Wendy Norris Presents "Unknown but Knowable States"

  • by Chris Sosa, BAR Contributor
  • Tuesday February 5, 2013
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The late American artist Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) began her painting career firmly ensconced among the Surrealists. In the 1940s, through New York art dealer Julien Levy, she met the earliest Surrealists, refugees from Nazi Germany, and she would eventually marry seminal modern artist Max Ernst. But over the course of a long life and art practice, Tanning moved through many art styles and interests. Over 30 of her paintings, sculptures and drawings are now on view in "Unknown but Knowable States," running through March 2 at Gallery Wendi Norris (161 Jessie St., SF).

The show, the first to occupy the gallery's entire 5,000-sq.-ft. space, begins with Tanning's abstract works from the 1960s, and follows her return to more figurative work in the 1970s. Her large, virtuosic painting "Chiens de Cythere" (Dogs of Cythera) (1963) serves as a sort of centerpiece, testament to the artist's ongoing interest in depicting interior states of being. In later works, Rubenesque female nudes bend and curl into abstract space in an unusual and lyric blending of figure and ground.

The exhibition includes two soft sculptures, a "Traffic Sign" (1970) made of fabric, synthetic fur, wool, metal, and cardboard; and "Etreinte" (1969), a construction of wool flannel and fake fur stuffed with wool. Both pieces look back to Tanning's roots in Surrealism, especially recalling Meret Oppenheim's "Object" (Le Dejeuner en fourrure) (1936), a teacup, saucer and spoon that the artist famously covered with fur harvested from a Chinese gazelle.

Tanning also published two poetry collections, two memoirs and a short novel before her death last year at age 101. This posthumous gallery show is a fitting capstone to an extraordinary life and career.

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