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The importance of being a (Surrealist) muse

Here’s a guest post by Livia Satriano. She is a lovely Italian Media Graduate based in Milan. She works as a freelance writer and researcher, mainly writing about music, art and culture. She wrote her first book “No Wave” about the New York underground music and art scene of the late Seventies, which was published in Italian recently. She is also the editor of Assez Vu – a blog celebrating odd and inspiring pictures from the past. The name “Assez Vu” means ”I’ve seen enough” and it is taken from a poem (“Départ”) by Rimbaud whom Livia is massive fan of. She thought it would be the perfect name and inspiration for her visual blog of “gems” from the past, to say that there’s still so much that we have to see and discover before we can say we’ve seen enough.

Photo of Livia Satriano

The importance of being a (surrealist) muse

Forget the femme fatale of the “Belle Époque”, the woman who made Surrealist hearts beat fast was more of a childlike woman, she was emotive, intuitive, irrational — all the perfect characteristics to take inspiration from as an artist. And what is a muse if not an inspirer?

But never think of the Surrealist muse as the “average” muse, Surrealist women were different and unpredictable in some way. They weren’t Botticelli blonde goddesses, Gauguin exotic beauties or just pretty girls to look at. They were instead proud, independent women who knew what’s what. They could easily switch from being the inspiration for a painting or a poem to being personally involved in artistic expressions. Both object and subject, child and mother, feminine and masculine — The Surrealist muse was the first modern woman.


Nusch Éluard
The sentiments apparent / The lightness of approach / The tresses of caresses.
— Nusch, by Paul Éluard.

Nusch Eluard by Man Ray

Nusch Eluard by Man Ray, 1928

Maria Benz’s first job in Paris was as a “hypnotist’s helper” but soon she met the surrealist poet Paul Éluard whom she married in 1934. Since then this lovely, ethereal girl became the muse of many artists, from Man Ray to Picasso and a favourite inspiration for her husband’s work. She also loved making collages herself at night, while struggling with insomnia.

Some of Nusch’s collages


Méret Oppenheim

Who covers a soup spoon with luxurious fur? Little Meret. Who has outgrown us? Little Meret
— Max Ernst

Meret Oppenheim by Man Ray, 1932

fur-covered tea cup by Méret Oppenheim

She was by all means a Surrealist artist. Her bizarre objects/creations – like the fur-covered tea cup or the fur gloves with polished fingernails – were way ahead of their time. But she was also a beautiful and intriguing woman who posed for Man Ray several times.

Poison by Man Ray featuring Méret Oppenheim:
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Suzanne Muzard

Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all
— Nadja, 1928, by André Breton

Photo of Suzanne Muzard & André Breton

Photography album with Suzanne Muzard by André Breton

André Breton, Paul Éluard & Suzanne Muzard, Untitled 1931

Suzanne was a former prostitute who won the heart of the father of Surrealism. Breton’s masterpiece “Nadja” is said to be dedicated to her but at that time she was still “the young wife” of writer Emmanuel Berl. Muzard and Breton had an intense relationship, she being his muse, but sometimes also a partner in art-making.


Lee Miller

I would rather take a picture than be one
— Elizabeth “Lee” Miller, 1932

Portrait of Lee Miller, by Man Ray ca. 1929

London, 1941 by Lee Miller

One of the most beautiful woman of her generation, Lee graced the covers of fashion magazines such as Vogue but was also, and above all, a talented photojournalist. She had a special photography teacher, Man Ray, of whom she soon became lover and main inspiration.

A clip from ‘Le Sang d’un Poete’ by Jean Cocteau:
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Dorothea Tanning

My work is about leaving the door open to the imagination
— Dorothea Tanning

Can two artists have a long happy life together? This is what happened to Surrealists Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. They had never been apart since Max Ernst’s first visit in her New York studio in 1942. The legend says a chess game was all it took for them to fall in love! She, “the oldest living surrealist”, passed away early this year at the age of 101.

Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst

Dorothea Tanning & Max Ernst

Inspired by Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović. Portrait with Flowers. 2009. Photo by Marco Anelli.

