of surrealist art: dismembered, deliquescent, with doors in their stomachs, breasts for eyes and so forth. More elusive, however, are women as proponents of surrealist art. Lee Miller and Frida Kahlo are the star names; general surveys of the movement also tend to include a few individual works by women–Meret Oppenheim’s Object (a teacup, saucer and spoon covered in fur, 1936), Leonora Carrington’s shock-haired Self-Portrait (1938) with rocking horse and Eileen Agar’s sculpture of a scarf-shrouded head, Angel of Anarchy (1936-40). But, as a new exhibition in Manchester shows, there are many more heroines of surrealism who have been sidelined from the canon.
The alpha males of surrealism are among the best-known names in 20th-century art: André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Joan Miró. So why haven’t we heard of Emmy Bridgewater, whose influence on the British movement was—according to the French critic Michel Remy—as powerful as Dalí’s in France? Search for her name in the British Library and there is only one return, a flimsy exhibition catalogue. And why haven’t we heard of the devoted lesbian stepsisters of Jersey, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore? They fought the Nazi occupation of the island with a campaign of subversive propaganda, some of it in rhyme. Yet instead of getting the Hollywood biopic they clearly deserve, they tend to be discussed only in journals of gender studies.