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Joanna Moorhead

Autor(a) de The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington

6 Works 143 Membros 4 Críticas

About the Author

Includes the name: Moorhead, Joanna.

Obras por Joanna Moorhead


Conhecimento Comum



review of
Surreal Friends
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 1, 2012

According to the inner jacket blurb: "Surreal Friends brings together for the first time the work of three women Surrealist artists, friends in exile in Mexico in the 1940s: British painter Leonora Carrington, Spanish painter Remedios Varo and Hungarian photographer Kati Horna." This mutual presence in Mexico was largely brought about by the war-torn conditions in Europe at the time of their emigration coupled w/ Mexico's admirable immigration policy:

"The Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas opened the borders to all refugees who had been on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War and to anybody with a trace of Spanish ancestry who was hounded out of war-torn Europe. Socialists and Communists of different denominations, often refused entry into the USA, found a home in Mexico, most famously Leon Trotsky. This policy is the key to the story of the 'Surreal Friends' who, with many other Europeans, became part of Mexico's cultural history of the twentieth century."

Well, yes, this "policy is the key to the story of the 'Surreal Friends'" insofar as Varo was a Spaniard who was on the side of the Republic in the Spanish Civil War & Horna was a photographer who documented that side in the same war. Carrington, however, wasn't of Spanish ancestry & didn't move to Spain until 1940 when the Republic had lost & Franco was in power.

In fact, Carrington, as w/ the other women, was from an extremely wealthy family & had a type of mobility that wd've been denied to poorer people. On page 33, one of the estates that Carrington grew up in, Crookhey, is described as "not a particularly beautiful house". I found that somewhat astounding since this "house" was probably big enuf to fit 5 or 10 of the houses that I grew up in. In other words, who wd complain about growing up in a huge mansion w/ extensive grounds?! This type of politically uncritical thinking characterizes much of the writing in this bk - w/ one notable exception at the end.

I love Carrington's work, but I find the biography of her here to be a bit of a whitewash. On page 39 it's written that when she fled France, leaving her lover Max Ernst in an internment camp, "She hoped, she says, to use contacts outside France to get Ernst released. She sold the house, leaving her own and Ernst's work in a safe place, and left - travelling across the Pyrenees in a car that she says was 'not much bigger than a coffee table'." Contrast this to this description from Susan L. Aberth's bk Leonora Carrington - Surrealism, Alchemy and Art, page 45:

"When Ernst returned home he found that Carrington had left the premises and had inadvertently turned over their house to an unscrupulous farmer from the village. Yves Tanguy's wife, the American artist Kay Sage, asked Peggy Guggenheim to finance Ernst's passage to America. Guggenheim, who was in Grenoble shipping her newly acquired art collection back to the United States, had financed the passage to America of a number of other 'distinguished' Surrealists, including the entire Breton family. Ernst wrote to her, in a desperate attempt to recover the contents of his house, asking for 6000 francs and a letter for a lawyer testifying that she had seen the sculptures in his house and that they were worth at least 175,000 francs. Because Guggenheim had seen these sculptures reproduced in the periodical Cahiers d'Art, she complied with his request and recounts that he was able to get his paintings out of the farm at night."

In other words, while Surreal Friends' version of the story has Carrington selling the house & "leaving her own and Ernst's work in a safe place", Leonora Carrington - Surrealism, Alchemy and Art's version has Carrington essentially leaving Ernst in the lurch & making it so that he had to 'steal' his own work back. Wd I've done better than Carrington under such difficult circumstances? Perhaps not, but I'd like to think that I wd have. & it's this type of thing that causes me to question Carrington's qualifications for immigration in Mexico.

Remedios Varo, on the other hand, is a subject that I'm somewhat more sympathetic to. In a sense, tho, she had an early life more conducive to free-thinking than Carrington's upper class British one. Page 46: "Varo's father was an intellectual man, an Esperantist and anti-clergy. He became friends with the Fontbernat-Verdaguers and, in 1911, helped them to found the local cooperative Libera Popolo, in Esperanto 'free people'." But to add weight to my earlier claim that all 3 women were from wealthy families: "From Anglès, the Varos moved to Cadiz where her father was appointed the King of Spain's economic affairs representative in Morocco."

On pages 48-49, Varo is given credit for something that many people are now familiar w/: "The arrival of the French Surrealist Marcel Jean in Barcelona in the summer of 1935 was the catalyst for Varo's formal initiation into Surrealism. With Jean and his artist friends, particularly Dominguez and Francés, Varo created cadavres exquis, exquisite corpses - a Surrealist game that seeks to explore subconscious associations by juxtaposing different images at random".

