In Dreams

I lost my dreams.

Frida Kahlo

Dreams — daydreams and night dreams — used to guide me. In the morning when I woke, I would make sure to remember what had happened to me during the night, and that memory would cling to me throughout the day, like a tissuey emotional shroud. I loved my dreams; recurring ones were old friends. They helped me see life in new ways. They taught me.

I thought about my old friends when I toured “In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.” This exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is one of the most powerful and affecting gatherings of artwork I’ve seen in years. Re-seeing imaginative and confessional works by Frida Kahlo reminded me of her deep gift and profound statements. Looking from her paintings across the room to Alice Rahon’s Ballad for Frida Kahlo, I was also reminded of the powerful connections between women — how we can be each other’s muses.

Rahon was one of a dozen painters, sculptors, and photographers about whom I knew little or nothing prior to this show, and now I’m obsessed with. Dorothea Tanning paints a bare-chested woman — herself, I think — with a seaweed skirt and a winged griffin at her feet. The fascinating Lee Miller — model turned photographer, object become subject — photographs a breast removed in surgery, and then twins it. Gerrie Gutman paints a terrifyingly ghoulish statement of herself  holding a casket, symbolizing her loss of custody of her son; it made me think of Kristin Hersh. Sylvia Fein is gothic and impish. Leonora Carrington’s horses gallop and have breasts.

These are dreamscapes, fantasies, nightmares — projections from the parts of our brains and hearts that we don’t always use every day. The less we use them, I’ve found, the rarer they appear. In Wonderland inspired me to take those first moments of consciousness, and remember where my mind went wandering the previous hours.

 

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