Monday, May 11, 2009

Unica Zürn reviewed in Time Out New York

Unica Zürn: Dark Spring reviewed by Joshua Mack in Time Out New York

Unica Zürn: Dark Spring
The Drawing Center, through July 23

In 1953, following a series of self-induced abortions and a brutal divorce, the German poet and novelist Unica Zürn (1916–1970) moved to Paris with the artist Hans Bellmer, and began making art using the Surrealist technique of automatic drawing. Replete with snakes and leering eyes swarming in linear networks, her output reflected the influence of Bellmer’s circle—from Henri Michaux’s mescaline-induced drawings to Wols’s agglomerations of insectlike creatures. But as pieces and documents assembled here clearly indicate, Zürn’s agitated facture and nightmare imagery also evinced a keen understanding of pictorial composition, and suggest miseries like ceaseless itching and sleepless nights.

They also presaged trouble. In 1960, Zürn suffered a psychotic incident and was in and out of institutions until her suicide, in 1970. Following her initial breakdown, her touch became more flaccid, and her imagery gave way to doodlelike renderings of faces and birds that seem repetitive and decorative in contrast with her initial efforts.

More compelling is the backstory told by the ephemera on display. Zürn wrote several experimental texts, including the grimly autobiographical Dark Spring. In one passage she described the enormous pleasure she derived from rope cutting her flesh. A set of photographs of her bound torso, taken by Bellmer, indicates that the couple practiced BDSM, while his notation to crop her visage from the images hints at deeper efforts at effacement.

That’s not all. Her psychiatrist traded her drawings for cigarettes, and it was Michaux who had arguably put her in the hospital by giving her mescaline—raising the troubling prospect that Zürn’s life was a hideous coincidence of art, madness and abuse.—Joshua Mack