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Saturday, 26 September 2009

Exhibition – Angels of Anarchy – Women Artists and Surrealism – Manchester Art Gallery

Star rating – 8/10

This wonderful new exhibition brings together the important women artists who formed part of the Surrealist movement, even though at the time many were neglected by both their male surrealist counterparts, and by the art world in general.

Angels of Anarchy brings together paintings, sculpture, photographs and other objects that were created from the 1930’s onwards. Much of the exhibits have languished in the storerooms of galleries for decades – not considered important enough to display.

Of the women artists featured here, possibly the most famous is Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist who is best known for her pain, suffering, monobrow, and marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera. Khalo’s painting set in a heart shaped shell frame is one of the highlights of the exhibition. It is called ‘Diego y Frida 1929 – 1944’ and she created it to celebrate their 15th anniversary. The faces of herself and her husband merge beautifully in the midst of heart capillary vessels. It is a work of love and beauty.

Another self portrait featured here is one by Leonora Carrington from 1937-38. In it she uses images of herself in a room with a rocking horse, contrasting with the image of a wild and free white horse outside, to symbolise the story of her escape from her domineering father.

There are very striking photographs included, such as ‘On Being an Angel # 1’ by Francesca Woodman from 1977; and the self portrait with sphinxes by Lee Miller from 1940. The photos of Frida Kahlo herself, taken by her friend Lola Alvarez Bravo, show her in a new light – as a strong, beautiful and confident woman, rather than a tortured pain racked soul as she is often perceived.

The painting of ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ by Dorothea Tanning from 1943 has a wonderful Alice in Wonderland feel to it as it portrays a gothic, oppressive home environment for the little girls featured in it.

Angels, sphinxes, and the objectification of women are central themes running through much of this work. My favourite exhibit was possibly the ‘Maitresse’ whip by Mimi Parent. She apparently cut off her hair on discovering the infidelity of her husband, the artist Jean Benoit. She created a whip out of these two golden plaits – sort of Rapunzel meets the Marquis de Sade.

So full marks to Manchester Art Gallery for displaying this wonderful work by these gifted and important women. It is not the usual surrealist fare – but they give it a feel all of its own, and bring a fresh vibrancy to this view of the world to rank alongside any of their male contemporaries. Come on the girls!

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