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Surrealism’s Trailblazing Women

Published on , by Zaha Redman

Their lives were bold and eventful, their travels extraordinary, their sexuality daring. Many of them wholeheartedly embraced the movement. La Gazette profiles three of these often-unsung women artists.

Unica Zürn (1916-1970), Untitled, Paris, 1957, oil on paper mounted on wood, 40.9... Surrealism’s Trailblazing Women

Unica Zürn (1916-1970), Untitled, Paris, 1957, oil on paper mounted on wood, 40.9 x 30.8 cm (16.10 x 12.12 in).
Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

Surrealism is often reduced to a caricature of quarrels, theories and sex. Portrayed as doctrinaire and misogynistic, its many avatars have been erased, its subversive nature occluded. Its founders were at first acclaimed for their openness, then condemned for bad behavior. Seen through a feminist lens, the movement’s image became tarnished. But the women who took part in it—photographers, visual artists, poets and novelists—paint a more nuanced picture. Although some of them were married to or lived with its most famous players— Man Ray , Max Ernst , Yves Tanguy and André Breton —they rarely conformed to the feminine ideal espoused by Breton and his circle. They often, but not always, kept their distance from the men, pinpointing their weaknesses without necessarily being hostile. Clearly, Surrealism was less a sectarian movement than a wellspring of creativity. These women developed their own artistic sensibility. They showed images of their bodies and of their existence as artists. Their multifaceted…
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