Art review: Hans Bellmer at Anais
When a few opportunistic Surrealists opened a nightclub in Montparnasse in the late 1920s, they named it Maldoror, after the title character in the Comte de Lautréamont prose poem of the 1860s. It was meant to cause a stir, and it did, especially horrifying Andre Breton, the ringleader of the revolution in consciousness. As noted in the Parisian press, “Maldoror, for a Surrealist, is like Jesus Christ for a Christian.”
Hans Bellmer (1902-75) was among many artists and poets who took inspiration from “Les Chants de Maldoror,” a dark chronicle of the wanderings and observations of a man convinced that cruelty and genius can coexist in a single personality. Bellmer, a German who lived in Paris from the late 1930s until his death, drew upon the proto-Surrealist tale in a series of etchings published in the 1960s. The portfolio, on view at Anais, also incorporates erotic themes not directly related to the text but integral to his career’s work in sculpture, photography, drawings and prints.
Bellmer’s exquisite line runs like a haunting melody through these prints. Sinuous, fluid and exceedingly fine, it describes human hybrids and metamorphoses in continuous, switchback strokes. A man’s head, in “Memory,” is inlaid by the figures of at least half a dozen young girls. A nude melds with one of his shoulders, and another woman perches on the opposite side, a bird meeting her outstretched hand. A few of the compositions are clumsy, but most have a disturbing beauty that fuses fantasy and nightmare -- typical of Bellmer and also of Lautréamont, from whom the Surrealists adopted their famous credo celebrating the sort of beauty that comes from from “the fortuitous meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.”
-- Leah Ollman
Galerie Anais, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 449-4433, through March 31. Closed Monday; www.galerieanaisla.com.
Image: Hans Bellmer, "Memory." Credit: Galerie Anais