Last month, when I was initially getting myself excited over The Tristan Project, I ran across Robert Hughes' cracking essay for the Guardian on the current exhibition (through July 22) at London's Victoria & Albert Museum, "Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design." The entire article is up to the usual high standards of Mr. Hughes, but what caught my eye was the highlighted passage below which provides at least a tenuous connection between the surrealists and Wagner's doomed and transfigured lovers:
Fashion was sexy. So was surrealism. They were a natural fit. Nobody ever called cubism sexy, or constructivism, or any of the other movements of the early 20th century except German expressionism, which did have its sexy moments - though not so very many of them. But one of the core beliefs of the surrealists, as set forth by their leader, Andre Breton, was in l'amour fou, obsessional love, the kind of love that deranges the senses and tips those who feel it into a helpless vortex of appetite and feeling. Surrealism had its own cast of star women, seemingly imperishable love objects, all dead now, whose images nevertheless endure thanks to the photos of Man Ray, George Hoyningen-Huene and others. The most beautiful and desirable of them all was a first-rate photographer herself: the blonde American Lee Miller, who lived with Man Ray for a time in Paris and was one of the chief muses of surrealism. Her lips can be seen floating in the sky like some wondrous UFO above the breast-like domes of the Paris Observatory in Man Ray's painting A l'heure de l'observateur. Sometimes it can be difficult to share the past's enthusiasm for the sex-bombs of yesteryear, and Mae West, less a sex object than a parody of sexuality, is (at least for me) a case in point. But Miller, one of the most gorgeous American beauties of the 20th or any other century, was a wholly different matter.
Lee Miller is second from the bottom in the photo above, in which she and, in descending order, Marie-Berthe Aurenche, Max Ernst, and Man Ray appear to be auditioning to become the new Marx Brothers. Today, the Guardian reports that the V&A will soon be hosting a show devoted to Lee Miller herself:
The exhibition will bring together famous images, original prints from private collections, and many never exhibited or published before. They will include images from her early days in Paris, such as photographs of her at work in her studio taken by Man Ray, and extracts will be shown from Jean Cocteau's 1930 film, The Blood of a Poet, in which she starred.
Sensuous nude studies and glossy fashion images will hang with shocking images such as the dead body of an SS guard dumped in a canal from her period as the only woman photojournalist accredited to second world war combat areas. Miller persuaded Vogue to carry long photo-features from Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps, under the heading "Believe this".
The V&A show is tied to the centenary of Miller's birth and is described as the first comprehensive retrospective devoted to her and her work. Sadly, there is no indication that the exhibition will tour outside London, let alone reach Miller's native land.
- Some idea of Lee Miller's range as influence and artist can be gleaned from the site for "Surrealist Muse," a more intimate 2003 show that I am kicking myself for having missed at the Getty. That page includes Miller's self-portrait in Adolf Hitler's bathtub, taken the same day as her photos of the liberation of Dachau.
- Pablo Picasso painted a portrait of Lee Miller in 1937. It is even less flattering than most of Picasso's portraits of women. The left eye, taken on its own, is very lovely if you overlook that it is on the wrong side of the subject's nose.
- I always enjoy it when my weblogular interests cross-pollinate, as in this example: One of the pivotal figures in "Surreal Things" is fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, and Elsa Schiaparelli is the maternal great grandmother of Fool musical favorite, Elvis Perkins.
- Call me old fashioned, but I have to think that Lee Miller is more deserving of a large scale museum retrospective than the V&A's other muse of the moment, Kylie Minogue:
The exhibition shows Kylie's continually changing image, from 1988 onwards, starting with the overalls she wore as Charlene in Neighbours. It also includes the infamous gold lamé hotpants worn in the video for 'Spinning Around' and the white hooded jumpsuit featured in the 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' video.