Remedios Varo in a Sphere of Her Own

CHICAGO — What would it be like to wake up, have coffee, and get to work cultivating the implausible, embracing not just the visible world but one of molecules, energies, metaphysics, and fourth dimensions. While all artists are conjurors, Remedios Varo (1908–1963) is a sorceress extraordinaire. Her work is so odd that it feels as if it occupies a category of its own, aligning with the Surrealist sensibilities of Dorothea Tanning, Leonor Fini, or Leonora Carrington, but more otherworldly, more like pages of a medieval spell book or an ancient codex for girls. Varo uniquely fuses technique with content, applying Surrealist methods of chance to delineate spaces and atmospheres infused with magic. Her working methods seem as much potion as process.

Science Fictions, at the Art Institute of Chicago, is the first major presentation of Varo’s work in the United States since 2020, when the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC organized a survey. (Needless to say that Varo is just one of many women artists who were historically excluded from the history of Surrealism and art history in general.) Upon entering the show, the consistent orange and golden hues of her paintings set the room aglow. A few of her subjects’ faces, inlayed with mother-of-pearl, catch the light like flecks of the moon. The paintings beckon us to plunge into their vaporous worlds while challenging us to decode intricate scenarios.

Featured Image: Entry to Remedios Varo: Science Fictions at the Art Institute of Chicago (photo Debra Brehmer/Hyperallergic)

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