I may or may not be partial to Frida Kahlo’s Autorretrato con Collar because the cat in is the spitting image of my handsome black cat, Mung.
I’m a female, Mexican-American artist, so as soon as I heard about In Wonderland at LACMA, I emailed my mother and set a date to see it with her. Not only would there be Kahlos (I can’t be the only little girl who grew up simultaneously scared to death of and totally in love with the work of the woman whose image I was as familiar with as Our Lady of Guadalupe), there would be work from Francesca Woodman (every female, teenage art student’s wet dream, amirite?), Maya Deren (My other cat’s name is Glamour Girl, the cat she shared with Alexander Hammid), Louise Bourgeois, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo, Yayoi Kusama, pretty much every badass female artist living and working in the US & Mexico around the same time as dudes were painting melting clocks.
Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon was the opener of the exhibit. While this was totally sick, what was even sicker was winding through the exhibit and occasionally hearing the soundtrack for it, contributing to the show’s extreme nonlinearness.
While I’m not in love with the name of the exhibit (I don’t necessarily think “grown ass female artist making pretty revolutionary work” when I think Alice), the subtitle, The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and The United States, does something that, at least for me, was a pretty big deal from the get-go. For about 2 or 3 years now (because of Black Dahlia Avenger, I admit), the word “Surrealism” has sort of been a dirty word for me. I mean, duh, the work’s great, but those guys were misogynistic d-bags who basically stole an entire movement from their mothers (That may be a stretch, but if anyone can remember the name of the exhibit that showcased the insane photo collages of the mothers of Surrealists, plz let me know). Laaaaame. So in addition to Kahlo & Krew (BEST. GIRL GANG. EVER.) not generally being labeled Surrealists, that whole movement was starting to seem pretty tired and icky to me.
But then along came Ilene Susan Fort and Tere Arcq to punch my brain in the face with the biggest “DUH” I never thought of. These women were totally Surrealists, and their work is work that not only I can fall into the rabbit hole of (nyuck nyuck nyuck), but my mom can, too! And Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans, both populations almost never addressed in the fine art world. And that is exactly what makes this exhibition so amazing. It is a collection of Surrealist works that utilize the visual and emotional vernacular of those generally seen as “other,” a group I am firmly planted in, a group that most people I know are firmly planted in, and you know what? It is just as mind-blowing as the work of the Surrealist men. I actually maybe even like most of it better. Snap.
What most affected me about going to see In Wonderland was not the work, for the most part quite influential to me; it was all of these people, a majority of them women, many of them people of color, being so pumped to see the work. The crowd around Las Dos Fridas gave me an anxiety attack I haven’t experienced since the Mona Lisa. In the end, this show is way more than just a celebration of the female Surrealists; it is celebration of all those who look at these works and think “Finally, someone who gets me.”
In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States is at LACMA until May 6, 2012, when it will be traveling to Quebec and Mexico City.