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Surreal Worlds from Meret Oppenheim to Frida Kahlo

25.7.2020 - 8.11.2020

A first overall presentation of - the often overlooked and forgotten - women surrealist artists. This groundbreaking exhibition shows that women played a more important and numerous role in Surrealism than in any other artistic avant-garde movement.

While a great number of the male surrealistsMagritte, Dalí, Miró og Max Ernst – remain widely known and celebrated, few people today still have much familiarity with the majoirty of female Surrealists. And this in spite of the fact that many of thesewomen artists were part of the inner circle around the french writer, poet and chief apologist of Surrealism, André Breton, and actively took part in seminal Surrealist exhibitions of the day.

Fantastic Women - Surreal Worlds is the first, fascinating and comprehensive presentation of 34 women surrealist artists from Europe, the US and Mexico. The exhibition showcases their diverse approaches to the ideas of the movement, tracing the outline of their oeuvre and highlighting their singular contribution to the Surrealist vocabulary.

Alongside well-known names like Louise Bourgeois, Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington and Meret Oppenheim, this will be the first opportunity to experience artists like Kay Sage, Leonor Fini and Toyen in Denmark.

An exhibition of Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, in cooperation with Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk

C.L. Davids Fond og Samling and Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond generously support this exhibition.


Surrealism is not a true stylistic direction, more an artistic way of thinking that was manifested in various ways and in many different media. Its scope, which is also reflected in the exhibition, encompasses painting, sculpture, drawing, collage, photography, film and performance.

The Surrealist movement arose in the Paris of the 1920s, when artists and writers sought spiritual renewal and alternative life modes following the horrors of World War I. They questioned rational thinking and celebrated freedom, community and openness - inspired by Sigmund Freud’s theories of the unconscious and his interpretation of dreams.

The surrealists practiced automatic writing, randomness, sexual anarchy and artistic experiments at all levels. All the official members of the movement were men, and erotic and sexual desire permeated their works, with the idea of the female as a central motif of their (male) fantasies.

At the same time, however, the surrealist rejection of all traditional heirarchies and structures - masculine, patriarchal and societal - meant that the movement was a true magnet for young, freedom seeking women artists.

Towads the end of World War II, André Breton (1896-1966) - the leading founding figure of surrealism - states that the masculine view of the world "is coming to pass fairly tumultuously today. Those of us in the arts must pronounce ourselves unequivocally against man and for woman, bring man down from a position of power which, it has been sufficiently demonstrated, he has misused, restore this power to the hands of woman."


Though a number of the women in this show at first were partners, muses or models for the male surrealists, they were also - and this has often been overlooked - also actively practicing artists and contributed actively and importantly to the great Surrealist exhibitions of the time. This exhibition kicks off at the start of the 1930s, when the first examples of women’s artistic contributions to the common activities of the Surrealist group in Paris were real­ized. 

The female Surrealists were typically younger than their male colleagues and therefore created many of their main works in the 1940s and 1950s. Although the Surrealist group continued to organise exhibitions until the 1960s and was only dissolved in 1969, many art-historical observers have claimed that Surrealism ceased with the end of World War II. This view in fact bears some of the blame for the lack of attention given to the female artists.

The exhibition shows that the female artists worked within thematic areas which in many cases were already associated with Surrealism, but also how they differ from their male colleagues - not least in the search for a (new) female model of identity. This often involved an examination of their own reflections and a play on various roles, body image and female sexuality.

The female artists rebelled against gender-specific role behaviour and often represented themselves with strikingly androgynous features or in unusual roles or disguises. In the quest for an imagery that could be used as a template for female identity, they would often seek out hybrid beings, symbols of metamorphosis and change or depict demonic seductresses and femmes fatales.


Freedom is not given to you - you have to take it.

Meret Oppenheim

Masculine? Feminine?
It depends on the situation

Claude Cahun

To be a surrealist is a state – one either carries it or doesn't.

Jane Graverol

On second thought,
I think I am more crazy than my goat.

Remedios Varo

I didn't have time to be anyone's muse, I was too busy rebelling,

Leonora Carrington

To be a woman is given, to be an artist it you.

Dorothea Tanning

I have always painted very much the way I have dreamt.

Leonor Fini

Everyone talks about goals, the important thing is winning. 

Lee Miller


As a consequence of World War II, many of the Surrealists emigrated to the USA and to Mexico, where Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was the central figure in the deve­lopment of a new, vital art scene. In her highly personal iconography Kahlo combined pictures from the pre-colonial culture of Mexico with Christian symbols as well as elements from her own life.

The poet and painter Alice Rahon (1904-1987), the first woman to have her texts published by Édition surréalistes in 1936, was also a key figure in Mexico City.

Other female Surrealists who settled in Mexico and explored the country’s pre-Columbian past, lush nature and mythologies, include the painter and writer Leonora Carrington, the painter Bridget Tichenor (1917-1990) and Remedios Varo (1908-1963), whose painting style combines Surrealist techniques like fumagefrottage and décalcomanie with classic, detailed figure painting.


Eileen Agar, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Rachel Baes, Louise Bourgeois, Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Ithell Colquhoun, Maya Deren, Germaine Dulac, Nusch Éluard, Leonor Fini, Jane Graverol, Valentine Hugo, Frida Kahlo, Rita Kernn-Larsen, Greta Knutson, Jacqueline Lamba, Sheila Legge, Dora Maar, Emila Medková, Lee Miller, Suzanne Muzard, Meret Oppenheim, Valentine Penrose, Alice Rahon, Edith Rimmington, Kay Sage, Jeannette Tanguy, Dorothea Tanning, Elsa Thoresen, Bridget Tichenor, Toyen, Remedios Varo, Unica Zürn.