Xmas is the quintessential surrealist object. When its creator Dorothea Tanning was asked to explain the meaning of the bit of red cloth near the top of this pale, twisted fabric column, she replied, “X marks the spot”—a cryptic response that encourages more questions than answers. But what else would one expect from a Surrealist? Tanning is the most important of American women Surrealists. Early in her career, through Max Ernst (who was first her lover, then husband), Tanning had entree into a remarkable international circle of avant-garde artists and evolutionary thinkers, including André Breton. In response to the seemingly meaningless destruction wrought by World War I, Breton and his followers aimed to transform art and the world, exploring the mysteries of life through the universals of the subconscious mind; it was the intellectual environment Tanning had longed for as a teenager in small-town Galesburg, Illinois. Throughout her long career as a painter and sculptor in the United States and France, Tanning has probed the inner life of women from childhood to maturity, in particular delving into its darker realms. By casting her figures in shadowy interiors or by manipulating the human form into uncomfortable poses and distorted shapes, she conveyed the trauma of life experiences and stresses. The twisting, bulbous forms of Xmas have been a characteristic thread in Tanning’s art throughout her career, appearing in her well-known paintings as well as works in other media. Her soft sculptures appeared during an auspicious moment for women—the birth of the feminist movement—and clearly involve both the traditional feminine art of sewing and the blatant sexuality brandished by feminists at the time. Her works in this medium, such as Xmas, were also part of an international trend of the 1960s as evidenced by the contemporaneous work of Christo, Eva Hesse, Yayoi Kusama, and Claes Oldenburg, all of whom created artworks in materials that were fragile, the antithesis of traditional monumental media like bronze or stone—a definite statement about the tenuousness of contemporary life. (Ilene Susan Fort, The Gail and John Liebes Curator of American Art)More...
- Stephen Prina: Galesburg, Illinois+ Köln: Bucchandlung Walther König, 2016.
- Dorothea Tanning: Behind the Door, Another Invisible Door. Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2018.
- Fort, Ilene Susan, Tere Arcq, with Terri Geis, eds. In Wonderland: the Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Munich; New York: Prestel, 2012.