Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism

Wednesday 17th June 2009

26 September 2009 10 January 2010 Manchester Art Gallery Tickets: 6 (concessions 4, free entry for under 18s and Manchester Art Gallery Friends)

The first major exhibition of women artists and Surrealism to be held in Europe, Angels of Anarchy, opens this autumn at Manchester Art Gallery. Featuring over 100 artworks by 33 women artists, the exhibition is a celebration of the crucial, but at the time not fully recognised, role that women artists have played within Surrealism.

Paintings, prints, photographs, surreal objects and sculptures by well-known international artists including Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim, Leonora Carrington and Lee Miller will be exhibited alongside works by artists less well-known in the UK, such as Emila Medková, Jane Graverol, Mimi Parent, Kay Sage and Francesca Woodman. Manchester Art Gallery is the only venue for this exhibition, making it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the works of so many significant women artists displayed together, with many of the works on loan from international public and private collections.

Angels of Anarchy includes some of the most important, radical (and sometimes still shocking) Surrealist works produced during the 20th century by women artists from across the globe, including artists from Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Mexico, Switzerland, the UK and the USA.

The exhibition is an ambitious exploration of how women artists have responded to and challenged the traditionally male-dominated artistic subjects of landscape, portraiture, still-life, the domestic interior and fantasy within the Surrealist genre. Through these five themes, the show reveals how these women have developed, enriched and significantly reshaped Surrealism to create an empowering and erotic art form which speaks of their experiences as women and as artists.

Among the best-known and most significant artworks in the show are: Leonora Carrington’s Self-Portrait (The Inn of the Dawn Horse) (c. 1937-38) and Meret Oppenheim’s iconic objects Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers (1936) and Squirrel (1973/4). The show also includes the rare exhibition of two of Eileen Agar’s most famous works together: Angel of Anarchy (1936 - 40) and the counterpart Angel of Mercy (1936).

Frida Kahlo’s exquisite self-portrait Diego and I (1949) features in the exhibition together with a number of her significant, yet little known still-lifes such as Still Life with Parrot and Flag (1951) and a selection of intimate photographic portraits of the artist by Lola Álvarez Bravo. The exhibition also includes a selection of photographs of women artists by Lee Miller and Dora Maar, a series of androgynous and highly theatrical self-portraits by Claude Cahun, and several haunting self-portraits by Francesca Woodman.

A number of the works on display have rarely been on public display, including a Cast of Lee Miller’s Torso (c. 1942), while other works by lesser-known artists have never been shown in public before, such as the arresting Mouth with Ear (1973) by Penny Slinger and Josette Exandier’s La Caresse (1995).

Angels of Anarchy also includes a selection of ephemera such as poetry, books, photographs, letters and cards to illustrate the fascinating relationships between many of the Surrealist artists. In addition, it features a number of Surrealist objects and works on paper (known as ‘Exquisite Corpses’) made collaboratively by female and male members of the Surrealist group. These, in particular, demonstrate some of the unconventional and playful ways the artists challenged the male tradition of working individually.

Between September and January, Manchester Art Gallery is hosting a full programme of events, talks and lectures to coincide with the exhibition, including lectures by author (and son of Lee Miller) Antony Penrose, art historian Dr Alyce Mahon, and the exhibition curator Dr Patricia Allmer. The gallery is also holding lunchtime tours, workshops with contemporary artists influenced by Surrealism, and surrealist poetry workshops and readings alongside the exhibition. In addition, Manchester’s Cornerhouse cinema is showcasing a Surreal film series, featuring women filmmakers such as Germaine Dulac, Bady Minck and Nelly Kaplan.

Accompanying the exhibition is a fully-illustrated scholarly catalogue, edited by selector Dr Patricia Allmer, exhibition curator and Research Fellow in Art History at Manchester Metropolitan University. The catalogue includes over 100 colour plates of works featured in the exhibition, together with seven essays by leading international scholars in the study of Surrealism. The book is published by Manchester Art Gallery in partnership with Prestel Publishing.


For more information please contact Jenny Davies, Communications Manager, Manchester Art Gallery.
Tel: 0161 235 8864.

Date issued: 15 June 2009

Notes to editors

Exhibition supported by the Northwest Regional Development Agency.

The accompanying book will include essays by:
  • Professor Roger Cardinal, Emeritus Professor of Literary & Visual Studies at the University of Kent University of Kent, Canterbury
  • Professor Mary Ann Caws, Distinguished Professor of English, French, and Comparative Literature and in the Film Studies Program at the Graduate School of the City University of New York
  • Professor Georgiana Colvile, Professor Emeritus of Anglophone Studies at the Université de Tours, France
  • Professor Katharine Conley, Professor of French and Associate Dean for the Arts and Humanities at Dartmouth College
  • Dr Alyce Mahon, Senior Lecturer in the History of Art and a Fellow of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge.
  • Dr Donna Roberts, Independent Scholar
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