The phantasmagorical works of surrealist British/Mexican artist Leonora Carrington – known for her haunting, autobiographical paintings that incorporate images of sorcery, metamorphosis, alchemy and the occult – are being featured in a splendid retrospective housed in Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno until September 23.
Record-breaking crowds are filling the museum to see “Cuentos Magicos,” which brings together more than 200 works from various collections around the world, including the Perez Simon Collection and that of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico; the NYC Met collection and Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Mattise Collection in the United States, and several more in Europe.
It’s a show that any serious art enthusiast who happens to be visiting the capital this fall should not miss.
Carrington was born in 1917 to a family headed by a wealthy textile manufacturer in Clayton Green, Lancashire, England. She attended Mrs. Penrose’s Academy of Art in Florence after being sent there for being incorrigibly rebellious. She was only ten when she first saw a surrealist painting, in a gallery in Paris’ famous Left Bank. She would become acquainted later with many famous painters working in the genre, including Paul Eduard, a key founder of the movement. Upon her return to London she furthered her studies at Chelsea School of Art and the Ozenfant Academy. Shortly after viewing a painting by surrealist Max Ernst, who was exhibiting in a London gallery, she became intrigued by its author. They became a couple, living in France until the outbreak of World War II, when Ernst, after being arrested multiple times by the Gestapo for his “degenerate art,” fled Europe for the United States with the assistance of Peggy Guggenheim.
After Ernst’s departure, Carrington suffered a breakdown in Spain, where she was interned in a hospital. Years after fleeing the Iberian Peninsula for Mexico she shared her traumatic experiences suffered as a hospital patient in her novel “Down Below.”
Carrington established herself in Mexico in part thanks to Renato Leduc, a Mexican diplomat and artist — and friend to Pablo Picasso — who she married to facilitate her passage across the Atlantic. They divorced in 1943.
Carrington settled down in Mexico and focused her artistic attentions on magical realism and alchemy, using autobiographical detail and symbolism as the subjects of her paintings. Writes Whitney Chadwick in her book “Women, Art, and Society”: “Carrington was interested in presenting female sexuality as she experienced it, rather than as that of male surrealists’ characterization of female sexuality.”
Carrington’s work often features horses, a fascination that began in her childhood.
In addition to her paintings, Carrington also created sculptures, some of which are on public display in the capital. She was a prolific writer, publishing ten books, including several volumes of short stories.
Carrington’s contribution to surrealism became more recognized toward the end of her life. In 2005, Christie’s sold her work “The Juggler” for US$713,000, setting a new record for the highest price paid at auction for a living surrealist painter. And in 2009,”The Giantess” sold for almost US$1.5 million.
Carrington died of pneumonia on May 25, 2011, at age 94, in Mexico City.
The Mexico City exhibition is being curated by Stefan van Raay and Tere Arcq, both known quantities in the world of surrealism.
Raay, who previously had a hand in the creation of “Surreal Friends,” an exhibition built around the story of a friendship between Carrington, Spanish painter Remedios Varo and Hungarian photographer Kati Horna in Cardenas-era Mexico, sees as the fundamental raison d’être for the present exhibit a wish to “get to know the spirit of Leonora Carrington through her works in a variety of mediums.” He indicated that, in addition to murals, paintings and drawings authored by Carrington, museum goers can peruse a collection of sculptures, masks, rugs, photographs, assorted documents, books and personal objects pertaining to the artist.