NMWA presents The Magic of Remedios Varo, the first retrospective in the U.S. to showcase the powerful imagination and intellectual curiosity of one of Mexico’s greatest women artists, on view through May 29, 2000. The exhibition includes 77 of Varo’s finest paintings and drawings from collections in Mexico and the U.S.
Varo (1908-1963) used her superior technical skill to create richly detailed surrealist works filled with science, magic, and women’s experience. She explored the world through her work while also inventing alternatives to it. From her first solo exhibition in Mexico in 1956, Varo was an instant celebrity, with crowds lining up to see her work and long waiting lists for commissions.
In her meticulous paintings rendered in jewel-like tones, worlds overlap to create a reality apart: a chair back mysteriously opens to reveal human faces, hands reach through walls, and tabletops peel back to expose living roots. Varo wanted to know how and why the universe functioned and looked to dreams, astrology, and science for inspiration, and to visual and literary sources for themes. She set up hypotheses and explored them in paint, opening the door to new ways of envisioning nature and the self.
Most of the people who inhabit Varo’s paintings reflect the artist’s features, the heart-shaped face with large almond eyes, long sharp nose, and thick hair. In many of Varo’s works a female character employs alchemical methods, as in Creation of the Birds (1957), in which an owl artist/musician uses synthesized materials to create a bird that takes flight out of a window. And though Surrealism was the aesthetic within which she developed, her later work creates an alternate vision of the movement.