Remedios Varo

By Yood, James | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Remedios Varo


Yood, James, Artforum International


MEXICAN FINE ARTS CENTER MUSEUM

The idiosyncratic and evocative work of Remedios Varo (1908-63) constitutes a superb but little-recognized episode in the history of Surrealism. This exhibition of seventy paintings and drawings, organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC (Chicago was its second and final stop), was Varo's first US retrospective; her long-standing neglect in this country is hard to understand, considering the visual and conceptual elegance and historical relevance of her work. Born and trained in Spain, Varo (with her companion Benjamin Peret) was a member of Andre Breton's Surrealist circle in Paris in the late '30s. Swept up in the European diaspora at the beginning of World War II, Varo and Peret fled to Mexico, where she remained for the rest of her life at the center of an emigre community that remained distinct from Rivera's and Kahlo's indigenista school of Mexican modernism.

Like Magritte, Dali, and Ernst, Varo retained a connection to many of the painstaking procedures of traditional academic painting. In her smallish, hyperrefined works, the stage is carefully and logically set, the visual evidence in line with that of the so-called rational world, but this order is then subjected to a whimsical, imaginative, topsy-turvy dislocation. Walls shift in space or become alive; men walk with the aid of their beards; clothes become heads and vice versa; people fly about; and curious forces seem everywhere to compel even more curious people to acts of some charged significance. Varo's pinched spaces and spiky, elongated figures, as well as her emphasis on the vertical and attention to domestic details, bring to mind fifteenth century Sienese painting, with its air of tender fables made strange and oddly expectant. …

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