Reviews Gallery and visitor reviews of the Angels of Anarchy exhibition en-uk We are all ghosts ( Whoever said it’s hard to be a woman wasn’t being flippant. Sometimes it is. We are defined by what we should be: good mothers, great lovers, and women with meaningful careers. We are told we can have it all – but only, it seems, if we play by the rules.

Read the complete article by Susie Stubbs at

Wed, 16 Dec 2009 00:00:00 +0000
The inner Other (red pepper The art establishment has not always paid much attention to the women who actively participated in the milieu of surrealism, as though their only roles were as the muses or spouses of male geniuses. This view denies the importance of a number of women artists whose own creative output merits much greater esteem in its own right, and whose work has only belatedly been brought to wider attention in recent years.

Read the complete review by Michael Calderbank in red pepper online.

Mon, 14 Dec 2009 00:00:00 +0000
My discovery of the year ( I saw an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery about women in the surrealist movement called Angels of Anarchy.

Read Guy Garvey's comments in full at

Fri, 11 Dec 2009 00:00:00 +0000
Engel, in eigene Probleme verstrickt (NZZ Online) In mehr als einhundert Werken räumt eine Schau über Künstlerinnen und den Surrealismus mit der Vorstellung auf, die Bewegung sei einzig eine Domäne männlicher Phantasiewelten gewesen. Die Ausstellung «Angels of Anarchy» in der Manchester Art Gallery versammelt bekannte Namen und lädt zu Entdeckungen ein.

Read the complete review by Marion Löhndorf in NZZOnline.

Tue, 01 Dec 2009 00:00:00 +0000
Fighting to be seen (Natalie Bradbury) When the author Jeanette Winterson addressed the crowd at the opening of Angels of Anarchy, she praised the exhibition for addressing the historical imbalance between male and female artists. Women, she said, had all too often been ‘written out of the pages of the history books’, forced to occupy a ‘silent space’ in the world of art, defined in relation to the men around them.

Few artists in the exhibition exemplify, and transcend, this phenomenon better than Lee Miller. Vogue model and muse/lover of Man Ray turned photographer, her work is amongst the most eye-catching and unsettling in the exhibition, be it focused on the rubble of bomb sites or an uncomfortable image of severed, post-mastectomy breasts presented on a plate for consumption.

Just as the surrealist movement as a whole encouraged people to look again at the world, to find the extraordinary in the everyday, the women in the movement promoted a new way of seeing. But they went one step further than their male counterparts, finding new ways of looking at things that had all too often been filtered through a male gaze. From murky, dramatic landscapes to the playful, identity-shifting self-portraiture of Claude Cahun, and Frida Kahlo’s narrative still-lifes, they reclaimed as their own traditional art forms.

These women were fighting to be seen, and nowhere is this new way of looking/seeing better shown than in the photographic portraits the women took of their fellow artists. These women aren’t sitting meekly, like female portrait subjects throughout time; they pose with their artworks, defining themselves as creators rather than mere objects. This way of seeing not only looks at the world but meets it defiantly, engages with it, staring it proudly in the eyes.

Lee Miller’s self-portrait flanked by sphinxes, a symbol of female power, leaves no doubt about how women saw their rightful place in society; these women also typified a new way of being. And not only being, but being seen to exist, leading lives just as full and rich as the men who were at the forefront of the surrealist movement. They were preoccupied with establishing a presence in the world, leaving traces of themselves that would go down in history – literally, in the case of Lee Miller, whose plaster cast of her torso is engraved with a map that represents her cosmopolitan, globe-trotting lifestyle.

These artists are constantly trying to insert themselves, and each other, in the pages of history books. They force themselves into vision, cropping up in each other’s works, from Lee Miller’s collages of fellow artists to Leonor Fini’s painting of Leonora Carrington.

