MAGNIFYING MIRRORS: Women, Surrealism, and Partnership by Renee Riese Hubert (University of Nebraska: $90; 425 pp.) The subtitle makes one fear a rigidly schematic thesis, but Hubert’s book has something much richer to offer. Short on theory, long on art history and the analysis of specific works, it presents 12 detailed and varied portraits of artistic partnership among the surrealists, primarily thorough “reconstructed dialogues between works of art.” These partnerships were overwhelmingly heterosexual ones, for reasons unexplored in detail but arising naturally from the surrealists’ sexual politics and erotic vocabulary, which presumed a constellation among femininity and the unconscious, the irrational, transgression and liberation. Of course this was a constellation that the women partners found themselves struggling against even as they fulfilled it.
These 12 studies are interlinked through common themes and imagery but are never forced into an academic mold. Indeed, one of the book’s main strengths is its detailed look at the widely varying artistic lives of lesser-known women surrealists such as Sophie Taeuber, Valentine Penrose, Leonora Carrington, Unica Zurn, Kay Sage, Alice Rahon, Remedios Varo and Hannah Hoch. The surrealists’ attempts to overcome the separation between art and life paradoxically meant that frequently the work of the women was subsumed to the larger program. “Magnifying Mirrors” examines the social and artistic responses of these adventurous women to a complex situation, and shows their evolution before, during and sometimes after partnership with their better-known male partners. The result is the opening of a whole new vista on the surrealist movement, and the discovery there of a hitherto unexamined sexual dialogue.