Whitehot Magazine

Michael Klein On Dora Maar

Dora Maar, Self Portrait, 1935


By MICHAEL KLEIN May 14, 2024

Packed away in a box, are photographs of my mother’s life in Paris in the late 30s, a few years before Germany's invasion and the Nazi raid on my family. There, she is elegant and proud, attending a Surrealist party made up as a Picasso portrait carrying a frame that frames her from her shoulders to the top of her head; living art. No doubt she might have been standing at the same party as Dora Maar, Picasso's elegant dark-hair dark-eyed partner who is the subject of this exhibition at Amar Gallery’s new location in London. 

Dora Maar was a wonderful inventive and gifted photographer and lover to the most famous artist of the 20th century. This is also a show that reiterates the gallery’s support of women artists of various generations. Gallery owner Amar Singh said to me, "Dora Maar is rightfully having her moment and I’m thrilled to show the work of this incredibly talented overlooked artist."

Maar was born in Buenos Aires in the year 1907, during the time Braque and Picasso were inventing and experimenting with Cubism and they moved to Paris in order to study art. They met and she became his muse, the subject of dozens of studies and paintings. He was charmed by this young woman and she by Paris and Picasso's spirited social circle of artists dealers and collectors. Picasso used Maar as both model and muse through 66 or more sittings.

She explored Paris through her camera and eventually became engaged with the master on a daily basis as he painted Guernica, a grand tribute to the people of this Spanish village and its total destruction—a prelude to the forthcoming battle against Fascism across Europe. Her's is an oeuvre that explored many aspects of photography: from self portraits and observation of others; to the experimentation with collage and photograms.         

Maars' exploration of photography falls within the boundaries of Surrealism, underscored by Andre Breton’s now famous definition of Surrealism as the "marriage of an umbrella  with a sewing machine."  And at the heart of Surrealism is the madness of war and the madness of love. Maar explores both in her documentary photos of the Guernica painting and the sensuality of her photograms. A synthetic process much like painting, except the photogram's palette is limited to black-and-white contrast, are objects laid on the light sensitive photographic paper in a darkroom and then exposed to light. To Picassos of the day they must have appeared like fragments of the many figures and forms he devised for his grand mural Guernica. 

Post war and post Picasso she was described as a passionate, provocative and an enigmatic woman -  underscored by Maar’s very sultry self portraits. What further connects the two artists is the subtle sexual tension in their portraits; another characteristic of Surrealism. And like a well worn telephone book, knowledge about her work with photography was only discovered after her death in 1997. 

We have her photographs to study and explore, her methods and engineering to create the fantasy worlds she created in the darkroom.  Now a recent book, Finding Dora Maar, an artist, an address book, a life. We can follow her life through the pages of this abandoned and then discovered address book, how ultimately Surreal? Included in the book are the numbers for Breton, for Cocteau, for Brassai, for Balthus and of course Picasso and also for writers like Roland Penrose and Douglas Cooper all in all a mini survey of Modernism in Paris. One can only assume that this unique relationship of lover/teacher/master allowed Maar’s curiosity and passion for photography to grow so that she could create her own special dreamlike scapes which we enjoy today. WM

The exhibition continues at Amar Gallery, London, 16th June - 18th August, 2024 


Michael Klein

Michael Klein is a private dealer and freelance and independent curator for individuals, institutions and arts organizations.

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