Over the last four decades, Marina Abramović (aka the “grandmother of performance art”) has developed a significant body of work that is both traumatic and inspirational. Abramović is widely known for the sadistic acts committed against her own self in the pursuit of artistic goals, which she justifies as a staging of fears in order to transcend them. She has screamed until she lost her voice, brushed her hair until her scalp bled, passed breaths back and forth with her partner until they both passed out, cut pentagrams onto her stomach, lied naked on a cross made of ice, hurled her body into solid walls, whipped herself, burned herself, and even induced a catatonic state after swallowing anti-psychotic drugs.

The performance “Art must be beautiful”, By Marina Abramović, 1975
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Marina Abramović, Portrait With Scorpion (Open Eyes) (2005)

In 2010 the Museum of Modern Art in New York organized a retrospective – the first such honor bestowed on a performance artist – in which Abramović presented a new piece that was something of a departure from her previous work. There was no evidence of knives or whips or flames in “The Artist is Present,” in fact, there was nothing violent or explicitly abusive about this work at all. What it entailed was Abramović (“The Artist”) sitting in a chair in the museum’s atrium for seven hours a day, six days a week, over the course of three months, which was the entirety of the show’s run. Members of the public were then invited to sit in a chair placed opposite her for as long as they desired. It was an historic event; people came in throngs, queuing for hours and some even camping overnight outside the museum doors for a chance to participate in this work. Abramović, all the while, sat perfectly silent and virtually immobile – unflinchingly focused and fixated on whoever was in front of her.

Marina Abramovic performing “The Artist is Present”, MoMA, New York 2010.

No longer pushing her body to the most extreme physical limits for the purpose of transcendence – although to describe the experience of sitting inert in a wooden chair for what amounted to about 700 hours over the course of 75 days as an entirely pain free endeavor would be simply untrue – this work involved a stripping away of all the objects, belongings, and identities that we hide behind, leaving nothing but a fully “present” being. By emptying herself of these gimmicks and bringing her attention to the moment, Abramović was laying bare a raw consciousness left entirely vulnerable to external vicissitudes. Museums are funny places when it comes to human behavior, they are spaces in which people conform and become (sometimes uncharacteristically) reverential about art. But what I saw that day in the MoMA were individuals who were engaging with this work on a truly deep and intense level – there was laughter, there was scowling, there were shy smiles and there were unabashed tears – not just in the eyes of the viewers but also in those of the ever stoic Abramović. Witnessing the fluctuations of emotion that resonated within her body spoke directly to me as a woman, especially within this specific context that seemed to ascribe to the myth of solitary perfection. In our postfeminist society women are living under an impossible combination of expectations by attempting to have the ephemeral “all” while maintaining some sublime level of independence. Yet here was Abramović, who herself had become something of a mythical superstar – a factor not lost on me or on anyone else, exposing her own moments of self-doubt, to an aura-deflating effect.

Marina Abramović, Self-Portrait with maracas, 2006

We all have our own coping mechanisms but it is empowering to be reminded that faltering from the paths of perfection imposed on us is not a demonstration of weakness but a very human reality inherent to the contemporary condition of women – even women who are superstars.

If you want to know more, HBO recently did a documentary about Marina Abramović and her work.

Francesca Woodman

Her story is very sad, but the work she created before her suicide at the age of only 22, is astonishing. Francesca Woodman was born in 1958 in Denver, Colorado. Her parents are the well-known artists George Woodman and Betty Woodman.

Here is Francesca Woodman with her father George Woodman

After researching her work, it seems most of the black and white photographs she took, was of herself or other women, often posing nude.

What I especially love about her photos, is that the bodies are blurry (due to movement and long exposure times). It gives the figures a kind of ghostlike feeling, because what is in focus is the background or the objects in the scene, not them, yet you immediately turn your eyes to them. It seems like they are almost trying to hide themselves away from the world, or maybe they have never actually been there. Knowing Francesca’s tragical short lifestory, you can get a feeling that this was exactly how she felt herself. Nontheless, the photographs are great artworks, and they make me think about how fleeting life can be.