Alas, even Varo's integrity becomes tarnished for me b/c of "the designs she did for the pharmaceutical company Bayer". I reckon she didn't know that Bayer had sold heroin for 25 yrs as 'non-addictive', had participated in the creation of & profited from gas warfare in WWI, & that they'd used concentration camp internees for torture & slave labor. See: http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-firms/11153-bayer-a-history

&, yes, even Kati Horna was privileged. Page 57: "Kati Horna was born Katerine Deutsch on 19 May 1912, the daughter of a well-to-do Jewish banker, Alejandro Deutsch, and his wife, Margarita."

But, as we sadly know, such privilege was hardly something that anyone of Jewish origin was likely to enjoy for long: "By August 1919 Budapest was an occupied city, and the Romanians had embarked on a campaign of terror against the Communists and Jews - the latter also being seen as Leftists. There were stories of Jews being beaten in the streets and shot in the woods: for Horna and her family, these were dark and unsettling times and it is likely that the instability of her city nurtured what became a very deep-seated desire to get away from Budapest." [..] "And despite the difficulties, Alejandro Deutsch was wealthy enough to keep his family and daughters comfortably well off."

This double-edged sword of wealth & oppression continued: "Horna aligned herself with workers' rights and was eventually fired from her job for taking part in a May Day parade." [..] "Horna's mother gave her the money for her first Rolleiflex" (a type of expensive 35mm still camera). How often do people look at the history of art & wonder: did this person produce work under conditions of privilege or struggle? Not often enuf.

All in all, I liked this bk very much - not so much for the somewhat lifeless academic writing, as for the fantastic artwork made by these 3 women - whose work I'm not likely to get too much of anytime soon. As such, it wasn't until Joanna Moorhead's essay entitled "Surreal Friends in Mexico" that I really started to get annoyed. Moorhead's sexism comes to a head here: "Smart women make sure they are not outshined by even smarter men, because history is pretty consistent about who comes out on top in such partnerships; and as artists who hoped, somewhere inside themselves, to make a contribution to art and perhaps even to be remembered for their art, each of the Surreal Friends - consciously or subconsciously - eventually chose a man whose ambitions would not stifle her own." Never mind that "outshined" was probably meant to be "outshone". Moorhead's point here is that "smart women" shd marry men who stay out of their way - you know, men who act as maintenance men & fuck them when they want it - but otherwise 'know their place & stay there'. If it were written w/ the sexes reversed, it wd be rightly rife for feminist criticism. I find it hard to believe that even the 3 artists under discussion wdn't've found this extremely offensive.

But maybe Carrington & Varo really were art-world bloodsuckers. It seems that Horna was a little less so. "The relationship between the two women [Horna & Varo] was probably an easier one than the relationship between Carrington and Varo, which had at times been strained by how similar the women's work was". Or maybe that's just Moorhead's talking.

Politics does make its appearance & the Olympics mess up even a country willing to take refugees that most countries wdn't touch: "Alongside the student protests, the city was preparing to host the Olympic Games. On 2 October of that year, 10 days before the opening of the Games, troops turned on student protestors in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City. To this day, the death rate is disputed. Some say thousands died; even if that is high as an estimate, the true figure was certainly around 800." The nazis LOVED the Olympics - doesn't that tell the rest of the world anything?!

Carrington "lived with her maid Yolanda". Notice that Yolanda is "her", Carrington's, maid - as if Carrington owned the woman. This shd give you an idea of both the classism of the author here, still the abysmal Moorhead, & of the continuing privilege of Carrington's position. On page 122, there's a particularly revealing section about Edward James, one of Carrington's patrons: "James's lack of time for personal correspondence was, he said, exacerbated by the fact that he moved to Southern California where the situation was rather dire: 'I have been forced to live without servants ... In this respect I am only one of the many thousands in the position of finding that they have for the first time in their lives to do their own housework'." Poor baby, right?!

The author of this section, Sharon-Michi Kusunoki, can join Moorhead in my list of idiots as she goes on to write: "This first letter, which goes on for eight pages, epitomises James's life and sets the stage for his friendship with Carrington - a somewhat anarchic existence where the mundane problems of everyday living are escalated into catastrophic proportions". A "somewhat anarchic existence" here is presumed to mean the usual thing that people unfamiliar w/ the meaning of anarchy 'think' it means: chaotic. But from an anarchist's POV (mine), I find it a little hard to find the "somewhat anarchic existence where the mundane problems of everyday living are escalated into catastrophic proportions" in the life of an independently wealthy man whose vast inheritance insures that he'll never have to work & who finds himself lacking time b/c he has to do housework!! After all, I've worked 2 jobs & still had the time to correspond w/ 1,400 people. In other words, great artists or not, these people are pampered poodles of the 1st order.

