Dorothea Tanning, Chambre 202, Hôtel du Payot, 1970–73.
CENTRE POMPIDOU, PARIS
With a retrospective for Dorothea Tanning now on view at Tate Modern in London, we’ve collected excerpts of profiles of the artist and reviews of her work from past issues of ARTnews. As far as the magazine’s archives go, Tanning is a rarity—she was one of the few female artists whose work was reviewed somewhat regularly, and one of a handful whose early shows received positive notices. (One review of her first major New York show called her “one of our most skillful American Surrealists.”) The excerpts below follow Tanning as she moves from Surrealist tableaux to soft sculptures, from abstractions to poetry, and as she reflects on her long career. —Alex Greenberger
April 15–30, 1944
Dorothea Tanning, whose individual canvases have marked her as one of our most skillful American Surrealists, now gives us a chance to find out what she really has to say in a full-length show at Julien Levy’s. About a quarter of her pictures are of the purposely outrageous “game” type which is beginning to seem rather vieux jeu. The rest are more deeply felt and pondered and several are extremely moving and beautiful, especially the portrait of Deirdre with her pearly skin and prickly evergreen tresses glimpsed through a silvery haze. Here, as in Sirene and the ravishing little American Landscape, Miss Tanning proves to be an exceptionally competent painter over and above her power to induce strange dreams. It is to be hoped that she will pursue the line of original invention that makes so notable pictures like Angelic Pleasures and The Profanation, setting her well apart from the run of Surrealism’s imitators. (Prices $50 to $500.)
—“The Passing Shows”
Dorothea Tanning [Iolas; to Feb. 6], after five years away from Fifty-Seventh Street, appears with a selection of recent works in oil and pencil. Her obsessions with adolescence and sexual fantasy are more fantastic than surreal. But she is not backward about using device which started with the Surrealists—e.g., the clipped-out negative figure of a positive image appearing elsewhere in the picture. When the idea is good, the picture looks well painted. When it is obvious (like the super-image of the father in Family Portrait, or the Johnny Ray weepings of Juke Box, the painting is thin. The pictures which resemble movie sets—the drapery-framed room with adolescents or Musical Chairs, with its drapery swirling into an orifice—are not new ideas but they look personal. Much better, and better painted are the pictures of her Lhasa terrier and the series of pictures about flowers. Some Roses and their Phantoms in which the table top is the top o the world and the roses its implacably prying inhabitants, like ants, is particularly alarming a pleasant way. $400-$2,500.
—“Reviews and previews,” by Larry Campbell
Dorothea Tanning, A Mrs. Radcliffe Called Today, 1944.
Within erotic Surrealism the contribution of women is distinctive. Nobody would confuse the imagery of Hans Bellmer and Leonor Fini or Delvaux and Dorothea Tanning, the wife of Max Ernst. As Valentine Penrose wrote in her Sapphic poem Dons des Féminines: “Water the hour the planet and all things feminine.” In the new paintings of Dorothea Tanning at Arthur Jeffries’ gallery, roses and drapery are folded according to chivalric and Freudian rule, a Pre-Raphaelite Io plays the piano on Sunday, and the sweet claustrophobia of her design is like a house with too many pets in it.
It has been said that the Surrealists who relied on automatism are wearing better than those who painted illustrations of the world-upside-down, but Europe has a big interest in artists with the knack of making arresting images. Dorothea Tanning’s pictures of a dog made monstrous by its owner’s desire or a girl lifted into the air by a visiting uncle (Death and the Maiden) reveal this gift. Her paint film has a thin shimmering brilliance, like an evening gown.
—“Art news from London,” by Lawrence Alloway
Since 1980, Tanning has quietly established a life for herself—A life that is as secretively active as it was when she was a young woman making her way in New York in the ’30s. Only now her activities are more interior, for Tanning, though hardly a recluse, has curtailed her contact with New York’s hectic art scene as well as its social life. It is only as a painter that Tanning is in full swing. She works constantly on her large and small canvases, her drawings, and her watercolors.
“My life now is quiet and serene,” she says. “I have a few nice friends. I go out very little. I hardly ever go to a museum or an art opening. Frankly, I don’t know what’s going on in the art world. I’m just here in my bubble, and I stay in it. Mostly, I work.”
—“Among the Sacred Monsters,” by John Gruen
Dorothea Tanning, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music), 1943, oil on canvas.
