While organizing “In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States,” LACMA managed to acquire a few of the show’s works. One is Dorothea Tanning’s 1969 fabric sculpture Xmas, purchased by the 2010 Collector’s Committee. Less well known are two extraordinary paintings.
At top is Gerrie von Pribosic Gutmann’s The Theft (1952), a gift of David and Jeanne Carlson. Like some of her sister surrealists, von Pribosic had the mixed blessing of being the wife of a better-known artist, in this case the German-born San Francisco photographer John Gutmann. They married in 1949 and divorced not too long afterward. Gerrie committed suicide in 1969.
“You must see Gerrie’s work,” John Gutmann told USC art historian Susan Ehrlich. She found some Gerrie Gutmann paintings at a Carmel gallery and “was impressed and intrigued… She has a wonderfully moving self-portrait where she shows herself in old Victorian garb, chained by spider webs to a toy doll in the corner. I thought it was beautifully rendered, beautifully stated, a real externalization of her fears-webs of obligation and memory chaining her to a domestic chamber of horrors.”
The Theft is similarly autobiographical. An imaginary self-portrait as antlered Madonna clutches a tiny coffin. This refers to the artist’s loss of custody of her son to her ex. A scandalous depiction of the Virgin was already a surrealist staple, as in Max Ernst’s The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child from 1926. Gutmann looks further back, to Bosch and El Greco and other old masters that 20th-century critics had repackaged as modernists. She also looks forward. The pearly, rotting-flesh background is an abstraction half-anticipating Gerhard Richter. The zombified eyes are even more like Terry Gilliam’s 1970s animations for Monty Python.
“In Wonderland” shows a small Surrealist Landscape of the early 1940s, by Anne Ryan (bottom of post), purchased for the museum by Dr. and Mrs. Christian Title. Ryan is known almost exclusively for the collages she created after seeing Kurt Schwitters’ work in 1948 (at age 57). Her collages of paper and fabric, such as the Metropolitan Museum’s Number 7 (right), were hailed as that medium’s version of Abstract Expressionism. Today we might liken them to Korean bojagi. LACMA’s rare and early Ryan painting instead invites comparison to the weirdscapes of Kay Sage.