Art, Artists, Exhibitions, Surrealism

ArtExhibition: Dorothea Tanning

Last Monday was the last day to see the exhibition Dorothea Tanning: Behind the invisible door, another invisible door at the Museum Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain. It was the first major retrospective of this American Surrealist artist, and included over 150 works created by Tanning between the years 1930-1997. Tanning’s works encourage the viewer to look beyond the obvious meaning.

“I wanted to lead the eye into spaces that hid, revealed, transformed all at once and where there would be some never-before-seen image” – Dorothea Tanning.

The Exhibition:

The exhibition was organized in eight thematic sections:

  • Self-Portrait: this section showed how Tanning discovered the Surrealism at the MoMA in the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism in 1936. She suddenly got fascinated and began to explore with the limitless space and imagination in her own art.
  • Chess Games: this section focused on Tanning’s relationship with her avant-garde circle of friends (Joseph Cornell, Leonor Fini, Konstanty Jelenski, Marcel and Teeny Duchamp, Julien Levy, Muriel Streeter, Roland Penrose, Lee Miller, Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage and Tanning’s husband Max Ernst).  She explored the intricacy of these many relationships through the motif of chess.
End Game (1944)
  • The Femme-Enfant: the third section had the focus on the femme-enfant (child-woman) in her paintings as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943) and in some of her writings as Abyss (1949).
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
  • The Family Romance: this section explored the subversive vision that Tanning had of the institution of the family.
  • Tango Lives: presented her work as costume and set designer. Tanning worked for George Balanchine’s ballets Night Shadow (1946), The Witch (1950), Bayou (1952), and Will-o’-the-Wisp (1953).
Costumes to Balanchine’s ballets
  • Soft Bodies and Sculptures: this section was dedicated to the sculptures she created in the mid-1960’s.
  • The Architectural Uncanny: this section was the installation Chambre 202, Hôtel du Pavot (Room 202, Hôtel du Pavot) created between 1970-73. The viewer could feel inside a room where everything was coming to live.
  • Dionysian Desires: in this last section the intimate space and the desire were unified.
Verbe (1969-70)


  • Dorothea Tanning took Surrealism in new directions, portraying the female as an active and creative force.
  • Dorothea Tanning’s art is not limited by her biography, there is in it a wide and vary list of literary sources as Gothic novels or poems of Baudelaire.
  • Tanning refused to be labelled a “woman artist” in 1990 she said: “You may be a woman and you may be an artist: but the one is given to you and the other is you”.


  • Exhibition: Dorothea Tanning: Behind the invisible door, another invisible door.
  • Museo Reina Sofía
  • Catalogue of the exhibition

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