When Carrington's rich father died, Carrington was well-off enuf so that she "decided not to accept any inheritance for myself and will put this aside for the Antichrists [her children] as I find money would only further complicate my existence ..." Let's not conflate Carrington & her friends w/ the unfortunates who went to the death camps in Europe - these were the rich people who got away b/c of their wealth & lived safe lives pursuing their pleasures & interests. Their being refugees in Mexico was hardly a hardship like those endured by the poor people who got left behind.

FINALLY, Antonio Rodriguez Rivera's essay, "Mexico: 1939-2010" puts things in a perspective that's sometimes sorely missing from much of the rest of this bk:

"The dictator Porfirio Diaz, who ruled Mexico from 1884 to the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, said on his way into exile in France: 'Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.' Teresa Margolles' installation for Mexico at the Venice Biennale in 2009, What else could we talk about?, was poignant proof of this statement. Her work continues to remind us of the thousands of victims of the narcotic wars in Mexico today, and highlights the ambivalent relationship the country has with its powerful northern neighbor the USA. The enormous demand for illegal drugs in the USA is clearly interlinked with the drugs trade and trafficking in Mexico, as is the hugely profitable arms import for the private armies of the drug cartels from north of the border."

When all's sd & done, Carrington & Varo are still 2 of my favorite painters, & I have a new interest in the work of Horna - wch I'd like to get to know better. If I'd rated this bk on the writing, I might've given it a 2 or 3 star rating - but I've rated it on the quality of the work reproduced instead: so it gets a 4 (out of 5 possible stars). Despite my discomfort w/ the 3 women's privilege, at least they had substantial talent & weren't nazis. I'm not so sure about some of this bk's authors.
… (mais)
tENTATIVELY | 1 outra crítica | Apr 3, 2022 |
The chatty style makes it an easy read about a long and eventful life but it’s lacking deeper examination of Leonora Carrington’s career. I ended up ambivalent about her as a person – on the one hand cheering someone who let nothing hold her back from what she wanted to do, but on the other hand finding her lack of empathy and concern for others problematic. She came from a life of money and privilege and seemed happy to use others for her own ends with no regard for their feelings, taking money and aid from the family she affected to despise, selling off a house and leaving France when her lover was interned as an “enemy alien”, marrying a man who could get her into Mexico only to leave him to live with her artistic friends as soon as she was comfortably settled in the country (though in this story he’s not overly attached anyway), and a host of other things large and small.

On the whole I wanted a deeper understanding of her as an artist, her motivations and inspirations, but then, as it says towards the end of the book she believed it was up to the viewer to interpret her work and refused to comment on it herself - in which case I’ll say I find it a little cartoonish and nowhere near as gripping and nightmarishly inventive as the sublime Dorothea Tanning. Sorry Leonora!
… (mais)
SChant | 1 outra crítica | Apr 16, 2020 |
Pintora y escritora extraordinaria, pionera del surrealismo y figura crucial del arte del último siglo, Leonora Carrington tuvo una vida siempre a contracorriente, tan surrealista como su pintura. Nació en Inglaterra en una familia acomodada, de la que se fugó con apenas veinte años, y pasó temporadas en Francia, España y Portugal antes de embarcarse, junto con gran parte de su generación artística europea, rumbo a América, donde encontró una nueva vida.

Una vida que, como las de Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Frida Kahlo o Peggy Guggenheim, recorre gran parte de los avatares políticos y artísticos del siglo XX.

Esta es su biografía más personal, escrita por su prima Joanna Moorhead, periodista inglesa que se enteró, ya de adulta, de que la famosa Leonora Carrington era familiar suya, y la acompañó durante sus últimos años.
… (mais)
bibliotecayamaguchi | 1 outra crítica | Nov 16, 2017 |
This is the catalogue of an exhibition held at the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, devoted to three women Surrealist artists: Leonora Carrington, Remedious Varo and Kati Horna. Each of these three had to flee Fascist Europe in the 1940s and fled to Mexico, which had taken the decision to give asylum to refugees from Fascism during the Spanish Civil War. The three women came to Mexico in 1943 and fell into the circle of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo (who was sceptical about them). Each had fine Surrealist credentials as well as more general artistic achievements; Horna, for example, was Hungarian-born but did a lot of reportage and photomontage work in Spain during the Civil War and was encouraged by Robert Capa.

Carrington still ives in Mexico City at the age of 93 and is revered by the Mexican establishment as one of their greatest living artists.
… (mais)
RobertDay | 1 outra crítica | Dec 18, 2010 |


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