Art: Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning (1)

Until the 9th June, Tate Modern has curated a large scale exhibition of Dorothea Tanning’s work, bringing together 100 pieces from paintings to sculptures spanning her 70-year career. The exhibition is organised by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid in collaboration with Tate Modern and curated by Alyce Mahon and Ann Coxon.

Dorothea Tanning

Tanning was born in 1910 in a small town of Galesburg, Illinois, where, she said, ‘nothing happened but the wallpaper’. As a result of this boredom, she filled her time reading Gothic novels and poetry which greatly inspired her early work. Only in the 1930s did she travel to New York to pursue her artistic career, after briefly studying painting at the Chicago Academy of Art. During this time, she supported herself by being a commercial artist, including advertisements for Macy’s department store. Her first encounter of the Surrealism movement was the 1936 seminal exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art – Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism. This had a profound effect on Tanning, which resulted in her travelling to France in August 1939 with letters of introduction to artists including Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso. However, when arriving in Paris, the country was at the brink of war and she had to return to New York without meeting anyone on her list.
It was only until 1942 was she reunited with Ernst, who fled from France and became a refugee in New York. The two moved in together about a week after Ernst viewed her work and persuaded his then-wife Peggy Guggenheim to include Tanning’s self-portrait, changing the exhibit entitled “30 Women” to “31 Women. In 1944 Tanning was given her first solo show by Julien Levy after being impressed by her creativity and skill in commercial illustration. Despite the success of the exhibition, the newly married couple in 1946 moved to Sedona, Arizona and settled there until 1949 where they both relocated to Paris, though continued to spend time back in Arizona. It was during this time where there was a significant shift in her style of painting, from the very dreamlike detailed paintings to abstract brushstrokes. The next few decades were a time of great experimentation from painting and sculpture, to writing and poetry.

Tanning only returned to New York in 1980 four years after Ernst died. She completed her last paintings in 1998 but continued to write focusing on poetry until she passed away at 101 years old in 2012.

Surrealism

Surrealism was a movement that emerged from Paris in the 1920s, with a focus to explore the complexity and hidden workings of the mind as a source of art, as well as writing. It principally grew out from the earlier Dada movement before the First World War. According to The Surrealist Manifesto published by André Breton in 1924, Surrealism was a means of reuniting conscious and unconscious realms of experience so completely that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in “an absolute reality, a surreality.” In other words, they sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination.

The work of Sigmund Freud was influential for Surrealists, particularly his book, The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) which legitimised the importance of dreams. This was particularly prominent in Tanning’s work where she is known to depict her dreams in great detail. Surrealist imagery is probably the most recognisable element of the movement yet difficult to define as each artist relied on their own recurring motifs. Nature is often the most frequent imagery, where Max Ernst was obsessed with birds, Dali’s work included ants and eggs, Tanning included dogs, particularly Ernst’s pet Lhasa Apso named Katchina.

Exhibition & Favourite pieces

“Looking at Tanning’s work is like entering into another universe,” explains the exhibition’s curator, Ann Coxon. “She is interested in everything that lies behind and beneath the facade of the everyday.”

The exhibition starts off with one of her most important works; the painting that turned 30 to 31 women and ended a marriage. Named by Ernst as “Birthday” this painting marks her birth as a surrealist. After their wedding and relocation from New York to Sedona Arizona, doors become a prominent feature in Tanning’s work. The door is a surrealist symbol and represents a portal to the unconscious. It is in this room of the exhibition, where you see the infamous painting Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943); though my favourite is the Self Portrait (1944) which depicts the vast empty landscape of Arizona, yet appears unsettling and claustrophobic, as if there is nowhere to run.

Having moved to Paris, her art starts to change from the intricately detailed drawings of Birthday and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik to much more abstract depictions of family, interiors and the dining table as illustrated in Portrait de Famille (1954) and The Philosophers (1952). The mid-1950s was a time of change for Tanning as her style of painting completely changed and her composition and brushwork became more abstract and fluid, and merging of bodies is depicted in Insomnies (Insomnias) (1957). Though in this room, the painting that is at odds with the others is Pour Gustave l’adoré (1974) as she uses a very rich and dark colour palette.

Tanning explored maternity during different stages of her career and her paintings are from idyllic and from my perspective, frightening. Maternity (1946-7) is the most famous of these and the soft sculpture Emma (1970) made from dirty antique lace frills makes this room particularly difficult to see or enjoy. Hidden in the corner of this room of the exhibition, is the surprising Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (1970–3) where stuffed figures are placed together into an unsettling installation, it is dark and gave me goosebumps as it brings back scenes from Stranger Things.

Tanning changes her medium again in the 1960s where a lot of work was in the form of soft sculptures. Using textiles, pins and other objects she crafts bodily sculptures which come across as playful and erotic such as Pincushion to Serve as Fetish (1965). Yet, the sculpture that should be highlighted in this room Tweedy (1973) and its accompanying turd.
For further information on the exhibition, please refer to the exhibition guide found here.