TATE, ACQUIRED WITH THE SUPPORT OF THE ART FUND AND THE AMERICAN FUND FOR THE TATE GALLERY, 1997
Tanning offers details of the projects and people who have defined her motivated life in the recently released Between Lives: An Artist and Her Work (W.W. Norton & Company). She describes the book as an expanded version of her earlier memoir, Birthday (Lapis Press, 1987). “Birthday was a kind of love story, mostly about my life with Max Ernst, because I was mourning his loss,” says Tanning, who met the Surrealist painter in 1942, when he came to her New York studio to look at her work. She married him four years later in Beverly Hills, in a double wedding with Man Ray and Juliette Browner. “But,” she adds, “you can’t mourn someone forever, can you?” In the years after the publication of Birthday, Tanning says she realized that there were many people in her life whose stories she hadn’t shared, including Joseph Cornell, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Arp, John Cage, and André Breton. There was the time, for instance, when Marcel Duchamp painted a mustache and goatee on a dime-store reproduction of the Mona Lisa that Ernst had been given as a mock prize at a party. On another occasion, Virgil Thomson pleaded with her to jab him with an elbow whenever he dozed off during a cello concert that he was reviewing for the New York Herald Tribune. The thought that such incidents might not otherwise be recounted led Tanning to write Between Lives. “I vowed not to make it a name-dropper,” she says. “But the people deserved to be mentioned in this adventure which is my life.”
There would have been two books this year, if not for Tanning’s decision to stop the publication of her first novel, Chasm, an enigmatic tale set at a desert ranch, because she didn’t approve of Turtle Point Press’s marketing copy. She particularly disliked a description of her as “one of a small group of major women artists who worked in the Surrealist milieu,” along with references to Ernst, she says, which she felt were unnecessary. “He was part of my life for 35 years,” she explains, sitting in her lower Manhattan apartment wearing a colorful checkered sweater and pink lipstick. “But I’ve had 55 others.” Ernst died in 1976.
—“The Oldest Living Surrealist Tells (Almost) All,” by Michelle Falkenstein
Dorothea Tanning, Étreinte, 1969.
THE DESTINA FOUNDATION, NEW YORK
Titled “Unknown but Knowable States,” this exhibition featured Dorothea Tanning’s paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from the 1960s and ’70s, when she left behind the narrative surrealism of her early career and plunged further into her unconscious. The artist, who died last year at the age of 101, belonged to the Dada and Surrealist circles of Yves Tanguy, Man Ray, and Max Ernst, her husband. While her work from the ’40s and ’50s depicted foreboding scenes of women and children confronting strange beasts or logic-defying landscapes, she devoted herself over the next two decades to imagined, dreamlike imagery, which she laid down in rippling layers of ethereal pigment. . . .
Tanning had a sense of humor, too, which is evident in her poignant soft sculptures. Traffic Sign (1970), a fake fur pole supporting a bulbous, flesh-toned fabric breast—or pregnant belly?—has all the vulnerability of her painted figures but with an extra jolt of absurdity.
—“Reviews: Dorothea Tanning at Wendi Norris Gallery, San Francisco,” by Lamar Anderson
NYU Will Remove Sackler Name from Graduate Institute, Deana Lawson Wins Hugo Boss Prize, and More: Morning Links from October 23, 2020
To receive Morning Links in your inbox every weekday, sign up for our Breakfast with ARTnews newsletter. News New York University’s Langone Medical Center will remove the Sackler name from its Graduate Biomedical Institute following years of pressure from the student body and artist Nan Goldin’s advocacy organization P.A.I.N. [Hyperallergic] Yesterday Marian Goodman Gallery announced that it would close its London location. In an interview with ARTnews, gallery…
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New York University’s Langone Medical Center will remove the Sackler name from its Graduate Biomedical Institute following years of pressure from the student body and artist Nan Goldin’s advocacy organization P.A.I.N. [Hyperallergic]
Yesterday Marian Goodman Gallery announced that it would close its London location. In an interview with ARTnews, gallery founder Marian Goodman shared what comes next for the enterprise’s British operation. [ARTnews]
Thirteen women, in interviews with The New York Times, have accused the Iranian celebrity artist, Aydin Aghdashloo, of sexual misconduct over a 30-year-period. [The New York Times]
A New York program that offers perpetrators of minor offenses the opportunity to take an art class at the Brooklyn Museum instead appearing in court, is at risk of defunding. [The Art Newspaper]
Deana Lawson is the first-ever photographer to win Guggenheim Museum’s $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize. [ARTnews]
Artists & Institutions
After a summer of social and financial turmoil, white-led arts institutions nationwide are reckoning with racism. But what does it take to achieve equity? [Los Angeles Times]
A show of work by Bruce Nauman at Sperone Westwater Gallery, featuring a new digital artwork activated by an iPad touchscreen, “confirms how sedulously he is still pushing the studio’s limits,” writes Jason Farago. [The New York Times]
Maxwell Alexandre’s first solo show in England is now on view at David Zwirner’s London gallery. Check out some of the work, which centers Rocinha, the Rio de Janeiro favela where he was raised and currently lives, here. [The Paris Review]
Sotheby’s back-to-back modern and contemporary evening sales in Paris and London generated a total of $90.4 million. [Art Market Monitor]
The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem is facing criticism following the decision to deaccession dozens pieces of art and artifacts at Sotheby’s. [The Art Newspaper]
Artist Saul Fletcher Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide
Saul Fletcher, a British-born, Berlin-based artist known for moody images of collaged objects photographed against a plaster wall in his studio, was found dead last week in Berlin what several outlets have reported to have been a murder-suicide. The claims have been circulating in the British and European tabloids since late last week, with the…
Saul Fletcher, a British-born, Berlin-based artist known for moody images of collaged objects photographed against a plaster wall in his studio, was found dead last week in Berlin what several outlets have reported to have been a murder-suicide. The claims have been circulating in the British and European tabloids since late last week, with the tabloids linking Fletcher with actor Brad Pitt (Fletcher was photographed by paparazzi last year walking around the Venice Biennale with Pitt and sculptor Thomas Houseago).
