Immerse yourself in Leonora Carrington’s marvelously magical universe at ARKEN’s first-ever major exhibition in Scandinavia presenting this key figure of Surrealism.
17 September 2022 to 15 January 2023
Magic, rebellion and humour radiate out of the alluring, surreal imagery created by the British-born Mexican artist Leonora Carrington (1917–2011). Carrington was a key figure in twentieth-century Surrealism, yet she refused to be limited by any label. A wealth of inspirations permeates her unique version of Surrealism: Esoteric symbols from tarot cards and alchemy mix with thirteenth and fourteenth century Italian painting and Irish legends. Made in close collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid, ARKEN presents the first major retrospective in Denmark about Leonora Carrington’s life and work.
Rebel and artist
Carrington was an uncompromising and visionary person who put her freedom above all else. Breaking away from a strict upper-class upbringing in a Catholic family, at the age of twenty she set out for Paris to pursue a life as an artist. Here Carrington became part of the inner circle of the Surrealist movement and embarked on an intense love affair with the painter Max Ernst. Carrington’s rebellion against her family speaks of her strong desire for freedom and her anti-authoritarian attitude that impacted the rest of her life. During World War II, Ernst fled to New York, and Carrington found her way from war-torn Europe to Mexico, where she settled and became engrossed in Mexican culture and religion.
“If I am my thoughts, that means I could be anything, from pasta soup, scissors, a crocodile, a cadaver, a leopard, or half a liter of beer, etc. If I am my feelings, then I am love, hatred, irritation, boredom, happiness, pride, humility, pain, pleasure. If I am my body, then I am the fetus of a woman changing at every moment. Nevertheless, I, as the whole world, yearn for an individual identity.”
– Leonora Carrington, 1970
Carrington was deeply interested in magic, witchcraft and alchemy. Her fantastic characters are in states of perpetual transformation, blurring the boundaries between genders, human, animal and nature. Throughout her life, she explored her own inner world, and she was inspired by Surrealism’s interest in the ability of art to convey the unconscious dimensions of the mind. In her art, she unfolds her memories of her involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital in Santander, Spain, and her exile from World War II.
Carrington created the work Green Tea (The Oval Lady) the year after her hospitalization. It revolves around themes of confinement, captivity, and transformation. Two horses are tethered to each other’s tails and beneath the surface of the earth, pupae reminiscent of the shrouded female figure – Carrington herself. Employing a uniquely poetic visual idiom, Leonora Carrington addresses human psychology, its change and renewal, ushering the way into magical realms where everything is out of the ordinary.
Goddesses, witches and wise women
Carrington’s art is inhabited by strong women – from mythological goddesses and historical female figures to wise women. Carrington was forever in search of new knowledge and inspiration to fuel and articulate her artistic vision. Immersing herself in the history of the occult, magic and alchemy, she discovered how women have held great authority and influence in many indigenous cultures. Carrington’s strong female characters reclaim power. In her works, goddesses, witches, oracles and alchemists are strong, active creators with healing and magical powers. They have access to unknown territories and can conjure up new worlds. With her art, Carrington directs a feminist critique of oppressive power hierarchies, as seen, for example, in the self-portrait Artist traveling Incognito. Disguised as a witch, Carrington’s self-portrait goes against the grain of the male-dominated Surrealist movement’s penchant for worshipping the woman as muse who had to be young, beautiful and possessing boundless imagination that could inspire the male artist. Carrington was not thrilled by the label “muse”, and in an interview, she stated:
“I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse…I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist”
ARKEN’s exhibition is the first comprehensive presentation of Carrington’s art in Scandinavia. Through more than 100 works of Carrington, the exhibition unfolds her experimental and liberating artistic universe, her esoteric and mythological interests and feminist perspectives. The exhibition features paintings, drawings, tapestries, sculptures and books by Carrington alongside selected works created by some of the most important artists around her – from Spanish Remedios Varo to German Max Ernst.
The exhibition is curated by
Tere Arcq, Sarah Fredholm (ARKEN), Carlos Martín, Stefan van Raay, Naja Rasmussen and Dorthe Juul Rugaard (ARKEN).
The exhibition is organized by ARKEN Museum of Modern Art and Fundación MAPFRE
The exhibition is generously supported by
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