IN MÁLAGA, OCTOBER, 2017
COMPLETELY FREE: WOMEN ARTISTS AND SURREALISM
Málaga, 9th October, 2017 to 28th January,
MARÍA BLANCHARD AND THE CUBISMS (1916-1927)
Málaga, 6th October, 2017 to 25th February,
ANDREAS JAWLENSKY: ADVENTURES IN COLOUR
Málaga, August, 2017 to January, 2018
PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE REVOLUTION
Málaga, August, 2017 to January, 2018
by Jim Burns
it’s sometimes difficult these days to provide fresh outlooks on art
movements from the past. Exhibitions are held everywhere and
curators must struggle to decide on which approach to take to
attract attention from the critics and the general public.
is certainly not the first exhibition about women artists and
Surrealism that I’ve seen (I recall one in Manchester a few years
ago, Angels of Anarchy: Women
Artists and Surrealism, Manchester Art Gallery, 2009/10
), but it’s certainly among the best. With eighteen artists
represented it offers a wide range of spirited and provocative
paintings which demonstrate how active and important women were to
Surrealism. There was a tendency at one time to see Surrealism as
largely “a male movement of writers that increasingly opened up to
visual artists”. And Leonora Carrington, looking back, remarked, “It
was a group essentially made up of men who treated women as muses”.
That wasn’t how she saw herself as a woman and artist.
probably one of the better-known women linked to Surrealism, and the
exhibition also features work by Dora Maar, Meret Oppenheim, Eileen
Agar, Frida Kahlo, and some others whose names might be recognised.
But I suspect that Maruja Mallo, Angeles Santos, Remedios Varo, and
Germaine Dulac will not be as well-known, other than to specialists.
This isn’t a comment on the quality of their work, and a 1929
painting by Santos
was one of the most striking in the exhibition. We usually associate
Surrealism with Paris and think of it
as a French movement, but it’s interesting to note how much the idea
appealed to Spanish painters like
Santos, Varo, and Mallo. And it’s good to see
the fine American artist, Kay Sage, in the exhibition.
often identified with Picasso and Braque and located in Paris prior to the First World War. But, as an
explanatory note at the start of the exhibition at the Carmen Thyssen
Museum points out, there
were “as many Cubisms as there were artists who practiced it”. The
Spanish painter, Juan Gris, was part of what is referred to as the
“second Cubist experience”, with Gris, María Blanchard, Jean
Meitzenger and Albert Gleizes involved in producing “a synthetic art
of flat geometrical planes which brought together abstraction and
exhibition at the
Carmen Thyssen Museum
focuses primarily on Gris and Blanchard, though with examples of
work by Meitzenger and Gleizes also represented. Gris was in Paris as early as 1906, but according to
Douglas Cooper’s The Cubist
Epoch, he “played no part in the evolution of Cubism during the
following five years because he was earning his living as a humorous
completing on his own his formation as a painter”. When he did start
to work in the Cubist manner he proved to be his own man and was not
simply an imitator of Picasso and Braque. His version of Cubism was
“more rational”. Sadly, Gris died in 1927 at the relatively early
age of 40.
Blanchard doesn’t rate a reference in Cooper’s book, and she
certainly didn’t have an easy time, either as a person or as a
painter. She was born with severe physical disabilities in 1887 in Spain, but persevered with her
training as an artist. It was when she went to Paris in 1909 and met
Gris and other Cubists that she began to develop into a painter of
significance. She seems to have been badly affected emotionally by
the death of a friend and patron, and shortly after by Juan Gris’s
death. Blanchard had a hard time in the early-1930s as worsening
economic circumstances affected sales of her work. She contracted
tuberculosis and died in 1932.
striking about her Cubist compositions, especially the early ones,
is the sheer vibrancy of the colours she used. The paintings catch
the eye immediately on entering the gallery.
Colour is a
major factor in the work of Alexei Jawlensky and his son, Andreas.
The senior Jawlensky (1864-1941) was born in Russia and initially worked in
realist and impressionist styles. He moved to Germany in 1896 and was influenced
by Expressionist ideas, and in fact judging from the work on display
he appears to have absorbed “a wide variety of influences”. I have
to admit that it was possibly because of that fact that I
occasionally found Jawlensky’s work less than exciting. It seemed to
lack character at times. This didn’t stop the Nazis from seeing it
as dangerous, and Jawlensky was included in the notorious exhibition
of “Degenerate Art” in 1937.
Jawlensky was born in 1902 in
and showed promise as an artist from an early age. He “remained in
his father’s shadow for a long time”, though his work was quite
different. He was much more interested in “the surrounding world:
nature, people, and scenes of life”. But, like his father, colour
was a key factor in his canvases.
He had taken out German citizenship and was conscripted into
the army during the Second World War. He was captured by the
Russians and sentenced to ten years imprisonment for “anti-Soviet
activities”. It might have been understandable had the paintings he
produced on his return to
in the 1950s been bleak and reflective of his experiences, but they
are, instead, full of colour and vitality.
The Russian Museum in Málaga is as pleasure to walk
around, and its large exhibition tracing the rise and fall of the
Romanovs is still on display. The final painting of revolutionary
soldiers and sailors in the
Winter Palace leads into a small, but
fascinating exhibition of photographs and posters from the early
days of the Revolution. The photos show crowds demonstrating,
soldiers and armed civilians parading, and Lenin speaking (with
Trotsky carefully cropped out of the picture).
As for the
posters, they perhaps point to the relative flexibility of artistic
ideas that were still acceptable before Stalinism took over and
“Socialist Realism” became the norm that everyone had to adhere to.
Poets and poster designers, inspired by the seeming promises of a
radical overhaul of society, worked together to use avant-garde
ideas to promote messages of solidarity, freedom, and justice. That
it all later went wrong should never be held against them, though
some observers might have suggested that the signs of censorship and
restrictions were already in evidence long before Stalin came to
power. They were probably inherent in the communist system.
Málaga, and interested in Spanish art, could also find it worthwhile
visiting the recently-re-opened Museo de Málaga, which has a large
selection of paintings and sculptures by artists associated with the
city. Picasso is represented, of course, but most of the others will
perhaps not be familiar to non-Spanish viewers. Not all of the works
on display are necessarily first-rate, but they do offer an
enlightening view of life in the city over the years, and the
concerns of its artists.