Welcome to Wonderland

Date night. 

It’s one of those rare evenings that a married couple with children spends non-interrupted by flying bath toys, the undersea exploits of a bucktooth sponge in short pants or replenishing a well of ketchup for the dunking of fish sticks.  A once-a-month-if-you’re-lucky chance to hire someone else to handle all of that and…escape.

On my latest date night I wanted to desperately forgo the typical dinner and a movie fanfare.  Mostly because our last three evenings out my husband found himself wanting to down a cocktail of anti-depressants with a chaser of morphine after I chose films whose premises all centered on death or comas ending in death.

No, these three hours of evening fantasy sans kids would be different. This time I would lead us into a labyrinth of artwork made by souls tortured by war, depression and bastard lovers.

Scorpios know romance.

Oh, but what a treat this rabbit hole of surrealist art at LACMA!  “In Wonderland,” is a magical and impressive collection of artworks (from 1931 through 1968) by female surrealist artists living in the U.S. and Mexico.   Who knew there were nearly 50 women creating surrealist art during the period most notably known by the topsy-turvy, subconscious-driven works of Dali, Max Ernst and Man Ray?  Wow.  I certainly never heard about these women in my art history classes.  Sure, the fabulous Frida Kahlo and Dorothea Tanning, but Helen Lundeberg, Louise Bourgeois, Kay Sage, Rosa Rolanda, Alice Rahon….the impressive roster goes on.  Heartbroken, pissed, talented, aching, passionate and daring, these highly creative artists turned out a force of imagery embodying their own intimate experiences in the context of the (mostly suffocating) society of their time and the male-dominated art world.

Understanding the personal trials and triumphs of the artists (as best we can without personally knowing them) to me is equally as compelling as viewing their illuminating expressions of them.  I was so drawn in by their stories, their quest for stability, their many losses and loves, their being women, mothers, artists, lovers, wives and numerous other selves in a time of burgeoning freedoms and unrelenting traditions.   How many masks they wore and shed.   And yet, most impressively, they made time to paint!  And draw!  And make bronze sculptures!

Sitting down to a fanciful dinner at Ray’s next door to the exhibition, with my In Wonderland book, its 256 pages crisp and inviting, I couldn’t help but feel blessed.  Not only to have a special night out with my man with no Angry Birds in sight, but to have the chance, once again, to witness the extraordinary of women and our ability to multitask with a vengeance.

© Jennifer Dowd 

Inset photo:  Rosa Rolanda, Autoretrato (Self Portrait), c. 1945, Gouache on paper, 40 x 33 cm, © Estate of Rosa Rolanda Covarrubias, Photo courtesy of Andrés Blaisten, by Francisco Kochen.

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