New review: Women artists and Surrealism

Women have largely been painted out of popular understandings of the Surrealist movement. Susan Gilbert reviews a Manchester Art Gallery exhibition which showcased some of these ignored works

There is a famous work of Surrealist art called Le Déjeuner en Fourrure (Breakfast in Fur), which consists of a teacup, saucer and spoon covered with gazelle fur. This is Swiss artist Méret Oppenheim’s most widely known work and has been an icon of Surrealism since 1936, to the constant dismay of its creator who regarded it as of minor importance. This creation pursued her all her life, although she later disassociated herself from Surrealism. A photograph of Méret’s teacup, by Man Ray, could be seen at Angels of Anarchy, a Manchester Art Gallery exhibition devoted to the women artists associated with the Surrealist movement which ran from 26 September 2009-10 January 2010.

Méret Oppenheim never agreed to participate in any exclusively female exhibition and even refused to condone the reproduction of her work in books about women artists. This wasn’t because she felt that the battle for women’s liberation was won. Méret was a feminist and the granddaughter of suffragette and writer Lisa Wenger-Rutz, who’d been active in the Swiss League for Women’s Rights and encouraged radical thinking in her daughters and granddaughters. Méret was a radical and thoughtful artist who said in a letter to her sister Kristen, when she was asked to take part in an all woman exhibition in Los Angeles, that she was concerned about the possible ghettoisation of art by women. She strongly believed that the creation of art had nothing to do with one’s gender, but was a product of both the male and female sides of the artist’s psyche.

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