‘Must’ Virtual Exhibition: Schirn Kunsthalle’s Stunningly Provocative ‘Fantastic Women’

Leonora Carrington, Self Portrait, 1936 – 1938



One of the not-oft-spoken casualties of the coronavirus crisis, is the broken continuum of support for the everyday ideological missions that so many of us had been mater-of-factly carrying out before lockdown. To wit, the rise of the female cause and spirit in the wake of the marches and protests in opposition to so many regressive, misogynistic Trump administration policies. BlackBook, of course, has continuously and vigorously supported women’s achievements in the arts—including our upcoming book A Woman’s Right to Pleasure.

So naturally, we would love nothing more than to be in Frankfurt right now, physically traversing the breathtaking exhibition Fantastic Women: Surreal Worlds from Meret Oppenheim to Frida Kahlo, at the city’s Schirn Kunsthalle museum—shut down, like so many others, by the coronavirus crisis. However, a burst of pandemic-defying creativity means that we get to witness many of them in digital form…and very well executed, if we might add.


Leonor Fini, Chtonian Deity watching over the Sleep of a Young Man, 1946


This era-defining show expertly gathers the work of 34 women who thrillingly stoked the onset of surrealism during the 20th Century. It was the rare artistic movement which saw the girls take their rightful place alongside the boys in terms of output, even if Dalí, Breton, Tanguy, Miró and the like still get more ink to this day.

The digital version opens by explaining how surrealism was indeed gender-inclusive, despite several of the women starting out as muses to their well-known male counterparts. A Leonora Carrington self-portrait with a hyaena and floating hobby horse (a leftover dada reference) from 1936-1937 doesn’t rely on any sort of Magritte visual trickery, but instead injects the genre with a kind of pensive sensitivity. And from the desperately underrated Leonor Fini, a pioneer of fearless eroticism, the 1946 Chtonian Deity watching over the Sleep of a Young Man ethereally updates the classical into the dreamlike.



Additional works by Louise Bour­geois, Claude Cahun, Dorothea Tanning, Dora Maar and Meret Oppen­heim (her infamous Fur Cup) vividly confirm that these women could handle horror, sexuality, social commentary and even humor as well as any man—and perhaps even a bit more viscerally than their male counterparts.

At the outset of the virtual presentation, Fantastic Women includes a particularly incisive quote by her exaltedness Frida Kahlo: “Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”

Existentially, it is a near irrefutable statement. But as this glorious exhibition proves, the work of these incredible women is as eternal as time itself.


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