The most striking artist in the exhibition is Francesca Woodman. In her videos, Woodman flicks through pages of traditional male nudes before turning the notions of portraiture on their head by daubing her body with paint and turning herself into a painting. She also makes her mark by imprinting her body onto a layer of dust on the floor. Like many of the artists in the exhibition, she questions ideas of identity – tearing up representations of her body, slowly and carefully writing out her name and gradually unveiling herself from behind a screen. Her body of work is all the more extraordinary when you learn she killed herself at the age of 22.

Woodman’s photographic work is especially affecting because of its ordinariness, its setting of recognisable yet menacing interiors, which trap women with dark, oppressive corners and suggestions of domestic activity. It’s easy to project yourself into her scenes – it’s as if they speak for any woman or every woman, and her dreams of escape from fixed routines and conventions.

Natalie Bradbury writes the blog The Shrieking Violet, and edits the Manchester-based fanzine of the same name.

Fri, 06 Nov 2009 00:00:00 +0000
Exuberance and energy (Katherine Woodfine) Stepping down the dark red tunnel and entering Angels of Anarchy is like emerging into a hushed treasure trove of elaborate, otherworldly curiosities. There is so much to discover here, from Méret Oppenheim’s theatrical surrealist objects to the disturbed domestic spaces of Dorothea Tanning’s eerie gothic paintings; Frida Kahlo’s exuberant still-lifes to the elaborate, unquiet fantasy landscapes of Leonora Carrington. What is more, this selection of artworks from three generations of female surrealists is accompanied by a fascinating miscellany of ephemera – from the limited edition books and little magazines so essential to the development of the avant-garde movement, to personal letters, drawings, and even a tarot pack designed by Ithell Colquhoun.

But for me, the real treasure amongst this rich and diverse assembly is the selection of portraits. Much of the work in this section is less overtly surreal: instead, Eileen Agar’s illustrative pen and ink drawing, and Leonor Fini’s line and wash work are delicately graceful and understated; whilst Lee Miller’s warm and evocative portraits of her fellow artists are elegant, though often subtly uncanny. Yet interestingly it is also Miller who offers us one of the most troubling and indeed profoundly surreal self-portraits in this exhibition – a photograph of an amputated breast laid out on a plate, complete with knife, fork and napkin, as if ready for consumption. Meanwhile, looking at Claude Cahun’s miniature self-portraits is like peeping through a series of tiny windows at the disorientated artist-subject as she performs a whole series of different identities before the viewer. It is in this section that the complexities of female subjectivity, the tension between woman as muse and woman as creator, really begin to unravel themselves in full.

Like so many of the other twentieth century avant-garde art movements, surrealism has always seemed the enclave of iconic male artists: Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, André Breton and the rest. Yet the strikingly feminist artworks that make up this exhibition are easily as original and subversive as the better-known works of their male contemporaries, mounting a powerful, but often distinctively mischievous challenge to the conventions of art, as well as to the orthodox gender politics of their contemporaries. Especially intriguing is an array of drawings from the surrealist game Exquisite Corpse, where art becomes the product of a communal creative activity, no longer the preserve of the individual (male) artistic genius, working in isolation, but something altogether more exuberant.

In the end, it was this sense of exuberance and energy that for me was most striking – and indeed, most enjoyable – about my delve into this haunting assemblage of artworks: Angels of Anarchy is above all an encounter with the dynamism and vitality of this secret history of twentieth-century avant-garde art.

Katherine Woodfine blogs at Follow The Yellow Brick Road.

Fri, 06 Nov 2009 00:00:00 +0000
Food for the soul (E.P. Niblock) I confess to an enduring affinity for antiquity, for the craggy, gnarly and careworn that encompasses not just the carbuncled nooks and crannies of our cityscapes but extends to its citizens. In a world that worships the new and pristine, which courts eternal youth and fetishises perfection, this predilection for the wisdom and eccentricity that often only comes with age is inevitably regarded as peculiar bordering on perverse.

