Dark, Surreal And Twisted. Welcome To The Bizarre World Of Dorothea Tanning At Tate Modern

Dorothea Tanning, Tate Modern ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 48 months ago

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Dark, Surreal And Twisted. Welcome To The Bizarre World Of Dorothea Tanning At Tate Modern Dorothea Tanning, Tate Modern 5
Have you seen a creepier corridor? © DACS, 2019

Two girls stand in a very creepy hallway. An oversized sunflower lies beaten by the stairs. One girl's hair is pulled upward by an invisible force, while the other girl's hair slides off her head. At the end of the hallway a light emanates from an open door — is that a point of refuge or do more oddities await? Welcome to the world of Surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning. She's got her chance to shine in a spectacular exhibition that's just opened at Tate Modern.

A work titled birthday celebrates her birth as a Surrealist in some style. She poses in the painting with her breasts exposed and clothing that seems to be alive and growing. A strange winged hybrid creature sits at her feet and multiple doors, suggesting multiple pathways, open up behind her. It's an invitation that suggests things are about to get weirder. Stranger Things has got nothing on Tanning's imagination.

Now that wasn't what they were expecting to find. © DACS, 2019

The idea of doorways continues throughout her work. Sometimes they jut out of the painting to divide figures on either side, or in one tiny painting where two girls tear down the wallpaper only to expose a portal to another world that tries to suck them through.

Her more abstract works are just as mind bending replete with ethereal figures and faces that emerge from the colours, before they disappear back into the wispy lines.

Even her abstract works are superbly unsettling. © DACS, 2019

While the works are surreal, there are deeply personal insights among the paintings. At a dinner table her father looms large suggesting he was an imposing influence. In a vast landscape the artist is painted in the centre in her underwear all alone in a foreign land, which she is trying to suss out — is this how she felt about the world of painting?

There are soft sculptures here and they often feel like they are the tamest works on display. That is until we stumble across the Hotel du Pavot — this recreation of a dimly lit hotel room has bulbous sculptures popping out the walls and some emerging from the furnishings. It's like something out of a horror film, and creates an air of unease.

The delightfully creepy Hotel du Pavot. © DACS, 2019

Tanning isn't a household name, but hopefully this show alerts the wider world to her mind-blowing imagination, creativity and versatility. This is easily one of the strongest show to grace Tate Modern in recent years.

Dorothea Tanning is on at Tate Modern until 9 June. Tickets are £13 for adults.

Last Updated 04 March 2019