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This Dorothea Tanning exhibition honours the genius of an overlooked modern artist

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Anna Fielding
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Get tickets: Dorothea Tanning exhibition at Tate Modern

And Stylist readers can get two-for-one tickets to see the show at Tate Modern.

With a career spanning 70 years, taking in surrealism, abstract painting, pioneering sculpture and poetry, you would think the name Dorothea Tanning would be mentioned alongside the major players of modern art. As with many female artists though, she has somehow fallen through the cracks in history.

“How many significant artists of the 20th century remain relatively unexplored? Tanning’s work still feels fresh,” says curator Ann Coxon. “This is something that we hope to address by presenting a major exhibition at Tate Modern.” The exhibit will be the first significant retrospective of Tanning’s work in 25 years.

Tanning’s early work brought her to the attention of Max Ernst, one of the leading lights of the surrealist movement, and they were married in 1942. “Her early visions, such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, 1943, show skilfully rendered uncanny and unsettling interior spaces with foreboding figures and strange scenarios,” says Coxon. “Her work certainly expanded the surrealist legacy.”

During the Sixties and Seventies she moved into sculpture, “using her Singer sewing machine to make soft sculpture bodies. Room 202, Hotel du Pavot, is a standout work – a nightmarish hotel room in which stitched and stuffed figures protrude through the wallpaper and merge with the furniture,” says Coxon. “Very Stranger Things.” 

Refusing to ever be pigeonholed, Tanning remained utterly committed her entire life and was still creating work up until her death in 2012 (her last volume of poetry was published in 2011 when she was 101). “She was very resistant to being labelled – be it as ‘woman artist’ or ‘woman surrealist’ or simply a ‘surrealist’, I think that she didn’t want to be limited,” says Coxon.

As Tanning herself proclaimed: “Women artists. There is no such thing – or person. It’s just as much a contradiction in terms as ‘man artist’ or ‘elephant artist’.”

Her legacy reflects her constant dedication – a life truly lived in art. “She wanted to open up the minds of her viewers,” adds Coxon, “to see new worlds, new visions, new realms beyond and behind those of the everyday.”

Dorothea Tanning at Tate Modern opens on 27 February. 

To book and claim a two-for-one offer exclusive to Stylist readers, head to tate.org.uk and enter the code TANNING241. 

Main image: Getty Images     

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Anna Fielding

Anna Fielding is the associate editor of Stylist. She looks after the magazine’s front section and features pages.

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