Female artists’ contributions to the Surrealist movement may be well known, but only a handful have received the recognition they deserve. A scholarly new exhibition in Frankfurt has brought together works by 34 important artists, several of whom have been long overlooked and excluded from the male-dominated art historical canon.
The quantity and diversity of their work shows how a female perspective was central to Surrealism from its birth in the aftermath of World War I. Included in “Fantastic Women. Surreal Worlds from Meret Oppenheim to Frida Kahlo” at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt in Germany are a staggering 260 paintings, works on paper, sculptures, photographs, and films, some rarely seen before.
On show are works by lesser known artists, such as the Toyen, Bridget Tichnor, Alice Rahon, Kay Sage, and Ithell Colquhoun, alongside their more famous contemporaries, Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim, Lee Miller, Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Dora Maar, and Dorothea Tanning. Highlights include a screening of pioneer French filmmaker Germaine Dulac’s The Seashell and the Clergyman. Made in 1927, it is considered to be the first Surrealist work in the history of film.
“To this day, the names and works of the huge number of important women artists throughout the world are missing in many reference guides and survey exhibitions on Surrealism,” writes the exhibition’s curator, Ingrid Pfeiffer, in the publication that accompanies the show. “The reasons for this are many, including the endless repetition of an outdated canon in spite of recent research—a problem which pertains to art history in general.”
Many of the artists are connected through their association with Surrealist co-founder André Breton, or through their participation or contributions to key group exhibitions, and publications. The exhibition also explores the network of friendships of these female pioneers that stretched from Europe, to the US, and Mexico.