As a 148-year-old bewildered bluestocking unexpectedly liberated into the present day, it’s only natural that I would seek out other aged crones – spirited, intrepid and unapologetically unconventional females whose lives and adventures feed the soul. But where to find them amongst the airbrushed, celebrity-endorsed lives of today’s prominent women, whose escapades seem limited to spending sprees and endless cosmetic surgery? There is precious little to feed the soul in these limited visions of female aspiration.

But delve back in time and a multitude of extraordinary women hover in the shadows, expunged from mainstream narratives, eager to be rediscovered, aired, emancipated.

Angels of Anarchy at Manchester Art Gallery takes as its fundamental premise this unspoken invisibility of women in the history books. This is an exhibition which, by investigating the careers of female artists in surrealism, completely reinvigorates its tired image, challenging preconceptions of the movement as a predominately male endeavour with a backdrop of vaguely quirky wives and muses.

Initially my personal admiration for the fantastical life and writings of Leonora Carrington was the draw; a local girl like myself, raised a strict Catholic like myself, she has survived to a magnificent age. Indeed last I heard she is still very active, skipping daily up and down several flights of stairs with her laundry aged just 98!

Angels of Anarchy was therefore a rare opportunity to uncover more than just her relationship with Max Ernst and bring to light the creative mind behind her deliciously subversive fairy tale, The Hearing Trumpet, a celebration of female nonconformity where the heroines are not passive sleeping beauties but lively octogenarians complete with wrinkles, warts and beards; where the adventures are set not in some mythical far off world, but more prosaically in an old people’s home, with heroines who nevertheless transform into wolves and ride off triumphantly to the Arctic Circle.

Lured by the promise of an entire exhibition dedicated to the forgotten radical history of the women associated with this movement, women ‘who took surrealism beyond itself’ and provided inspiration to generations of feminists, in I went to be transformed. And transformed I was. Transformation, the possibility of transcending the restrictions, expectations and limitations of prevailing conventions, revealed itself to be a recurring theme. If the surrealist movement with its search for ‘the marvelous in the everyday’ was scandalous, even radical in its time, its obsession with fantasy, dream analysis and melting clock faces can seem mere whimsy today.

But from the moment you enter the exhibition’s flushed cerise confines those grand ambitions, harnessed by women surrealists, become charged with passion, its recurring motifs – fantasy and mythical beasts, angels and butterflies, fur and feathers, birds caged, in flight or skulls picked dry, and eyes, everywhere eyes – reanimated with the possibility of metamorphosis, articulating concerns around identity, gender and sexuality; less artistic indulgence than social and political necessity. Let loose in this playground of intoxicating ideas, experiments and rampant creativity, it’s initially hard to concentrate – the experience is heady, playful, thrilling, dangerous. It should come with a health warning.

My curiosity about one artist led me to a multitude of revolutionary, subversive and dazzling women, like the androgynous Claude Cahun, who adopted a series of ambiguous pseudonyms, survived arrest and a death sentence by the Nazis and whose published writings include Heroine, a series of monologues based on female fairy tale characters intertwined with witty comparisons to the contemporary image of women. Food for the soul indeed.

E.P. Niblock writes the blog Diary of a Bluestocking.


Fri, 06 Nov 2009 00:00:00 +0000
Intruding on an intimacy (Kate Feld) Angels of Anarchy is an evocative name for an exhibition of women surrealists. Though it’s drawn from one of the works in the show, Eileen Agar’s disturbing feathered head sculpture, the name might draw a few pointed questions: With its play on these artists’ femininity and traditional role as inspirational ship’s figureheads for the dominant male artists, does it not marginalise them all over again? For that matter, should they be ghettoised in their own exhibition? We’ll leave the gender studies professor and the revisionist feminist arguing the toss at the door and proceed into the galleries, for there’s a lot to see here.

