Dora Maar review
Time Out says
‘Lady artist deleted from history’ is a pretty familiar story. And it’s the one that, broadly speaking, underpins this show at Tate Modern. Dora Maar (1907-1997) was a female artist footnoted by history thanks to her gender and her relationship with Pablo Picasso. But the most interesting thing to emerge from this fascinating retrospective – the first ever held in the UK – isn’t simply that Maar is an artist forgotten, it’s that she is such a ridiculously prolific and varied artist forgotten.
The main thing known about Maar is her connection to Surrealism. That link is clear, both in her classically uncanny photomontages and in the roll call of names that appear throughout the exhibition. There’s a particularly beautiful photograph by Maar of Nusch Éluard, head in hands like a depressed Tennessee Williams heroine, plus a set of soft, quiet portraits of Maar taken by Lee Miller.
Surrealism also informs her commercial and fashion photography (the vast majority of works on display here are photographs, with a few paintings thrown in), for example in an image showing a woman with a huge slick of shampoo bubbles on her head, similar to the picture of PJ Harvey on the album cover of ‘Rid of Me’.
But there are many other aspects to appreciate too. Like how Maar’s stately nudes echo Grecian reliefs or how her images of models exercising pre-empt today’s influencer yoga shots selling Lululemon and the like.
The real surprise, however, is Maar’s extensive body of street photography taken in Barcelona, Paris and London during the Depression of the 1930s. Many of the images are remarkable for their informal candour, a quality also present even in Maar’s most stylised Surrealistic images. Unlike the meticulous Miller, Maar takes photos that always look the tiniest bit accidental, as though the shutter closed on its own accord.
When we resurrect ‘forgotten’ female artists, the temptation is to slot them into an existing art movement and point out all the ways their art neatly resembles the stuff we already know about. But Maar is interesting both as a Surrealist and as a realist: a documenter of poverty, conversations and fly-away hairs. If we’re no longer going to forget her as a Surrealist, we should also remember her as more than a Surrealist.