Celebration of female artists

Not surprisingly. like many women before and after Tanning. Her work was overshadowed by her husband’s fame. She once wrote about herself that “Her existence as an artist was dramatically compromised by her existence as Max’s wife, but love triumphs all,”.

Despite this, it cannot be disputed that Tanning was an accomplished artist who had a profound impact on the Surrealist movement, as well as subsequent generations of artists. Her exploration of the female form meant that she was often associated with the feminist movement. This included her own portraits where Tanning incorporated her gothic self-image which was cultivated from the novels she read in her childhood. Tanning also explored motherhood in detail even though she never had children herself. The works themselves were hauntingly beautiful but sad. Motherhood may have been considered but her art reflected her issues and thinking around this.

“Women artists. There is no such thing—or person. It’s just as much a contradiction in terms as ‘man artist’ or ‘elephant artist’. You may be a woman and you may be an artist; but the one is a given and the other is you.” – Dorothea Tanning

Tanning was not keen to be known as a feminist and did not want to be categorised. Despite this, she has become a role model for women trying to break free from the restrictions of womanhood to become artists and continues to influence artists today.

How many pineapples?

A hauntingly beautiful exhibition, a must see – 4.5 out of 5 pineapples.

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

Art: The EY Exhibition – Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy

Hi Everyone 🙂

I hope you are all having a great week so far! As promised, the latest update on the Pineapple Chicken Blog is the Picasso 1932 exhibition at Tate Modern. I believe that this has hit London by storm. I wanted to see it the first week it opened but did not manage to get any decent times to visit, so I decided to go at the earliest entrance at 10am on a Sunday morning – as you do 🙂

I love perusing museums and art galleries in peace, so I would go the extra mile to ensure that I go at a relatively quiet time, i.e. anything before 12pm on a weekend. However, there was already a queue to enter and this happened in space of the gates opening to the Tate and me travelling up the escalators!

At the entrance there is a chance to buy an audio guide. I rarely use them but for some reason I decided to spend £4 on the “not so trendy” devices. But alas, IT WAS THE BEST DECISION EVER! I noticed throughout the exhibition there was little to no description for each of the paintings. Most just gave the name of the painting or sculpture. Note, you will be handed a little booklet upon entering the exhibition. A tip for all those who visit, you do not need to read what is on the wall in each of the rooms as it is copied verbatim in your booklet. Spend more time admiring the art! :). The audio guide provided insight into how each painting was produced as well as the economy and society at the time. Honestly, £4 really well spent!!

The exhibition was curated to show most of the artwork produced by Picasso in the year of 1932. It is debated how the artist dated each of his works, so I would argue that 1932 is loosely used subject title. However, this was a period of intense creativity for Picasso and he was clearly a prolific painter. The exhibition had a vast array of paintings shown in the same space for the first time. Indeed, many of the paintings are in private collections. It was exciting to see some of his most infamous paintings in the flesh, such as the “The Dream”. During this time, he used his secret mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, as the focus of many of his paintings. They were intense and loving studies, and I am grateful for the curators Achim Borchardt-Hume and Nancy Ireson for bringing this to London.

Personally, I am a big fan of Picasso, whereas, I have known others who don’t really like his work. The exhibition provided further evidence of Picasso’s phenomenal creativity and his broad spectrum of styles from classicists to cubism is draw dropping. I think you can tell from my glowing review, the exhibition earns, of course, 5/5 pineapples!

I am not sure where I will be off to this weekend as I will be celebrating my anniversary with my other half (not married but we like to celebrate little milestones). However, the weekend after I will be off to Cancun, Mexico! SO EXCITED! Really looking forward to sharing more photos and things to do then! Remember, I love comments, so feel free to like or comment below!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

Tickets will be available until 9th September and priced at £22 for adults or half price with the Art Fund card.  

Art: Tate Modern

Hi Everyone! Hope you are having a great start to your week and welcome to another instalment of my adventures. This weekend I went to the Tate Modern to explore their Soul of Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power Exhibition which is open until 22nd October 2017.

Tate Modern

I personally love the Tate Modern, it is this beautifully vast open space dedicated to art. Though it can feel empty at times, it does add to the atmosphere of the place. Architecturally, it is also fascinating too with its mix of old and new, curves and straight lines.

The best way to travel to the Tate is from St. Paul’s Station (Central Line) and walk the Millennium Bridge over the Thames. It is roughly a 10-minute walk, depending on your leisurely speed and you have this wonderful view 360 degree view of London from the bridge. On one side, Tower Bridge, the Globe and the Shard, behind you is St. Paul’s Cathedral and in front of you is Tate Modern. Perfect post card shot, for sure!

