Surrealism’s Monstrous Beauty
"Nobody will give you freedom, you have to take it." -- Meret Oppenheim

The international Surrealist Movement was actively opposed to the historical segregation of artists. Ethnic, racial, and gender boundaries were transcended from the very first publication of La Révolution surréaliste and exhibition. The same integration of media and discipline applies, as this movement includes painters, photographers, poets, dancers, collage makers, film makers, and so on. It is the fault of historians and critics that many of these talented artists have been neglected in text books and exhibitions. However, as the art historian Robert Short noted "no comparable movement outside of specifically feminist organizations has had such a high proportion of active women participants."


Angels of Anarchy: Women Surrealists Exhibition in Manchester

Manchester Art Gallery's Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism

Francesca Woodman at MoNA in Detroit

Eileen Agar & Surrealist Games by Jane Dávila

Lee Miller's official website

New York Times' article on Dora Maar's Surrealist work

Meret Oppenheim at Lenin Imports

"Teachers/Students: Vintage photography by Man Ray, Berenice Abbott, and Naomi Savage at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art" by Maureen Mullarkey

Surrealism [MMA]

Conceptual Art and Photography [MMA]

NY Times Review of a Surrealist Photo Show at MoMA (1994) Photography and Surrealism [MMA]

Objects of Desire [MoMA]

Surrealism was officially launched as a movement with the publication of poet André Breton's first Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924. The Surrealists did not rely on reasoned analysis or sober calculation; on the contrary, they saw the forces of reason blocking the access routes to the imagination. Their efforts to tap the creative powers of the unconscious set Breton and his companions on a path that carried them through the territory of dreams, intoxication, chance, sexual ecstasy, and madness. The images obtained by such means, whether visual or literary, were prized precisely to the degree that they captured these moments of psychic intensity in provocative forms of unrestrained, convulsive beauty. [MMA]

Meret Oppenheim, (1913-1985), Photographed by Man Ray in 1933.

Meret Oppenheim
Swiss painter and sculptor. Born 1913 in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Moved to Paris in 1932 where she studied briefly at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere before being introduced to the Surrealists by Alberto Giacometti and Hans Arp the following year. First exhibited with the group in the Salon des Surindependants in 1933 and participated in Surrealist meetings and exhibitions until 1937 and again, more sporadically, after the war until shortly before Breton's death in 1966. First one-woman exhibition at the Galerie Schulthess, Basel, in 1933. Her fur-lined teacup, exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1937, was chosen by visitors to the exhibition as the quintessential Surrealist symbol. Oppenheim's return to Basel in 1937 marked the beginning of an eighteen-year period of artistic crisis and redirection. In 1939 she took part in an exhibition of fantastic furniture with Leonor Fini, Max Ernst, and others at the Galerie Rene Druin and Leo Castelli in Paris. A major retrospective of her work was organized by the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1967.... Exhibitions: Tenerife (1935), Copenhagen (1935), London (1936), New York (1957), Paris (1958), Mexico City (1940), New York (1942). [Source]

Object (Luncheon in Fur), 1933. Meret Oppenheim, 1913-1985. [MoMA]

Thish object was inspired by a conversation between the artist, Pablo Picasso, and the Surrealist Dora Maar. Upon admiring Oppenheim's fur-trimmed bracelets, Picasso commented on how anything could be covered with fur, to which Oppenheim quipped, "even this cup and saucer".

[This is the artist's] most famous work was the fur lined teacup, or Object in Fur produced in 1936, and it remains one of the icons of the Surrealist movement. It provoked the viewer into imagining what the fur lined cup might feel like to drink from and forces the disagreeable sensation on a mixture of the senses. Much of Surrealist work was an echo of everything this piece stands for, a mixture of humour, sexuality and provocation. However, following this piece's creation Oppenheim attended art school in order to try and live up to her new found fame and yet receded into a seventeen year depression."Nobody gives you freedom, you have to take it", she remarked and she came out the other side of her crisis with links to Surrealism and Dada intact. [Source]

Table with Bird Legs, Oppenheim, 1939.

Oppenheim's table, like her tea cup touched on a nerve that was about the female. The legs of the table are slender bird's legs. Choosing the subject of the table, where women serve tea or dinner, the table suggests an object of offering. The table becomes a delicate, erotic object of irony, humor, and beauty. [Source]

My Nursemaid, Oppenheim, 1936.

Self-Portrait, Skull and Ornament, 1964.

"This night I had a funny idea: I have calculated, that I probably will die before the year 2000. If I am still alive, I should (attain?, reach?) 86 years and 3 months. This is not sure at all. But how Modern it would be to die after in 2000! So I thought – to push the legend – to make a joke and make a little forgery: To print under the X Ray photo: Meret Oppenheim born 1913 died 2000…When people read this now, they must take it as a joke, it just may create a little entanglement. If really I die after 2000 (even perhaps completely sick and gaga – I hope not) that would be great. But if not – dates are soon forgotten, some historians will certainly repeat: died 2000. Of course, the photographs will be signed by me-! Very Mysterious!" -- Meret Oppenheim to Harrison, May 31, 1978

In 1981, Oppenheim did complete an edition of 20 gelatin silver prints. Oppenheim strongly believed that art had no gender and strove to unite her male and female psyches, which are part of every person regardless of gender. Her intrigue with androgyny is apparent in this self-portrait, as all humans' look the same in an x-ray of their skull and hand, neither male nor female. However, she illustrates her feminine psyche by wearing jewelry, most likely created by her. Furthermore, the influence that Man Ray had on her art is evident when one compares this work with his Rayographs, a type of x-ray of objects. The similarities and influences were so great that Oppenheim had often been questioned as to the sitter and idea behind this piece. [Source]

Self-Portrait (Solarized), c. 1929. Elizabeth "Lee" Miller, 1907–1977.
Click here for The Philadelphia Museum of Art's pages on Lee Miller.

