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List opens ambitious Surrealism exhibit

Mirror Images: Women, Surrealism and Self-Representation, the most broad-reaching exhibition organized by the List Visual Arts Center (LVAC) to date, opens with a reception on Thursday, April 9 from 5:30-7:30pm.

Organized by LVAC Director Katy Kline and Curator Helaine Posner-Dorsky with Whitney Chad-wick, an art historian, author and professor at San Francisco State University, this exhibition is the first to present the self-portraits or self-representations of three generations of women Surrealist or Surrealist-influenced artists. Mirror Images, which was three years in the making, includes almost 100 paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures, dating from 1928 to 1996, by 22 artists from North and Central America, Europe and Japan.

Strongly influenced by Freud's psychiatric studies, the early Surrealistic movement developed as an expression of the workings of the subconscious using unnatural imagery and juxtapositions. Although Surrealists stressed personal psychic investigation and revelation, "none of the better-known male Surrealists, except for Max Ernst, were interested in looking inward through self-portraiture," said Ms. Kline. "Most of the women did, either literally or symbolically."

Significant painted and photographic self-portraits were produced during this period by Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini, Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim, Kay Sage, and Dorothea Tanning, among others.

"Not only did these self-portraits radically challenge existing conventions for representing the female body and female experience; they became important models for later generations of women artists exploring gender, sexuality, nature and culture through self-representations," said Ms. Chadwick, an associate professor of architecture at MIT from 1972-79.

"We began to identify strategies, like using masks or doubles, for defining the self in these earlier works, and we were struck by how many contemporary women artists adopted these same strategies," said Ms. Posner.

For example, parallels can be observed between Claude Cahun's photographic self-portraits of the 1930s and '40s and the work of photographer/filmmaker Cindy Sherman; between the visceral body language of Frida Kahlo and Dorothea Tanning; and the expressions of Louise Bourgeois and Kiki Smith.

Works for the exhibition were gathered from private collections, museums and artists' estates worldwide. "Some of the older works are so fragile, they had to be hand-carried here," said Ms. Kline, noting that the LVAC's shows don't usually include historical works.

Mirror Images is accompanied by a 258-page, illustrated MIT Press publication with essays by the show's curators, art historians Dawn Ades and Dickran Tashjian, Kahlo expert Salomon Grimberg and cultural critic Susan Suleiman. A smaller exhibition guide is also available.

After the exhibition closes at the LVAC on June 28, it will travel to the Miami Art Museum September 18-November 29 and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from January 8-April 20, 1999. The project is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Dorsky Foundation, and Kitty and Herb Glantz.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 8, 1998.

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