High Road to Jewish Unconscious

Los Angeles County Museum of Art Hosts Surrealist Art by Women

Outside the Box: Ruth Bernhard’s photo is a commentary on the marginal status of sexual minorities and immigrants.
courtesy of princeton u. art museum
Outside the Box: Ruth Bernhard’s photo is a commentary on the marginal status of sexual minorities and immigrants.

By Sammy Loren

Published February 19, 2012, issue of February 24, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Also featured in the exhibition is Hungarian photographer Kati Horna, who worked as a photojournalist across Europe until she fled Paris as the Nazis advanced. Landing in Mexico, Horna lived there until her death, in 2000. Like other surrealists — most notably Hans Bellmer — Horna frequently included dolls and puppets in her work. With their uncanny, lifelike appearance and intimate relation to childhood, dolls were thought to free the unconscious and to help merge the real and the surreal.

But Horna’s black-and-white photograph “La Muñeca” (“The Doll”), an eerie snapshot of a bald, severed doll’s head, suggests fatalism and fear: that no matter where a woman resides — Old World or New World — she will always be infantilized and alienated.

Yet, farther up the Pacific Coast, Rose Mandel seemed to entirely reinvent herself in the New World. Born in Poland, Mandel was living in Switzerland with her husband in 1942 and studying to be a child psychologist. Although considering a return to then Nazi-occupied Poland, they chose to immigrate to San Francisco. But once in America, Mandel abandoned psychology for art. In a 1992 interview, she explained: “I didn’t try to work with children…. It was too tragic a time for me. I left that all behind.”

Nevertheless, the theme of childhood perseveres. One of Mandel’s untitled photographs at the LACMA exhibit depicts a lone crib. Neither touched nor ruffled by an actual baby, the crib-as-art approaches the personal and political. Shot at an upward angle, the photo inverts our connotations of maternity, transforming the crib into a towering figure of anxiety. Rather than a blessing, Mandel depicts motherhood as something of a curse.

For unknown reasons, Mandel, like many surrealists in the exhibition, never had children. Critiquing traditional gender roles proved an enduring theme of her work and of female surrealist art as a whole.

As a movement, surrealism has long since faded. Yet its subjects — from gender to sexuality, from trauma to alienation — remain unnervingly relevant. The “In Wonderland” exhibition at LACMA reminds us of the work that has already been done, and the work that is still left to do.

Sammy Loren is a freelance writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles. He blogs at www.sammyloren.com.

“In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States” is on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until May 6.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.