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Penned Surrealism- New York

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Penned Surrealism- New York

Mesaj  Admin la data de Joi Iun 04, 2009 10:48 pm

Valery Oisteanu reviews Unica Zürn: Dark Spring, on view at The Drawing Center through July 23.


Unica Zürn, Untitled, 1966. Ink on paper, 9 7/8 x 7-1/2 inches. Courtesy of Collection Bihl-Bellmer. Brinkmann & Bose Publisher, Berlin.

On opening night in The Drawing Center’s main gallery, a palpable vibration filled the room, where mostly artists, critics and art collectors converged to see a rare apparition—that of the “hallucinatory chimeras” of enigmatic German poet/artist Unica Zürn (1916-1970). The work, last shown at the ubu gallery in 2005, once again left a strong impression, the elusiveness and intricacy of Zürn's nightmarish fantasies still potent almost four decades after her suicide at age 54.

Curator Joao Ribas culled several private collections to assemble the absorbing “Dark Spring," an exhibit of unsettling and hypnotic drawings inked in the 1950s and 60s by Zürn while she was constantly battling mental illness. And yet, her art does not reflect her depression, but instead offers delicate and exquisite visions and chimeras. Her few shimmering paintings are almost ephemeral, faded, with detailed biomorphic elements suggesting exotic flowers, birds, fish, and jellyfish, all seemingly in perpetual flotation.

These 50 mostly untitled pieces are intricate and whimsical, prime examples of the surrealist technique of automatic drawing. They offer the viewer a fluid stream of subconscious desire as manifested in delicate, curly lines, smudged ink, twisting spirals that sometimes evolve into faces, and psychedelic creatures that curl in and out of patterned abstraction.

In her novel, “The Man of Jasmine” (1967), Zürn openly confesses: “All her life obsessed with faces, she draws faces. After an initial moment when the pen 'swims' hesitantly on the white paper, she discovers the place assigned to the first eye. It is only when she is being watched from the depths of the paper that she begins to get her bearings and, effortlessly, one motif is added to another.”

Zürn was employed as a scriptwriter at UFA, Germany's national film company, and supposedly was oblivious to the horrors of Nazism until 1945, when by chance she heard an underground radio report about the concentration camps, a revelation that eventually led to her emotional and psychological collapse. During the 1950s, still in Berlin, Zürn wrote numerous expressionistic short stories, published in German newspapers, before moving to Paris with Hans Bellmer. During the following decade and a half, Zürn produced paintings and drawings, exhibiting with surrealist artists such as Henri Michaux, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp. Her hallucinations were often brought on by visions of Nazi atrocities, her guilt of being a German, and a series of harrowing abortions.

Zürn also composed nearly 124 playful anagram poems (1953-1964), and later wrote her second “mad love” autobiographical novel, “Dark Spring” (1969), which predicted in detail her death, and from which the current show draws its title. It was Henri Michaux who supplied Zürn, ensconced in a sanitarium near the end of her life, with notebooks and ink, and he is the one who rescued the art that resulted by retrieving most of them during subsequent visits. It was also rumored that a love affair with Michaux, and becoming involved in his mescaline experiments as part of his research into human consciousness, helped trigger her bouts with depression—along with the bouts of creation so amply evident here.

Phantasmagorical creatures hover at the center of Zürn's sketchbook pages, as if without gravity, bearing multiple sets of eyes, breasts, limbs, and orifices, but in a somewhat zoological order: birds up high, cat in the middle, snakes and fish below, all dated and signed. Some photos of the artist reveal an attractive, intelligent, unsmiling face, even in her role as lover, muse, and sadomasochistic collaborator with Bellmer (the inventor of sexually mutant dolls). She posed for his disturbing black-and-white photographs, bound tight by ropes digging deeply into her flesh, turning her body into a grotesquely coiled sack of bulbous flesh.

Sad and haunting, with a delicate feminine touch, these magical drawings reveal one of the most febrile imaginations among surrealists. Intense and otherworldly, her work offers a perspective into a private subconscious domain that contemporary artists, particularly those interested in psychedelic art, will find richly rewarding.

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review published in: nyartsmagazine

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