American photographer. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907, died 1977 in Sussex, England. Studied at the Art students League in New York before moving to Paris in 1929. Worked with Man Ray from 1929 to 1932. Opened own photo studio in New York in 1932; first one-woman exhibition the following year at Julien Levy Gallery. Returned to Paris in 1937 after marriage to a wealthy Egyptian; met Roland Penrose at a Surrealist costume party. Moved to England in 1939 and began photographing for Vogue. Grim Glory, her photographs of the London Blitz, published in 1941 in London and New York. Worked as a war correspondent for Conde Nast publications. Gave up photography after the war and turned her attention to cooking. Exhibitions: London (1940), Paris (1947). [Source]

Self-Portrait with Camera, Man Ray (1890-1976), 1930.

Indestructible Object (or Object to Be Destroyed), 1964 (replica of 1923 original).

The Suicided Burgermeister’s Daughter, Miller, 1945.

Lee Miller in Hitler's Bathtub, April 30, 1945. (Photographed by David Scherman)

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Miller, c. 1944.

Broken Column, 1944. Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954.

Mexican painter. Born in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City, in 1907 of German/lndian/Spanish parents; died 1954 in Mexico. A devastating streetcar accident when she was fifteen years old left her crippled and in pain for much of the remainder of her life. Taught herself to paint while convalescing; married painter Diego Rivera in 1929. Breton discovered her work in Mexico in 1938; in 1939 he claimed her as Surrealist in his introduction to her first exhibition, at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. The following year he and Duchamp arranged her first Paris exhibition at the Pierre Colle Gallery. Thought of herself as a Mexican artist and a realist rather than a Surrealist. First major exhibition in Mexico at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, Mexico City, in l953; a retrospective exhibition was held at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, in 1977. Exhibitions: Mexico City (1940), New York (1942). [Source]

Saint Sebastian, Perugino, 1494.

Père Ubu, 1936. Dora Maar (French, born Great Britain, 1909–1997).

The Surrealist artist Dora Maar is better known as Picasso's dark-haired model and companion in the late 1930s than for her astonishing works. Her incarnation of the bestial nature of man is titled after the infamous and absurd dictatorial antihero of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi (1896). Maar's imaginative evocation of the pear-shaped, breast-plated Ubu in the monstrous reality of a baby armadillo is one of the most compelling and repellent of Surrealist photographs. [MMA, 11/24/07.]

French photographer and painter. Born in Tours in 1909 of a Yugoslavian father and a French mother. Studied painting in Paris at the Ecole d Art Decoratif, Academie de Passy, Academie Julien, and with Andre Lhote. Gave up painting for photography during the mid 1930s; associated with the Surrealists between 1934 and 1937. First photography exhibition at the Galerie de Beaune, Paris, in 1937. One-woman exhibitions of painting in Paris at Jeanne Bucher (1943) and Pierre Loeb (1945). After a period of semimonastic life devoted to mystical experience, began exhibiting her paintings again during the 1950s. [R]enounced her earlier association with Surrealism and live[d] in Menerbes (Vaucluse). Exhibitions: Tenerife (1935), London (1936), New York (1937), Tokyo (1937), Amsterdam (193S). [Source]

A Soma de Nossos Dias (The Sum of Our Days), María Martins (Brazilian, 1910-1973), 1949.

The daughter of a republican politician, João Luiz Alves, but the goddaughter of Euclides da Cunha, Maria, born in Campanha, in the state of Minas Gerais, around 1900, must have heard her godfather defend the thesis that sculpture is not determined by representative simultaneity, which is in fact shared with painting, but obeys rhythmical succession, common to poetry or music. The girl learned, from the start, that sculpture is a question of duration or retard, an interregnum, a coming outside of time, which is neither defined by the supremacy of the artist’s genius, nor by the collective cultural collaborative work. [Source]

À Procura da Luz (Pursuit of Light), Martins, 1940.

Untitled, Rome, 1977-78, Francesca Woodman (1958-1981).

...despite her short life, [Francesca Woodman became] quite a remarkably influential and important photographic artist. Without her ground-breaking work there would not have been a Cindy Sherman, a Sam Taylor-Wood, a Sophie Calle, or a Tracey Emin.

Appearing in most of her photographs, her work concentrated mainly on her own body and her surroundings, and at times the two would seem to merge into one. Woodman often used long-term and double exposure so that she could actively participate in the film's image.

Brought up in a family of artists, Francesca Woodman (born in 1958 in Denver, Colorado) took an interest in photography from a very early age and was only thirteen when her first works were made. She soon adopted black and white photography, choosing the 2 inch square format.

As a student at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence between 1975 and 1979, she was accepted into the Honors Program which enabled her to spend a year at the school’s campus in the sumptuous Palazzo Cenci in Rome.

During that year (1977-78), Francesca frequented the Maldoror bookshop-gallery, which specialized in art books on Surrealism and Futurism. It was here that her first one-woman show was held. She also met the young generation of the Roman Trans-avantgarde.

After returning to the United States and completing her studies at Providence, Francesca Woodman moved to New York, where she embarked on more ambitious projects, making large blueprints on blue or brown paper as well as designing several books of her own photographs.

Some Disordered Interior Geometries, the only one of her books to be published in her lifetime, came out in January 1981. She took her life that same month jumping from her New York apartment at the age of 22.
-- A. G. Lopez [Source]

On Being an Angel, Woodman, 1977.