Friday, April 25, 2008

"Surrealist Muse: Lee Miller, Roland Penrose, and Man Ray"

2003-02-25 until 2003-06-15
J. Paul Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA, USA

The many faces of Lee Miller—model, muse, and artist—are explored in Surrealist Muse: Lee Miller, Roland Penrose, and Man Ray at the Getty from February 25–June 15, 2003. The exhibition traces Miller’s colorful life and legacy from 1925 to 1945 through more than 100 photographs, and in selected paintings and mixed-media works. These objects document the impact of her talent and powerful personality on artists with whom she came into contact, and explore the influences of these collaborations on her creative life. The works on display are from the Getty’s permanent collection, the Lee Miller Archive, and the Roland Penrose Collection. They range from early pictures of Miller’s modeling career in New York, to Surrealist images showing her influence on Man Ray, Picasso, and Roland Penrose, to her astonishing World War II photographs documenting the demise of Hitler and the Third Reich.

Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, commented, "It is difficult to think of another woman who has had such a far-reaching impact on a group of artists and their work. We see Miller’s image and influence as interpreted by others, and then see the source of that power in her own creative vision. Miller’s legacy is all the more compelling because she made her presence felt at a time when women were still struggling for equal rights. She helped pave the way, leaving her indelible mark on a world soon to be altered by war."

As muse, Miller was a rare inspiration, equally comfortable and forceful in front of and behind the camera and canvas. At the age of 19, she became a model in New York where her image, captured and composed by photographers Arnold Genthe, Edward Steichen, and George Hoyningen-Huene, made her a fashion icon. At 22, Miller began working as a studio apprentice to Man Ray in Paris. The relationship soon evolved with Miller becoming artistic collaborator and muse. Some of Man Ray’s most prominent images were created between 1929 and 1932 with Miller’s assistance. Through Man Ray, Miller was introduced to the writers and artists of the Surrealist movement. Miller’s membership in this vibrant community sparked a cross-pollination of influences that infused Surrealist traditions into her work. Her impact was also felt by other artists in the group, including Picasso, who painted his vision of Miller in five portraits, one of which is on display.

Miller’s influence is perhaps most keenly felt in the works of her two closest collaborators—Man Ray and Roland Penrose. Both interpreted and reinterpreted Miller’s image to reflect their relationships. Man Ray, enraged after a quarrel with his muse, depicted Miller with her neck slashed in his 1930–32 painting Le Logis de l’Artiste (The Artist’s House), using a previous photograph of Miller with her head thrown back and her neck extended as a model. Penrose envisions Miller, whom he married, as Night and Day in his painting portraying Miller in a costume half adorned with clouds floating in a blue sky, and half shaded in the gentle darkness that comes with night.

As an artist, Miller’s work moves from portraits taken in her New York studio, to documentary images recording her travels, to the stark faces of death and destruction captured on the fields of war as a correspondent for the U.S. Armed Forces. Across the maturing quality of her work, we see the different threads of her prior experiences united in her vision. In her photograph documenting the suicide of a German official and his family at the end of the war, Miller moves her lens close to the subjects, capturing the bodies as if they were in a state between dream and waking, life and death—at once beautiful, horrible, and surreal.

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