Dorothea Tanning - Tate Modern
I must admit, all I knew about Dorothea Tanning before visiting the exhibition was what I could see and read on the posters. Which instantly made me want to know more, but also give an impression of a body of work akin to that of the Surrealists. This is true in part, but what I was most impressed with was the range of her work. With each chapter of her artistic journey heralding a new style.
Tate presents the fist large-scale exhibition of Tanning’s work for 25 years. Bringing together 100 works from her career spanning seven decades. Covering her mysterious paintings to truly surreal sculptures.
In 1942, the artists Max Ernst visited her studio and saw the self-portrait titled ‘Birthday’, It is said he stayed to play chess, and then they were together for 34 years, often living in France, until Ernst death in 1976.
Tanning’s work depicted the ‘unknown but knowable states’: suggesting there was more to life than meets the eye. Her work from the time of her marriage combines the familiar with the strange, exploring desire and her sense of sexuality.
A recurring theme in her work is the notion of Maternity, often depicting a Mother and Child. Tanning never had children, but felt strongly that a woman could be maternal despite this. The image of the dog – often based on Max Ernst's pet, a Lhasa Apso named Katchina – reappears in Tanning's work again and again. Sometimes she used the image of the dog playfully to represent herself.
As a lover of fashion from the 1950’s, I was particular taken with Tanning’s surreal costume designs for ‘The Witch’, a ballet by John Cranko. They are an unexpected moment in the exhibition, surrounded by huge paintings, each one incredibly beautiful. For me, they show a more commercially minded side of Tanning, while also staying true to her surreal flair.
In the 1960s she started making pioneering sculptures out of fabric. A highlight of this exhibition is the room-sized installation Chambre 202, Hotel du Pavot 1970-3. It is an eerie work, with sensual bodies growing out the walls of an imaginary hotel room. It sucks you in, until you can finally look away.
In later life, Tanning dedicated more of her time to writing. Her last collection of poems, Coming to That, was published at the age of 101. The exhibition runs until 9th June.
Organised by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid in collaboration with Tate Modern
Exhibition curated by Alyce Mahon and Ann Coxon, Curator, International Art, Tate Modern