"The sculptures bring into a three-dimensional reality the visions which have all my life lived their two-dimensional lives on canvas"
Dorothea Tanning, 1976 (American Fabrics and Fashions, No. 108, Fall)
Alison Jacques Gallery is pleased to present a solo booth of Dorothea Tanning (b. Galesburg, Illinois (1910); d. New York (2012)) at The Armory Show 2019. The booth will explore imagery and themes from across Tanning's career with a focus on the importance of sculpture and sculptural figures in her work. Tanning is currently subject of a major retrospective at Tate Modern, London (27 February - 9 June 2019), co-curated by Ann Coxon and Alyce Mahon.
Spanning six decades, the 1945 collage Oh, Dorothea Tanning! and the 2005 collage Victory - her last signed and dated work - speak to Tanning's life-long interest in three-dimensional collage and the use of unexpected and found materials. The newsprint and burnt toast in these works are complemented by packing materials in the assemblages Home at Last (1972), Mother Saw It Coming (1991). Additionally, the later work Fabius tournes dans son sommeil (Fabius Turns in His Sleep) (1990), documents a turning figure in a succession of miniature sculptures fashioned out of cellophane tape.
Tanning's juxtapositions are often used to humorous or ironic effect, as in the 1967 collage Untitled (The Artist as a Dog), in which Tanning has replaced her own face with that of her pet Lhasa Apso. In this image, the dog appears as her alter-ego, while in other couplings like No Contest (1960), the dog is a giant dance partner. In the painting Evening in Sedona (1976), the dogs provide physical and emotional support to a reclining abstracted nude which, given that the painting was completed the year her husband of 30 years died, suggests the mourning artist herself.
The evolution of Tanning's approach to the figure and nudity is also evidenced in this presentation, seen in contrast to the more naturalistic approach in the early Argument (1952), which also features one of Tanning's signature images, the door, that is found in many of her best-known works.
These recurring images - the nude, the animal, the door - literally burst out into three dimensional sculptures in the late 1960s, when Tanning began a long series of soft sculptures. Beyond her painting, Tanning may be best known for works created from 1969 - 1974, which culminated in the monumental installation piece Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (Poppy Hotel, Room 202) (1970 - 73). In the permanent collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and currently on view at Tate Modern, London, this "room" is inhabited by soft-sculptural figures physically breaking through walls of a constructed domestic interior containing furniture sprouting limbs and half-formed bodies.
Tanning captured the imagery in her sculptures in two-dimensional renderings, some of which were sketches that informed the sculptures and others drawings or watercolours that revisited them afterward, sometimes years later. The drawings on display demonstrate the ways in which the sculptures physicalise the mutating forms present in her paintings from the 1960s and, rather than a divergence, are a consolidation of decades of painterly investigation of the body in space. In preliminary sketches for Hôtel du Pavot, for instance, Tanning maps out the potential of her ideas for both realised and unrealised furniture elements in the "room". Together they comprise a haunting image that, as well as existing in three dimensions, is a scene returned to in her paintings Blue Revelation (1982) and Untitled (1990).
Similarly, Tanning revisits the sculpture Rainy-Day Canapé (1970), now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in several drawings which show that in Tanning's practice there is a constant tension of forms moving beyond their prescribed confines and emerging into open space. In her sculptures this is obviously more literal - the leg thrust forward in Rainy-Day Canapé and the bodies that enter and escape Hôtel du Pavot. Rainy Day, her drawing from 1989, is a return to this sculpture and explores the potential dynamism of this form if released from the static reality of traditional sculpture and populated with visitors who anchor the work within their own imagined world. Both seem to examine a body that could barely be contained both within a picture plane, and as part of the furniture.
Tanning's last soft sculpture, Primitive Seating (1982), is also included in this presentation. Building on the playful humour of juxtaposition found in her collages together with the sense of anthropomorphism developed in her soft sculptures, Tanning has dressed a chair in tiger print and, as Tanning explained, "I had some material left over, so I put a tail on it." (from an interview with Eloise Napier, "Her Infinite Variety," Harpers & Queen, September 2004, p. 228).
In 2018, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, held a major exhibition of the artist's work which is currently on show at Tate Modern, London. An accompanying catalogue includes essays from the exhibition curators Ann Coxon and Alyce Mahon. Major solo shows during her lifetime included Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia (2000); Camden Arts Centre, London (1993); Malmö Konsthall, Malmö (1993); and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1974).
Tanning's work has been acquired by museums worldwide, including The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.