This morning, the three galleries that represented Fletcher at the time of his death—Anton Kern Gallery in New York, Knust Kunz Gallery Editions in Munich, and Grice Bench in Los Angeles—provided to ARTnews a joint statement regarding the reports: “We are devastated, appalled, and shocked by the tragic loss of Rebeccah Blum and Saul Fletcher. We are all grief-stricken and confused. We offer our deepest condolences to their families and together are offering our support and help.”
Blum is a freelance curator who previously was director of Berlin’s Aurel Scheibler gallery. ARTnews has not been able to independently verify these deaths or the circumstances surrounding them.
According to a Daily Mail article published on July 23, Fletcher confessed to his daughter last Wednesday evening that he had killed a woman, now assumed to be Blum based on the statement of the galleries. Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, according to the Daily Mail, Fletcher’s daughter reported this information to the Berlin police, who subsequently found a woman dead from apparent stab wounds in Fletcher’s apartment. The following morning, Fletcher was found dead in the garden of property he owned near Rochowsee lake, about two hours north of Berlin.
ARTnews has reached out to Berlin law enforcement, but has been unable to verify this reporting at this time.
Fletcher, who was born in 1967 in the village of Barton, on the northeastern coast of England, and was largely self-taught, first came to prominence in the late 1990s when he began showing with New York’s Anton Kern Gallery. In a review of his exhibition at Kern in 2000, New York Times critic Roberta Smith called Fletcher’s photographs “evocative, slightly macabre, sometimes overly precious,” which “appear to be the work of a shut-in working in a nearly empty attic with the occasional cooperation of family members.”
Fletcher’s work has appeared in major international exhibitions as well, including the 30th Bienal de São Paulo in 2012, the 4th Berlin Biennale in 2006, and the 2004 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. His most recent exhibition at Anton Kern was in 2018. That same year, Inventory Press published a monograph of his work with essays by Ralph Rugoff, curator of the 2019 Venice Biennale, and critic Kirsty Bell.
Unprecedented Toppling of Monument to Slave Trader Shocks British Art World
Until his statue was toppled by Black Lives Matter protesters on Sunday, few people outside Bristol had heard of Edward Colston. Dramatic images of the protests held in the British city show the bronze sculpture of Colston being torn down and thrown into the harbor of the historic port city. But the felling of the…
Until his statue was toppled by Black Lives Matter protesters on Sunday, few people outside Bristol had heard of Edward Colston. Dramatic images of the protests held in the British city show the bronze sculpture of Colston being torn down and thrown into the harbor of the historic port city. But the felling of the monument to the merchant, whose fortune was earned from the transatlantic slave trade he helped establish in the late 17th century, is just one part of a fierce and reignited debate about public art honoring problematic figures that’s being waged in Britain right now.
“I’ve recorded uprisings since the 1980s, but I was slightly stunned,” said artist John Akomfrah, referring to images on social media of the Bristol demonstration, which was peaceful, like many other protests across the U.K. “There is a remarkable irony. [Colston] has ended up in the place where he put hundreds of lives”—the harbor where bodies of enslaved Africans were thrown overboard during the infamous Middle Passage.
Colston was a leading member of the Royal African Company, which had a monopoly on the slave trade in the late 17th century. “There’s no sympathy from me about his plight,” Akomfrah said.