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 

I have heard wonderful things about this exhibition and booked my tickets for last weekend, several weeks in advance just in case it is sold out. Tickets cost £15 for an adult or it is 50% off with the Art Pass. I arrived at 2:30 pm on a Saturday and it was crammed. I recommend choosing either earlier or later in the day when the crowds subside.

The exhibition explores the works of Black artists in America from the Civil Rights movement in 1963 to 1983. There are twelve rooms and it covered a whole range different art movements/expressions of the time; from art published in Black Panther magazines, to photography of daily life and to very abstract art work. You will be getting your money’s worth!

Personal Favourites

Though I had studied the Civil Rights movement back in school for GCSE History, we did not even mention art of that time and the struggles that Black artists faced. The exhibition brings to life how art developed within these two decades.  Some pieces are extremely emotive and one can’t help to appreciate the struggles of the artists to share their story with the world. Overall, it was a humbling experience and I felt the exhibition gave an insight to a unknown artists (well, at least to myself).

To give you a flavour of the exhibit, I have selected one art piece in each of the 12 rooms. Many of which were my personal favourites. If you visit, do leave a comment below to tell me what you loved and whether you agree with me!

  • Room 1 (Spiral): Norman Lewis – America the Beautiful (1960). This is an example of semi-abstraction. It is hauntingly beautiful as the white triangles, upon closer inspection, you realise are the cloaked figures of the Ku Klux Klan
  • Room 2 (Art on the Streets): I didn’t have a favourite in this room, but this room showcased the art work from Emory Douglas and artwork that was included in Black Panther magazines.
  • Room 3 (Figuring Black Power): Faith Ringgold – American People Series #20: Die (1967). This is the most striking piece in the room. It takes a while to take the whole all of it in, where there is a mix of black and blond characters with their eyes wide and staring at you. One of the most memorable pieces in the whole of the exhibition.
  • Room 4 (Los Angeles Assemblage): This is probably my least favourite room in the whole exhibition. I struggled to connect with the artwork in this room. Though, do spend time looking at Melvin Edwards‘ work labelled Lynch Fragments made from welded steel.
  • Room 5 (Africobra in Chicago): This is the most colourful room and the vibrancy of the artwork shows how this movement moved away from the red (blood) and the monochrome artwork in the earlier years and concentrated more on aesthetics. There were many pieces I loved, but one being by Jeff Donaldson Wives of Sango (1970).
  • Room 6 (Three Graphic Artists): This room is in stark contrast with the colours of Room 5. Though, the piece that would draw your attention in this room would be David Hammons, Injustice Case (1970), which is a portrait of the trial of Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale. It is really heart wrenching to see and the US flag border just makes it all that more shocking.
  • Room 7 (East Coast Abstraction): I am not a big lover of contemporary abstract art, but I really enjoyed the artwork in this room. I loved the different shapes and colours. Most were extremely large pieces, though the one that caught my attention is Jack Whitten’s Homage to Malcolm (1970), probably because it is shaped as a triangle and though it is mainly dark and black, various colours came through as you look at the piece in different angles.
  • Room 8 (Black Light): As a budding photographer, this room was my favourite. It portrayed life in the US during those two decades and really gave an insight of life at the time.  I spent most of my time admiring the beautiful monochrome photo and portraits prints. Favourite of mine is Beuford Smith – Woman Bathing/Madonna, New York (1967)
  • Room 9 (Black Heros): This is probably the most iconic room because of Barkley L. Hendricks Icon for My Man Superman (Superman Never Saved any Black People – Bobby Seale) (1969), which is featured as the piece to showcase the exhibition. However, my favourite piece was painted by him as well, Brilliantly Endowed (1977), a very tongue in cheek self-portrait.
  • Room 10 (Improvisation and Experimentation): This room contrasts from the rest of the exhibition. However, I found myself disconnecting with the artwork because it was very abstract and I failed to grasp the message. This is probably due to my untrained eye, though I was drawn to Joe Overstreet’s We came from there to get here (1970). The piece was created by different coloured canvases strung up together, which is supposed to recall the history of lynching.
  • Room 11 (Betyse Saar): I will be honest, I did not spend too much time in this room. The pieces were rather disconcerting, but one of the pieces I was drawn to was by Senga Nengudi Internal II (1977, 2015). It was eye catching and explored the role of women, particularly black women – an interesting piece.
  • Room 12 (Just above Midtown): The photos on the right hand side of the wall dominates this room, but again my favourite piece is from Senga Nengudi RSVP XI (1977, 2004).

Overall, I loved this exhibition and has made me want to explore more art and photography from black artists that was shown. I guess that is a great outcome from any exhibition. It was an educational day out and I had a wonderful time, therefore, the Tate Modern gets a snazzy 4 out of 5 pineapples. If you do get a chance to go, I would love to hear what you thought about the exhibition! Leave your comments below or on my Instagram!

With Sweet and Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken