The 1985 publication of Whitney Chadwick's Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement radically upended art historians' understanding of surrealism. Though women had been part of the Surrealist entourage since its inception and were included in a number of exhibitions, their role tended to be circumscribed. The movement's male founders regarded women as natural embodiments of the irrationality that they themselves laboriously strived to cultivate. Idolized as muses, women were sidelined as creators both by the male surrealists and by subsequent art historians. Chadwick's book changed all that by drawing attention to a raft of fascinating women associated with the Surrealist movement who are now recognized as remarkable innovators in their own right.
One of these in particular, Leonora Carrington, is having a moment now. Included in the Metropolitan Museum's recent "Surrealism Beyond Borders"-itself a piece of ground-breaking revisionism-she has for some time been the subject of an academic cottage industry. Now Carrington has inspired both the name and the theme for the upcoming Venice Biennale. Director Cecilia Alemani has titled her edition "The Milk of Dreams" after a truly bizarre illustrated children's book by Carrington featuring such anomalies as a sofa that swallows vitamins and grows legs and a boy whose head becomes a house.