From March 31 to September 10, 2023, the Musée de Montmartre is offering an exhibition that explores the degrees and different forms of adherence of women artists and poets to the surrealism movement Fifty of them are represented in the itinerary, with nearly 150 exhibited works.

Jane Graverol (1905-1984), The Rite of Spring, 1960, oil on canvas, © RAW, ADAGP, Paris, 2022, © Stéphane Pons

A provocative and dynamic movement, surrealism triggered an aesthetic renewal and ethical upheavals in the 20th century. Men are not the only ones to have brought this current and its transgressions to life: many women were major players in it, but nevertheless underestimated by museums and underestimated by the art market. Thus, the exhibition aims to present major artists such as Claude Cahun, Toyen, Dora Maar, Lee Miller, Meret Oppenheim and Leonora Carrington but also to highlight other lesser-known personalities such as Marion Adnams, Ithell Colquhoun, Grace Pailthorpe, Jane Graverol, Suzanne Van Damme, Rita Kernn-Larsenn, Franciska Clausen or even Josette Exandier and Yahne Le Toumelin.

Surrealism offered them a framework for expression and creativity that probably had no equivalent in other avant-garde movements. However, it is often by appropriating and extending themes initiated by the “leaders” of the movement that they expressed their freedom. It was also by freeing themselves from what sometimes became a surrealist doxa that they asserted themselves. “All against” surrealism, this is how we could define their diversified and complex positions with regard to the movement.

Kay Sage (1898-1963), Magic lantern, 1947, oil on canvas, Paris, Center Pompidou – National Museum of Modern Art – Center for Industrial Creation © Estate of Kay Sage / ADAGP, Paris, 2022, Photo © Center Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Audrey Laurans

From the XNUMXs to the XNUMXs, “feminine surrealism” formed ephemeral constellations, according to often temporary rallying to the movement, but also to friendships that were formed outside this framework. The imagination of these artists is not aligned with that of the male figures in the group. Their practices, frequently interdisciplinary – pictorial, photographic, sculptural, cinematographic, literary… – express their desire for great escapes beyond heterosexual norms and geographical borders.

It is a cartography of a fragmented and globalized movement that the exhibition outlines by evoking the artists of the Belgian, Mexican, British, American, Prague and French hearths of surrealism that they have enriched, sometimes passing from one to the other. 'other.

By revealing the work of some fifty artists, visual artists, photographers and poets from around the world, this exhibition invites us to reflect not only on the ambivalent position of women in surrealism, but also on the capacity of one of the major currents of the 20th century to integrate the feminine within it.

Feminine surrealism

Valentine Hugo (1887-1971), The dream of December 21, 1929, 1929, graphite on paper, Mony Vibescu Collection, © ADAGP, Paris, 2022 © Gilles Berquet

The question mark in the title says the suspense that underlies this exhibition, conceived as a hypothesis rather than a demonstration. She proposes a non-exhaustive inventory, and for a subjective part, which tries to define what would be the feminine part of surrealism.

The exhibition unfolds in seven thematic sections (Metamorphosis, Nature, Seductions and Plural Femininity, Chimeras, Architectures, Interior Nights, Abstractions) independent of the chronology of the history of surrealism after a first room with a documentary vocation. The latter offers a panorama of the artists and poets evoked while insisting on the complicities which bind them and the friendly component of a feminine creativity which frequently mixes art and life.

The fascination that Montmartre exerts on the surrealist community is undeniable. It is a neighborhood that the surrealists surveyed, inhabited and dreamed of: a space of fantasies and popular entertainment. Aragon celebrates in Montmartre "a kind of crucible of the imagination where the worst conventions, the lowest literature merge with the reality of desires, the simplicity of desires, and what is freest, inalienable in I mean in man. ".

It is also the geographical location of the hill and the panoramic view it offers of the capital that seduce Breton: "You have to go early in the morning from the top of the hill of the Sacré-Coeur, in Paris, to see the city emerge slowly with its splendid veils, before stretching out its arms. »

Elsa Thoresen, Scorched Earth, 1946, oil on plate, SMK – National Gallery of Denmark Statens Museum for Kunst Copenhagen ADAGP, Paris, 2022, © SMK Photo / Jakob Skou-Hanse

The exhibition benefits from major institutional loans, in particular from the National Museum of Modern Art-Centre Pompidou, the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, the National Center for Plastic Arts Paris, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, the Nantes Art Museum, the Rouen Fine Arts Museum, the MABA (Maison d'Art Bernard Anthonioz) in Nogent-sur-Marne, the SMK – National Gallery of Denmark Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen and many galleries and prestigious private collections.

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