Really, if you’re going, be sure to leave plenty of time to get round. The sheer volume of work is impressive and the art wildly varied in tone; much of utterly arresting. Though surrealism is broadly associated with Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, the curators have employed a generous approach in assembling the works, culled from all over the 20th century. So there are artists you’d expect (Méret Oppenheim) alongside people you might not (Francesca Woodman). I think it works well. Woodman, whose nude self portrait was used as the main image for the exhibition, was a real stand out for me. Her ghostly black and white photographs draw incredible force from their simplicity and spareness.

I also enjoyed Leonor Fini’s sad and luminous paintings, Valentine Penrose’s dreamlike collages, and Frida Kahlo’s many appearances as both subject and artist, especially a sweet little seashell-framed painting of herself and lover Diego Rivera as one person, made to celebrate their anniversary. Whether fantastic or realistic, most of the work here seems especially personal. Some has its origin so deep within one woman’s subconscious as to be kind of frighening to look at; Kay Sage’s imaginary landscapes, for example, I found weirdly threatening.

Entering the portrait room you feel as though you are intruding on an intimacy between these dead women, as subjects and artists, as friends and as fellow travellers even though in some cases they lived decades apart. I envied especially the women of the thirties, who all painted and photographed each other, and whose intense fellowship really comes through in these portraits. They were outsiders together at a time when living as a female surrealist artist meant bucking convention and living so far outside of normal society as to seem like another species.

Where this exhibition goes the extra mile is in assembling an intriguing assortment of books, papers and objets d’art to complete the picture. Ithell Colquhoun’s Taro cards with their abstract depictions of temperaments associated with the major arcana; Leonora Carrington’s curious handmade books and publications, tantilisingly displayed under glass; a series of group drawings from sessions of the surrealist parlor game Exquisite Corpse; personal letters. For these artists, even an act as quotidian as writing a letter became an outlet for creative expression.

The freedom and lightness of this double-fisted approach to making art is to be envied at a time when many artists work strictly within a single medium, and so much importance is placed on the success of the final product (and the price it will fetch.) Though often rough and ready, these objects still contain a strong whiff of creative force, a heady excitement and appetite for life and art. Let’s hope it’s catching.

Kate Feld is a Manchester-based writer and editor who blogs at The Manchizzle.

Fri, 06 Nov 2009 00:00:00 +0000
The dark side of the moon of surrealism (Ella Wredenfors) My dislike of surrealism is deeply held; I always wondered how something which was supposed to plunge into the turbulent depths of our psyches always ended up looking like it contained an easily discernible visual code. I remember being about 12, standing in front of a sickeningly minutely-painted Dalí in Moderna Museet, and having the component which represented Gala pointed out. Surely it shouldn’t be so simple? Surely, that just makes surrealism just one expensive game of peek-a-boo for the easily confused?

Now, that’s a vast, nasty simplification. However, occasionally these vast, nasty simplifications hold a grain of truth. It is this disconnect between the violent and arbitrarily personal subject and the visually programmatic product that has always left me cold. Perhaps, when removed from the domination of the surreal old school tie, something new will emerge.

True to the tenets of surrealism, there is both something wonderful and something terrible about Angels of Anarchy. The galleries are dark, hushed and stuffed to bursting with a visually exciting selection of objects. There is something deliciously Victorian about the experience, which could have only been enhanced if the pictures were packed irregularly onto the walls and the objects stuffed into bursting wooden cabinets.

Again and again, there are objects and photographs which, on a visual level, are beautiful. Perhaps because these are the objects which are not particularly surreal. If this exhibition serves to do anything, it shows that surrealism really is a very broad church. However, the thematic arrangement of the galleries makes it easy to discern where the artists’ paths lie closely together along very well trodden ground. The photographic portraits, though evocative of tempting biographical detail, for me smack of that tired, pseudo-feminist self regard which has become a staple of any discussion of art created by women.

Unfortunately this exhibition, like most people’s understanding of the movement, is dominated by that inescapable and iconic (in both senses of the word) practice, painting. The fleeting glimpses of ... something … which the photography provide make the paintings seem positively unwieldy in comparison. They seem so schematic and simple, depicting such regularised forms in such regularised style.

