Hold My Beer! LACMA Collects Women Surrealists

Meret Oppenheim, The Squirrel, 1969. Sold at Phillips, Apr. 2023

LACMA has put on view four recently acquired works by women artists associated with global surrealism. They include an edition of Meret Oppenheim's The Squirrel; paintings by L.A.'s Paulina Peavy and Chicago's Gertrude Abercrombie; a wire marionette by French/Mexican surrealist Alice Rahon.

Oppenheim's The Squirrel is a late work, conceived in 1960, evoking the artist's famous fur-covered teacup (Object, 1936). It's a mug of faux beer with a squirrel's tail for a handle. The label describes it as a "critique of performative masculinity." (Hold my beer?) In French slang, the word for "tail" can mean "cock."

The Squirrel is not a great rarity, being one of an edition of 100. Different types of mugs were used over the years that Oppenheim produced it. The LACMA version appears to match the photo of one auctioned by Phillips in April 2023 for $15,240. It was purchased for the museum with funds provided by TV producer Wendy Stark.

LACMA has an editioned collage and a print by Oppenheim, but this is the first 3D piece. 

Paulina Peavy, untitled, about 1930-70. LACMA. Purchased with funds provided by the Ducommun and Gross Endowment
Paulina Peavy (1901-1999) was the sort of person that certain Easterners believe all Angelenos to be. After attending a seance in Santa Ana, Peavy came to believe that UFOs are real and that a gender-fluid extraterrestrial named Lacamo could help her create paintings provided she wore an elaborate handmade mask. Loosely associated with the more down-to-Mars Post-Surrealist movement of Lorser Feitelsen and Helen Lundeberg, Peavy was a pivotal figure L.A.'s incipient avant garde. She was however largely omitted from regional histories after she moved to New York in 1943. Her art has been trending since a revelatory 2021 show at Beyond Baroque

Peavy worked and reworked paintings over decades. The crystalline color elements in the LACMA painting were generally layered on top of earlier, curvaceous compositions of mysterious faces. (It looks like there's a pentimento of an eye at left center.) 
Gertrude Abercrombie, Figure Facing East, 1947. LACMA, Ducommun and Gross Endowment
The paintings of Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977) meld Doris Lee naivete with Magrittean paradox and a laconic quirkiness that was influential to the Chicago Imagists. Figure Facing East, which is only 8 by 10 inches, was auctioned by Sotheby's in 2022 for $151,200, tripling the estimate. It's basically five objects on a stage set, one of which is a slender woman in Morticia Addams black, probably a self-portrait. The artist sometimes dressed like a witch, down to a pointed black hat. 

Abercrombie, who was white, was considered a bohemian for wearing black and socializing with Black people. Her prominent friends included Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, and Dizzie Gilespie (who praised her paintings as the visual equivalent of be-bop). Abercrombie herself explained: "Surrealism is meant for me because I am a pretty realistic person but I don't like all I see."
Kindred spirits: Gertrude Abercrombie with mirror and Paulina Peavy with mask
Alice Rahon, Juggler, 1946. LACMA, Ducommun and Gross Endowment  
Like Meret Oppenheim, Alice Rahon (1904-1987) designed fashions for Elsa Schiaparelli before joining Andre Breton's Paris circle of Surrealists. Rahon's career took a different turn when she and husband Wolfgang Paalen accepted Frida Kahlo's invitation to escape the war in Mexico. Rahon ended up spending the rest of her life there. Her Juggler is a marionette for Orion, a "cosmic ballet" she wrote about the beginning and end of the world. 

Both Rahon and Abercrombie were featured in LACMA's groundbreaking 2011 exhibition "In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States." The Getty Research Institute acquired Rahon's archive in 2021.
Max Ernst, The Entire City, 1935, and René Magritte's The Treachery of Images, 1929
On view for the first time is Max Ernst's The Entire City, a small post-apocalyptic cityscape acquired by the 2023 Collectors Committee. It's shown next to LACMA's most famous surrealist painting, Magritte's Treachery of Images.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #295, 1976
Elsewhere in the Modern galleries are several 60s and 70s pieces that haven't been shown in a long time or at all, including a Sol LeWitt wall drawing and a Pop/Op-inflected Rainbow Heart by Japanese-born Fluxus artist Ay-O, a recent gift. 
Ay-O, Rainbow Heart, 1965-67. LACMA, gift of Riko Mizuno
Ed Moses, Abstract Painting (Red #1), 1975-76
There are duo- and monochrome paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, James Hayward, and Ed Moses. A feminist dissent, Karen Carson's 1971 zipper non-painting, wraps it all up.
Karen Carson, untitled, 1971


Anonymous said…
I never heard of Pauline Peavy before but her work seems very interesting. I wonder why LACMA bought this particular piece though. She has much better work that's available and I'm sure it doesn't cost too much. Sometimes I feel like LACMA just buys an artist's artwork to say they have it regardless of quality.