Not Oprah’s Book Club: In Wonderland

For far too long, surrealism has been associated with solely male minds. Exhibit A: Wikipedia’s accounting of the infamous crew: Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret, René Crevel, Robert Desnos, Jacques Baron, Max Morise, Pierre Naville, Roger Vitrac, Gala Éluard, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Hans Arp, Georges Malkine, Michel Leiris, Georges Limbour, Antonin Artaud, Raymond Queneau, André Masson, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, and Yves Tanguy.

Notice anything? Yeah, not a lot of ladies in the house. But in fact, as this powerful new collection proves, female artists in the movement were a powerful force–delving deeply into their own subconscious and dreams. In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, edited by Ilene Susan Fort and Tere Arcq with Terri Geis, is a volume that accompanied an exhibition coorganized by the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art and the Museu de Arts Moderno in Mexico City.

It is a journey, not just through the Americas, but through the unconscious. You’ll find powerful collage work, provocative photography, mythic paintings, and more. Little known pieces by famous artists, like Frida Khalo, but also less household names like Kay Sage and Dorethea Tanning. There is so much to revisit and rediscover here.

There are great essays here, too–accessible and yet complex. I’m impartial to Maria Elena Buszek‘s, as I know her to be a badass in real life. She writes a chapter called “Eros and Thanatos: Surrealism’s Legacy in Contemporary Feminist Art,” in which she brings deep art history chops to bear on how our feminist consciousness was shaped by the indignities of surrealism’s male dominated scene. I’ll give one of her experts, feminist author Angela Carter, the last word: “I knew I wanted my fair share of the imagination, too. Not an excessive amount, mind; I wasn’t greedy. Just an equal share in the right to vision.”

Damn straight.

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