We all know surrealist painting is bursting with cocks and popping juxtaposition. Where often the phallic images of their male counterparts held all the power of an improbable dildo, the simple and reductive depiction of vaginal imagery, such as in Eva SĖ‡vankmajerová’s Bed, equally has no relation to what half the population have between their thighs.

I do not detect the clarion call of challenge in these works. Yes, they do respond to the art movement in which they worked, but they worked in very much the same milieu as their better known male counterparts. There comes a point when if all an art work does is subvert then it loses all integrity or power it may have in itself.

At the end of the day, as with most things, it all depends where you stand. If you adore surrealism, this exhibition will illuminate the variety and inventiveness of a neglected cross-section of the movement. However, if, like me, you’re not that hot on the schematic, programmatic nature of surrealism, this exhibition may not convert you to fandom.

Undoubtedly these female artists were overlooked, but it would be wrong to demand that they be retrospectively elevated. Instead, perhaps, Angels of Anarchy offers the dark side of the moon of surrealism. It may not be made of cheese or gold or populated by sexy green alien ladies, but, like the illuminated side, it offers an evenhanded collection of visionaries, idiot savants and annoying morons.

Ella Wredenfors writes the North West culture blog Run Paint Run Run.


Fri, 06 Nov 2009 00:00:00 +0000
Angels of Anarchy (Chroma) For one moment, standing in the (suggestively) red velvet-lined gallery on the top floor of Manchester Art Gallery, it was like WWII had never happened.

Read the complete review by Sophie Mayer in Chroma.

Wed, 21 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Manchester school students' artwork joins Frida Kahlo ( Artworks by seven young female students from Levenshulme High School have gone on display at Manchester Art Gallery alongside works by Frida Kahlo, Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington and other luminaries as part of the gallery’s exhibition Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism.

Read the complete article on the culture24 website.

Fri, 16 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Acclaim for the unusual ( Female Surrealists, ignored for a long time, are accorded pride of place with a show that highlights their radical streak.

Read the complete review by Rachel Rickaed Straus at

Fri, 16 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
In conversation with Jeanette Winterson and Patricia Allmer ( In conversation with Jeanette Winterson and Patricia Allmer

Author Jeanette Winterson describes 2009 as the ‘moment where women have to fight again’ as she talks to Patricia Allmer, curator of Manchester Art Gallery’s hugely successful show, Angels of Anarchy.

Watch the complete conversation at

Thu, 15 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
The problem with women ( Louisa Buck reviews the female Surrealists on show in Angels of Anarchy – and finds women turning the tables to create artistic objects of desire.

Read the complete review at

Mon, 12 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Angels of Anarchy (Echostains Blog) I went to see this exhibition yesterday at Manchester City Art Gallery. Surrealism challenges the order and acceptance of everything. Logic is turned upside down, inside out, new meanings come into being from unlikely juxtapositions thereby making new art.

Read the complete review by Linda Roberts on the Echostains Blog.

Fri, 09 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Angels of Anarchy (Red Hand Gang) Angels of Anarchy is a bold, flagrant celebration of female surrealism, proudly bursting out from the shackles tightened by its overbearing male counterpart.

Read the complete review by Joe Shervin on the Red Hand Gang blog.

Fri, 09 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Skewing it for themselves (The Independent) Surrealist art seldom fails to disappoint. Why should this be so? Because, like so much political poetry, it always seems to know what it is doing even before it begins; it feels programmatic – in spite, somewhat paradoxically, of the fact that it is wedded to ideas of the aleatory (chance).

Read the full review by Michael Glover in The Independent online.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Manchester Missive (Talk about Newsnight) I confess. I have not been loyally sitting through session after session here in the Manchester conference centre on your behalf.

This morning, I bunked off and went to City Art Gallery. There's a rather interesting exhibition of women surrealists there.

