The blurry world of Dorothea Tanning

March struck and I was determined to do a little bit of travelling after Paris in January and New York last month, so London seemed an obvious decision with the temptation of a little surrealism with Dorothea Tanning.
Being a girl, like to look my best but managed to stick my mascara brush in my eye, so all day I had a little visual difficulty all day.  But this is a surreal visit so why not look at it in a slightly blurry way?
There was a lot to explore here, but I found that it did drift by the end.  So, these are my highlights.
I loved this: A Very Happy Picture:

This one shouted at me to stop and stare. What’s not to like?  Smoking chimneys… prospect of travel…my new love of wearing red lipstick …the swirling vortex and then just to unsettle you, the image of a ship tumbling about on the waves. “Life’s not all plain sailing” says Dorothea.

The famous Birthday is there too:

So, first thought was nice rack, Dot!  But then I got all serious and just loved the idea of those doors all opening on themselves. Doors are clearly a big part of surrealist art, but somehow, hers seemed more sinister than inviting.

And then there was Max!

What was it about him that drove the ladies wild, eh? Can’t see it myself: those bright blue eyes and shock of white hair? his huge talent?his massive ego?  Whatever it was, once again, as a muse he still has that shamenistic look about him in her portrait, just as Leonora portrayed in her portrait of Max.

The one thing I wanted to see, which did not disappoint was Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (Poppy Hotel, Room 202)
This appeals for all sorts of reasons: reminds you of the stop motion animations, and although all is still, your imagination allows you to invent what happens next.  It has a creepy, gothic feel to it, but you really want to enter this world to investigate.
The other reason I like this is that it resonates with one of my favourite novellas: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman Perkins.  Funnily enough, they have little copies of this for a £1 in the shop – -bought myself one to put in a pocket!
On a very useful website, it says this about the title:

About the title:

Victoria Carruthers:  Tanning herself believes the work to be directly related to a song popular in her childhood. 

In room two hundred and two
The walls keep talkin’ to you
I’ll never tell you what they said
So turn out the light and come to bed.

Written in the 1920s, the song laments the fate of Kitty Kane, one-time Chicago gangster’s wife, who poisoned herself in room 202 of a local hotel. There are
several verses but these are the words she remembers….

     —excerpt from “Between Silence and Sound: John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and the Sculptures of Dorothea Tanning,” Art, History and the Senses: 1830 to the Present, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2010, p. 114.

The one painting I was left feeling uneasy about was The Guest Room:

If you read Dorothea’s own explanation of this, it makes sense as to why, in 2019, this painting has the ability to make you feel uncomfortable: The Guest Room


This exhibition is definitely worth a visit and it is wonderful to see so much of her work all together.


Guardian Review

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