In 2010, Scott Willis created a film titled “The Woodmans” about “The story of a family that suffers a tragedy, but perseveres and finds redemption through each other and their work – making art.” Watch the trailer here: YouTube Preview Image

New, old posts

Since it’s been 4 years since I started Wunderbuzz, I thought I would give you the change to dig into the old archive, by choosing some of my favourite old posts.

Women by photographers
Woman are beautiful
Women of the world
Celebration of the female body
Naked women
Inspiring women
Sally Mann
Stevie Nicks
Edith Sitwell
Visual inspiration 
I’m a story teller

Madge Gill

I’m reading about “Outsider Art” at the moment, and this led me to Madge Gill. She lived in a children’s home until she was nineteen, and then with her aunt who introduced her to spiritual séances. She was married as twenty-three and had three sons, the second of whom, died of influenza in 1918. After losing an eye and almost dying while giving birth to a stillborn daughter, Gill began to paint and draw.

She usually worked in bed by oil lamp; sometimes she painted in complete darkness. Gill consistently depicted the female form, often set against abstract, architectural lines, crosses and zigzags. The name MYRNINTEREST often appears in her pictures, which might mean ‘mine innerest self’. Her son claimed that she believed her work was guided by a spirit, although she denied this in public.

Around 1935 she began weekly séances and first showed her work at the East End Academy. By the time she died Gill had hundreds of drawings piled in her wardrobe and underneath her bed. Her work gained recognition at the Hayward Gallery’s Outsider show in 1979.

Theda Bara

Theda Bara was an American silent film actress – one of the most popular of her era, and one of cinema’s earliest sex symbols. Her femme fatale roles earned her the nickname “The Vamp”. The term “vamp” soon became a popular slang term for a sexually predatory woman.

PJ Harvey

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I love you.

Kate & Juergen

Love these photos of Kate Moss by Juergen Teller. What’s the story with the bruise though?

Continue reading ‘Kate & Juergen’

Edith Sitwell

If you have been reading Wunderbuzz thoroughly in the past weeks you might have seen my growing interest for poetry. When I went to my local magazine pusher; Artwords Bookshop in Shoreditch I brought home with me Encens Magazine #24 and on the first page there was a quote from the famous poet Edith Sitwell. The quote said:

I admire what other people wear when it is unusual.

The first thing that came into my mind was my days in high-school where everybody looked the same, because nobody wanted to stand out and how I admired it when a few people didn’t  care what others thought and wore something completely different than everybody else. I don’t know if they did it to provoke or if they just had a different style, but that wasn’t really relevant anyway. The point was that they didn’t care about being different.
Horst ritratto Edith Sitwell 1948
Edith was born the 7th September 1887 and I’m guessing that things were a bit different for young people in the 1880s, than in my high-school, but the fear of standing out and being different may still have been there.

If Edith didn’t want to seem unusual, her parents made it difficult for her. She had a terrible relationship to her parents and her father locked her into an iron frame saying that he wanted to cure her for her supposed spinal deformation! And Edith never married which was a big deal then, but instead she fell in love with the homosexual Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew. What a fantastic foundation for an up-and-coming poet!
Edith published her first poem The Drowned Suns in the Daily Mirror in 1913 and her career took off.

Here she is talking with Marilyn Monroe

Here she is talking with Marilyn Monroe

She was always dressed in an unusual manner (or not like the rest) with gowns of brocade or velvet with gold turbans and a plethora of rings – which was to be a part of todays jewelry gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is said that her unusual appearance provoked critics almost as much as her verse, but was that because they were angst about somebody standing out from the rest? No matter what the reason was Edith Sitwell WAS admirable.

Stevie Nicks

Has been considered as the The Reigning Queen of Rock and Roll by The Rolling Stone Magazine and The ultimate flower-child/rock-fairy by Hilary Alexander. With the comeback of Fleetwood Mac follows the style-icon Stevie Nicks. And it seems like she’s already influenced designers like John Galliano’s Autumn/Winter 09-10 collection with her medieval look.

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