The merchant’s statue, which was unveiled in 1895 when the British Empire was at the peak of its power, has long been a source of division in the city. Attempts to add a contextual plaque referring to the philanthropist’s role in the slave trade had reached a political and bureaucratic impass, prompting demonstrators to take matters in their own hands last weekend.
“I was amazed. It was the kind of thing I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” said Hew Locke, a London-based sculptor who lived in Bristol in the 1980s. “This piece has been on my mind as a problem for years,” he told ARTnews. “Colston wasn’t a bad man. The language was wrong. He was an evil man. That’s the truth of it.”
John Cassidy’s sculpture has been derided as a poor work of art, but Locke disagrees with that assessment. “Aesthetically, it was one of Bristol’s best Victorian sculptures,” Locke said. In 2006, to pay homage to the sculpture’s history, Locke bedecked a large-scale photograph of the Colston monument with the trappings of his wealth based on the exploitation of Africans.
It’s unclear right now what will happen to the statute. Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, said on Monday that Cassidy’s sculpture will be “fished out” at some point but vowed that it will never return to its former prominent location. The bronze could be destined for the city’s history museum, MShed, which overlooks Bristol harbor, along with a collection of the Black Lives Matter protestors’ placards.
The fate of Colston’s statue and the Black Lives Matter movement raises awkward questions for other cities in the U.K. On Tuesday, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced a review of all London statues with slavery links. One London’s former docklands now business district of Robert Milligan, a prominent slave trader and plantation owner, has been vandalized and covered in protest placards. On Tuesday, it was revealed that the statue would be removed. And there have been renewed calls to remove or at least recontextualize colonial-era statues, including ones in Cardiff in Wales, Dundee in Scotland, and in Oxford. Since 2016, campaigners have tried to banish the statue of the arch-imperialist of the Victorian era, Cecil Rhodes, at the University of Oxford. (A demonstration is taking place on Tuesday.)
Locke expressed skepticism over whether anything would change. “We will see,” he said. Meanwhile, authorities in Belgium have begun to remove statues of King Leopold II after protests. His colonization of what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo involved systematic brutality and atrocities.
Some institutions have begun taking accountability for their role in structural racism, but their responses have done little to satisfy critics. Several big London museums, following their peers in the U.S., issued statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests at the end of last week and over the weekend. The British Museum immediately faced accusations of inaction over decolonizing its collection, which includes colonial-era looted art and human remains. The National Gallery in London also posted on social media its rejection of “racism, inequality and violence” in response to the death of George Floyd while being arrested by police. Anti-racist protestors began gathering in Trafalgar Square a week ago on the art museum’s doorstep despite an ongoing national lockdown due to coronavirus.
For nearly 100 years a bronze statue of George Washington has stood on the gallery’s front lawn, making it one of many public London monuments to “dodgy figures,” as Locke has put it. Presented by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1924, it is a replica of the marble sculpture by the French 18th-century sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon that stands in the State Capitol building in Richmond. There is no mention on a plaque (or on the National Gallery’s website) that Washington was a slave owner, or that Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States in the U.S. Civil War.
When reached by ARTnews about whether it planned to make that history available, a National Gallery spokesperson claimed it was not the museum’s responsibility to do so, but rather the U.K. government’s. The museum is “looking” to update its website about the biography of its founding collector, John Julius Angerstein, however. Its current page about Angerstein glosses over the uncomfortable truth that much of the art collector’s wealth was based on insurance of ships used in the slave trade. He also had a financial stake in a slave plantation in the Caribbean.
Such a clarification of institutions’ history is becoming more common in the U.K.—Tate, for example, issued a lengthy statement about its founder’s role in the slave trade last year. Locke said that context such as this is necessary for institutions—and, in particular, the monuments in the cities around them. “The sculptures are part of history, but you need some acknowledgement of who these people were,” he said. “You can’t say police brutality is terrible, institutional racism is terrible, and then you don’t want anything to change in your local landscape.”
Locke, like Akomfrah, seemed resigned that the debate about the relocation of colonial-era monuments in the U.K. will now be framed by the government as a question of law and order after Colston’s violent removal. The U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson was quick to condemn the Bristol protestors’ actions claiming that the Black Lives Matters protests have been “subverted by thuggery.” After coming under fire, he toned down his rhetoric but insisted that anyone who harmed property would face “the full force of the law.”
Many in the British art scene—and beyond—are now left with serious quandaries going forward. “Let’s be clear, [Colston] was a mass murder,” Akomfrah said. “He benefited from the misfortune of others. The real question is, why was that statue put up in the first place?”