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Surrealism comments - Art Hist.C149B G Baker TA N Harren...

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3/7/08 Art Hist.C149B G. Baker/ TA: N. Harren Surrealism Paper Rough Draft The portrayal of women in surrealist art is generally a hotly debated subject. Some view surrealist depictions of women as objects of death, desire, fertility and even machine or automaton. Another way of depicting women in surrealist art in the 1930s was that of the insect praying mantis. Rosalind Krauss describes some of the peculiarities of the insect that drew surrealists’ interest: The female mantis’s sexual practices—in certain species its consumption of its mate after or even during copulation— and its voracity made it the perfect symbol of the phallic mother, fascinating, petrifying, castrating. 1 The mantis itself would also be compared to the automaton or machine as quoted by Caillois in Krauss “…for the mantis comes most stunningly to resemble a machine when, even decapitated, it can continue to function and mime life” 2 . The praying mantis was pivotal in many surrealist works of the 1930’s including paintings by Dali and Masson, collages by Ernst, and sculptures by Alberto Giacometti. The praying mantis became a sort of negative archetype for women in surrealist art, a threatening force of castration, which is depicted in numerous ways by different surrealist artists. I believe that 1 Rosalind Krauss, Corpus Delicti + Surrealism and Photography (New York: Abbeville Press, 1985) 66. 2 Ibid. 66.
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Bretonian Surrealists in general viewed woman as an ambivalent object: to be both feared and loved at the same time. Some ways that Surrealists confronted the fear of woman as castrator was either by escaping their physical contact through masturbation or sadism and violence. The sculpture of Alberto Giacometti, Woman with her Throat Cut (Fig. 1) and Hans Bellmer’s Machine-Gunneress in a State of Grace will be analyzed to interpret how the fear of woman and the threat they pose is confronted with violence. Bretonian surrealism was influenced heavily by the teachings and writings of Sigmund Freud, specifically those on the Oedipus complex and castration anxiety. According to Freud, castration anxiety occurs in young boys when they see female genitalia for the first time and falsely assume that their penis has been cut off, and the boy becomes anxious that his own penis will be cut off 3 . Viewing women as a threat of castration and also as an object of desire created a sort of ambivalence among many surrealist depictions of woman, and leave many aspects of their work open to interpretation and ambiguous in their meaning. For Alberto Giacometti’s Woman with Her Throat Cut (Fig.1) from 1932, we see a strange alien like creature splayed out on the ground in an unnatural contorted position. The sculpture is cast in bronze and is black in color measuring in at 9 1/8 x 35 1/16 inches. The creature is unmistakably female as can be seen by the presence of breasts and absence of male genitalia between the creature’s legs. The creature appears to have
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