The Tanning Salon

An Artist Talks About Her Life Among the Surrealists and Beyond

To read Between Lives is to understand the painful double life of a female artist who spent her prime time partially as a devoted companion. "What had happened to my petulance?" she writes late in the book. "How had my lifelong lordliness wound up in a tangle of maneuvers having to do with woman rather than artist?" Yet Tanning also suggests that falling in love was not a career decision: It was her life. "Does the sharing of a direction deprive a female of her imagination? . . . To have been in a way a helpmate to so splendid and mysterious a human being . . . was in no way painful or degrading."

Still, Tanning can't help thinking about what her story might have been if Max had never entered the picture. Without hesitation, she offers, "I would have been an American artist. I certainly wouldn't have lived in France all that time. When I came back to New York, I thought immediately they would have a retrospective of my work in one of these museums." To this day, there has been no major U.S. exhibition. "At first it amazed me, then it worried me, and now I'm grateful, because it's finally so peaceful. You just can't regret anything in your life."


Dorothea Tanning battles three labels: woman artist, widow of Max Ernst, and Freak.
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Dorothea Tanning battles three labels: woman artist, widow of Max Ernst, and Freak.

Tanning will have exhibitions of works on paper at NYU's Maison Française (opens August 30, 212-998-8750) and the Zabriskie Gallery (opens September 6, 212-752-1223).

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