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Dorothea Tanning obituary

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Post  eddie Fri Feb 03, 2012 9:16 pm

Dorothea Tanning obituary

Painter, sculptor and poet with a vivid, dreamlike style

Christopher Masters

The Guardian, Thursday 2 February 2012

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Dorothea Tanning's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943), now part of the Tate collection. Photograph: Dorothea Tanning Collection and Archive

The American artist Dorothea Tanning, who has died aged 101, was a talented painter whose reputation was confounded by her long marriage to the great surrealist Max Ernst. He figures prominently in her autobiography Birthday (1986), but Tanning was not an acolyte or imitator of Ernst. Her own vivid, dreamlike images are highly distinctive, more gothic than surreal.

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If anything, in her mid-70s Dorothea Tanning became more productive than ever. Photograph: Peter Ross

The manic lucidity and graphic strength of her early work is characterised by the ironically titled Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943), now in the Tate's collection, in which an immense, writhing sunflower appears as animated as the figure of a girl, with her hair on end, standing in an apparently endless corridor. Even more celebrated is the 1942 self-portrait Birthday (held by the Philadelphia Museum of Art), in which Tanning's elegant, bare-breasted figure, set amidst infinitely receding doors, is juxtaposed with a hippogriff seemingly borrowed from a painting by Ingres.

Oddly for a woman not usually lost for words, Tanning had difficulties in finding the title for this picture, which was apparently proposed by Ernst, who had recently arrived from France and was introduced to her by the dealer Julian Levy. Ernst visited Tanning's studio while selecting works by female surrealists for the Art of This Century gallery owned by his wife, Peggy Guggenheim. He stayed for a game of chess, and his relationship with Dorothea endured until his death in 1976.

Tanning's childhood in Galesburg, Illinois, is powerfully evoked in her second memoir, Between Lives: An Artist and Her World (2001). Her upbringing in a milieu of eerie, bourgeois calm clearly fed into her art, with its autobiographical tone and childhood imagery. Her formal artistic education was limited, consisting of three weeks at the Chicago Academy of Art. She spent several years in Chicago before migrating to New York in the mid-1930s.

While working as a commercial artist in Manhattan, Tanning evolved an artistically conservative, literary style inspired by gothic novels as well as the seminal exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, which she saw at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1936. She went to Paris three years later in search of the surrealists, only to discover that they had already fled as the second world war approached.

Tanning and Ernst married in 1946, after he and Guggenheim divorced. They initially lived in Sedona, Arizona, a remote desert hamlet in which they built a rough-hewn house of three rooms. When Ernst was refused American citizenship, they moved in 1957 to France, first to Paris and the Loire valley and subsequently to Provence.

Tanning's postwar painting continued many of her familiar themes, although from the mid-50s she moved to a more obscure, fragmented style. The biomorphic forms in these works, which she called "prism" paintings or "insomnias", to some extent anticipated her later sculpture, which by the late 60s consisted of surreal, cloth figures made with a Singer sewing machine. The truncated anatomies, which perhaps bear a passing resemblance to much later creations by Sarah Lucas, have their own distinct presence, especially when arranged in disorientating installations such as Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (1970-73), which is held by the Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris.

As they gradually outlived many of the first generation of surrealists, Tanning and the British painter Leonora Carrington (a former lover of Ernst's) faced similar challenges. Instead of becoming avant-garde monuments, they worked into their 80s and continued to exhibit. If anything, in her mid-70s Tanning became more productive than ever.

After Ernst's death, Tanning returned to Manhattan. In 1994 she endowed the Wallace Stevens award, an annual prize of $100,000 to an outstanding American poet. She had a genuine artistic integrity which shone through the poems that she wrote in her later years. Her writing speaks clearly, and with considerable subtlety, about both her artistic concerns and her life as a whole, as in these lines from Coming to That, a collection published by Graywolf Press in 2011:

If Art would only talk it would, at last, reveal
itself for what it is, what we all burn to know.

Are You?, which opens her poetry collection A Table of Content (2004), is an even more profound statement about identity and self-reliance:

If an expatriate is, as I believe, someone
who never forgets for an instant
being one,
then, no.
But, if knowing that you always
tote your country around
with you, your roots,
a lump
… that being elsewhere packs a vertigo,
a tightrope side you cannot
pass up, another way
to show
how not to break your pretty neck
falling on skylights:
… then, yes.

Tanning is survived by three nieces and a nephew.

• Dorothea Tanning, painter, sculptor and poet, born 25 August 1910; died 31 January 2012
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Post  eddie Fri Feb 03, 2012 9:21 pm

Dorothea Tanning, surrealist artist, dies aged 101

Tanning was the last living member of the surrealist movement, wife of Max Ernst and published her first novel at the age of 94

Alex Needham, Thursday 2 February 2012 15.23 GMT

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Dorothea Tanning at home circa 1955 in the south of France – the surrealist artist and writer has died aged 101. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The artist Dorothea Tanning has died in New York aged 101. She was the last living member of the surrealist movement, whose circle she joined in 1940s Paris. In 1946, she married Max Ernst in a double wedding with the photographic artist Man Ray and Juliet Browner. Their marriage lasted until Ernst's death in 1976.

From her first picture, aged 15, of a nude woman with leaves for hair, Tanning's paintings, sculptures and drawings almost always depicted the female human form, usually in strange, dreamlike scenarios. By the 50s she had abandoned surrealism in favour of more abstract "prism paintings".

In 2002 she told Salon: "I guess I'll be called a surrealist forever, like a tattoo: D. Loves S. But please don't say I'm carrying the surrealist banner. The movement ended in the 50s and my own work had moved on so far by the 60s that being a called a surrealist today makes me feel like a fossil!"

Her work is in the collections of many galleries around the world including the Tate and MoMA in New York, and influenced artists including Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois.

Tanning found further acclaim late in life through her writing. Her first novel was published when she was 94, while her poetry featured in such eminent publications as the New Republic and the Paris Review. In 2001 she published a memoir of her long and action-packed life.

Tanning was born in 1910 in Galesburg, Illinois, moving to New York in 1936, where she saw the MoMA show Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, which persuaded her that there was a place for her work. She went to Paris in 1940, where she met Ernst two years later. She said proudly that he never called her "wife", adding "I'm very much against the arrangement of procreation, at least for humans. If I could have designed it, it would be a toss-up who gets pregnant, the man or woman."

As well as painting and sculpture, she designed sets for the legendary choreographer George Balanchine, and a house in the south of France for her and Ernst. Their circle of friends included Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marcel Duchamp, Truman Capote and Dylan Thomas.

Though she concentrated on her writing in later years, her work continued to be shown in galleries, and is currently featured in an exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art called In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.

Tanning would not have enjoyed the title, once describing the term "woman artist" as "disgusting". She also said: "Art has always been the raft on to which we climb to save our sanity. I don't see a different purpose for it now."

A statement from MoMA said: "We are saddened by the loss of two great artists today: Dorothea Tanning and Mike Kelley."
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