Read the Jeremy Paxman's complete Manchester Missive at Talk about Newsnight.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Angels of Anarchy (Jeanette Winterson's blog) What else? Go to the Manchester Art Gallery and see the Women and Surrealism exhibition. It is FABULOUS.

Read the complete article on Jeanette Winterson's blog.

Fri, 02 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Female Surrealists (Woman's Hour Radio 4) From Frida Kahlo to Lee Miller: Europe’s biggest exhibition of female surrealists is on in Manchester.

Jenni Murray is joined by Jeanette Winterson, who opened the exhibition and Dr Patricia Allmer; Curator of the ‘Angels of Anarchy’ exhibition to discuss the links between art and print.

Listen to the discussion in full on the Woman's Hour website.

Fri, 02 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Angels of Anarchy: A bit of surreal fun (Sarah Goodwin's blog) The Manchester Art Gallery is currently home to the Angels of Anarchy, Women Artists and Surrealism exhibition. I know very little about art but this exhibition caught my eye.

Read Sarah Goodwin's complete review of the Be Surreal poetry activity on her blog, Sarah Goodwin.

Fri, 02 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Angels of Anarchy (Cultural Tales of Two Cities) This wonderful new exhibition brings together the important women artists who formed part of the Surrealist movement, even though at the time many were neglected by both their male surrealist counterparts, and by the art world in general.

Read the full article by Julia on her Cultural Tales of Two Cities blog.

Mon, 28 Sep 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Angels of Anarchy (The Observer) What happens when a muse is left to her own devices, when an object becomes a subject, when a woman is free to be herself?

Read the full review by Kate Kellaway in The Observer.

Sun, 27 Sep 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Angels of Anarchy (The Guardian) One of the most exquisite discoveries in this magical exhibition involves a bushy squirrel's tail joined to a half-pint beer mug. Try to guess the artist behind this absurd yet sensual vision, and you might say Sarah Lucas. But the piece – entitled Squirrel – was in fact made in 1969 by the surrealist artist Méret Oppenheim.

Read the full article by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian.

Fri, 25 Sep 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Sister acts (Design Week) The anarchic potential of Surrealism allowed women artists to explore the female experience, independent of the centuries-old imperative of pandering to the male gaze. Maeve Hosea previews an exhibition of their often disturbing work.

Read the rest of this article by Maeve Hosea at Design Week online.

Thu, 24 Sep 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Still crazy after all these years (Prospect Magazine) Women are often the subjects of surrealist art: dismembered, deliquescent, with doors in their stomachs, breasts for eyes and so forth. More elusive, however, are women as proponents of surrealist art.

Read the complete review by Hermione Eyre in Prospect Magazine.

Wed, 23 Sep 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Angels Of Anarchy get their chance to shine (City Life) SURREALISM is one of the most popular movements in art history with prints by Salvador Dali and René Magritte commonly reproduced in poster form.

What remains mysteriously absent from the story of Surrealism, though, is the contribution of women.

Read the full article by Sarah Walters in City Life.

Tue, 22 Sep 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Sisters of the revolution ( The artist Leonor Fini never liked André Breton, the zealously domineering leader of the Surrealist movement. ‘He was notorious for underestimating the talents of women associated with his group,’ she said in an interview with her biographer Peter Webb in the 1990s, and it is thus tempting to blame him for the lack of recognition they suffered.

Read the full review by Jessica Lack at

Thu, 17 Sep 2009 00:00:00 +0100
Nazis, nannies and hair omelettes (The Independent) Leonora Carrington, the last living Surrealist, looks back on her extraordinary life and times.

Leonora Carrington was the toast of the Surrealists. Then she was forced to escape the Nazis, a Spanish mental asylum and her nanny, before fleeing to Mexico... Ahead of two exhibitions of her work, the 92-year-old reflects on a life less ordinary

Read the full interview by by Rachel Ricard Straus and Ruth MacLean in The Independent

Sun, 23 Aug 2009 00:00:00 +0100