It’s Groundhog Day!

Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow in the eponymous Pennsylvania town that feeds the rodent. And Donald Trump has endorsed (wait for it …) NEWT GINGRICH!

Uh, whoops. They reported FUTURE news, and Donald, being such a model of consistency, changed his mind at the last minute and endorsed Romney.

And so, we finally know what that creature on top of his head is. Turns out, it was a groundhog all along, and, attached to “the Donald,” it couldn’t STAND for any other groundhog to upstage it. Mystery solved. Case closed. What else?

And the last of the Surrealists has died.

Birthday (1942)

Dorothea Tanning has died at 101.

Dorothea Tanning, a leading Surrealist painter of the 1930s whose path had led her from the small town of Galesburg, Ill., to a whirlwind life in the international art world, died on Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 101.

Her death was confirmed by Mimi Johnson, a niece.

Married for 30 years to the Surrealist painter and sculptor Max Ernst, Ms. Tanning became well known in her own right for her vivid renderings of dream imagery. Much later in life, after she had reached 80, she gained a different kind of attention when she began to concentrate on writing, producing a novel, an autobiography and poems that appeared in The New Yorker, The Yale Review and The Paris Review… [New York Times]

Here is the official statement from her website:

It is my sad duty to announce that Dorothea Tanning has passed away. She died peacefully in her home in New York City on January 31. She was 101 years old.

Dorothea Tanning led a truly remarkable life, not because she lived so long but because she lived so fully. As a young woman, she pursued her dreams to become an artist, and now leaves behind a significant body of painting, sculpture, and works on paper created over the course of six decades. For 34 years, she shared a loving partnership with her husband, Max Ernst, first in the United States and later in France. After his death in 1976, she returned to New York and demonstrated that it is never to late to begin a new chapter in life. In her mid-seventies, she became more productive than ever in her studio, and in her mid-eighties launched a new and successful career as a writer and poet. She worked until her last days, publishing her second book of poems, Coming to That, in the fall of 2011.

This website aims to serve as an introduction and tribute to Dorothea Tanning’s life and work. It is an ongoing project of The Dorothea Tanning Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the artist’s legacy.

Pamela S. Johnson
Director, The Dorothea Tanning Foundation

But this remembrance kind of says it all:

Tanning tolerates nothing of the lexicon of feminism; not since her 20s has she endured the label ‘woman artist’ or now ‘the widow of Max Ernst’. She shakes this off, including the continuing Surrealist label, or being called the sole Surrealist surviving into the twenty-first century. Always a self-determining artist, usually with private studio space, Tanning points out with fervor that she has progressed beyond Surrealist painting for fifty years. She has turned to writing during the latter part of her life due to frail health and has written two autobiographies, a novel, and several highly acclaimed poems. Her poem “No Palms” was selected for inclusion in The Best American Poetry 2000.

Because she is herself; she is an artist, unique and her own person, not some pawn of some greater movement or school or representative of some abstract category, and that is what is important.

This is personally a sad day for me: the thing that “turned me on” to art, back in junior high school, was a PBS poster for some show that was a blowup of Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory,” which I later saw at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, a small painting, only the size of a standard sheet of paper. Dubbed by one of his contemporaries “Surrealism’s Greatest Hit.”*

Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” 1932

[* At then end of a long odyssey, one of the great epiphanies of my life was having an entire room of Giorgio de Chiricos to myself, while retirees shuffled in uncomprehending packs to have Jackson Pollock explained to them by the curators guiding the Geritol Tours. I am unashamed to say that I wept.]

Giorgio de Chirico, Hector and Andromache (1931)

I fell out of love with Dali’s ultimately creepy — if technically superb — paintings, in favor of my almost-favorite surrealist, René Magritte, and my all-time favorite, Max Ernst, from whom I learned to throw my eraser away — Ernst said “GO WITH IT,'” whenever you make a mistake; it’s part of the piece.

René Magritte “Mask”

As with all art movements and fads, surrealism bloomed for a short time and then everybody moved on to whatever else.

Max Ernst, “Napoleon in the Wilderness”

But Tanning was a living link to that amazing movement, and those incredible artists, and now, in the second decade of the Twenty-First Century, she has passed on.

A lot of claptrap was written about Surrealism — not the least of which was by the Surrealists themselves, heavily influenced by Freud — including Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, which gave the movement its official name, IIRC.

Man Ray — who was married in a double wedding, along with Ernst and Tanning in 1948 — invented solarization and remains, to my mind, entirely too neglected in the Surrealist pantheon.

Man Ray Solarisation 1931

I have thought for many years that Freud fell backwards into the Sixth Bardo (see the Tibetan Book of the Dead”) and then his friend and later rival Carl Jung fell backwards into the Fifth Bardo, but for some silly reason, art historians and writers (motto: if you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance, baffle ‘em with bullshit”*) have always taken the Surrealists at their word and written entirely too much about Freud and the Surrealist Movement, but, really, the concrete absurdity of the dream draws an archetypal response from we humans.

[* I used to typeset art magazines, and there seems only one hard and fast rule in art writing: You must use these two terms at least ONCE in any piece on art, although no brave soul has yet combined them: "Luminous," and "angst."]

Quiet Willow Window – Dorothea Tanning, 1998

No need to maunder on, of course: all die. Everything ends.

But that last link to a beloved time has passed away, and something must needs be said.

Rest in Rutabagas covered with pinwheels and melting watches, Dorothea Tanning.

And Happy Groundhog Day.

Some guy, 2011


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