2017 Masters Exhibit

Leonora Carrington | Leonor Fini | Juanita Guccione | Hilla Rebay | Stella Snead | Dorothea Tanning

In the early- and mid-20th century, physical proximity and interaction among artists mattered because the visual communication of artwork had to be made in person. The Surrealists were literally a club, exclusive in membership, with a highly defined style and a written manifesto. Non-Objectivists–the first fully abstract painters-–were likewise mutually influential and personally connected, if less formally than the Surrealists.

There is evidence that all members of these groups saw and were influenced by each other’s work. However, the long-held definitions of their movements are quite limited to the writings of men within the early years of the groups’ affiliation. For this reason, it’s important to look back on Surrealism and Abstraction with wider parameters, drawn to include the contributions and adaptations of women.

The male founders of Surrealism defined their work in Freudian terms, describing their scenes as depictions of the subconscious mind arrived at by automatic drawings and trance-states. Women of the movement, by contrast, consciously composed sets of symbols, which, while representing the mind of the painter, did not require unawareness of meaning at their inception. It's also the case that the fantasies that fed depictions of dreamlike scenes were different for women Surrealists than for men. For male painters, the female figure existed as an object of gaze and a conduit to the Id, but women of the movement identified with their female subjects, placing them in imagined, matriarchal worlds as characters who are ends in themselves, “going about their own affairs,” as Fini’s subjects were once described. Women Surrealists expanded the outline of their movement beyond the prescriptions of Freud, moving art history out of an era in which females existed only for the sexual and intellectual use of men into a more contemporary world in which all visionary artists have a right to expression.

Within the history of Abstraction, the artistic and curatorial influence of Hilla Rebay affected the prerogative of artists thereafter to make compositions free from representation of the tangible world. Rebay brought the first Non-Objective works to the U.S., and exposure to these subjectless paintings is arguably the origin of Abstract Expressionism for its first practitioners. A leader among male contemporaries, Rebay exemplified and defined a new movement that altered the method and meaning of abstract art.

An exhibit featuring exclusively women validates the voices of these important artists, replacing them in a cultural history that has both marginalized and benefitted from their work.