Indepth Arts News: |
"Dorothea Tanning: Birthday and Beyond"
2000-11-24 until 2001-01-07
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Painted in 1942, when Tanning
was 32-years old, Birthday was acquired from the artist in 1999, with funds contributed by Charles K. Williams II.
The painting is a central icon of the surrealist era, as well as one of the great self-portraits of the 20th century. To
celebrate this major acquisition, the Museum will present a salute to the artist, Dorothea Tanning: Birthday and
Beyond, Tanning's first one-person exhibition in an American museum.
Birthday announces an artist who emerged into the public eye with a fully formulated vision and exquisitely
flawless technique, says Ann Temkin, The Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at
the Philadelphia Museum of Art, of Dorothea Tanning's celebrated self-portrait.
An Illinois native, Tanning studied at The Art Institute of Chicago. At the time she painted Birthday, Tanning was
living in New York City and working as a freelance illustrator. Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism, the
groundbreaking 1936 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, catalyzed her artistic approach, and it was
the Surrealist émigré artist Max Ernst (1891-1976) who suggested this painting's title, Birthday. While scouting works
for gallery-owner Peggy Guggenheim, Ernst encountered the painting at Tanning's Greenwich Village studio.
Captivated by the model as much as her painting, Ernst later married Tanning in a double wedding with Man Ray
and Juliet Browner in Los Angeles, followed by a reception at the home of art collectors (and later Philadelphia
Museum of Art benefactors) Louise and Walter Arensberg.
An astonishing likeness that pairs verisimilitude with imagination, Birthday presents an unsmiling Tanning in exotic
dress, perched on a steeply tilting floor that leads through an infinite recession of doors. Her purple, ruffled jacket
reveals bare skin, and tops a long skirt embellished with limb-like tendrils. She is accompanied by a fantastic, furry
creature-perhaps an ally in the adventures that wait beyond this hallucinatory space.
Birthday and Beyond was chosen by the artist in collaboration with Ms. Temkin and Assistant Curator Michael
Taylor. A selection of paintings, sculpture, and works on paper-some 18 works in all--will explore the presence of the
body in Tanning's work, and examine the astonishing variety of ways in which she approached the theme of
metamorphosis. Among the works joining Birthday are Notes for an Apocalypse (1978), a large-scale canvas in
which a tablecloth becomes a nightmare, and the unsettling fabric-sculpture Rainy-Day Canapé (1970), a sofa
metamorphosing into a group of writhing bodies. Other works, such as Insomnias (1957), present energized,
illuminated fields of crystalline figures.
Birthday and Beyond will showcase quintessential work by Tanning drawn from five fertile decades in France and
the United States. While celebrating the acquisition of Birthday, it will also reveal Tanning as an artist who, at the
age of 90, has invented a realm still to be discovered by American audiences.