Exhibition of the week: Angel of Anarchy by Eileen Agar
Sooner or later the art world “will always remember Eileen Agar,” said Waldemar Januszczak in Sunday Times. Contemporary artist to Paul Nash, Lee Miller and Salvador Dalí, Agar (1899-1991) was a true original. Possessing “tons of talent” – as well as “good looks” and “an address book to kill” – she was an indomitable, independent artist who lived an “action-packed life” that took her from Argentina in the south of France. in Cornwall. Along the way, she has created a wealth of quirky and often memorable art, jumping from “style to style” and “mood to mood” as she pleases.
Although generally associated with Surrealism – she was one of the few women on display at the 1936 Historic Surrealist International Exhibition in London – she was far too “free-spirited” to truly fit into a movement. Perhaps it is for this reason that Hagar never received the recognition accorded to many of his peers. As this sprawling new exhibit demonstrates, its relative obscurity is undeserved. The exhibition brings together more than 150 paintings, photographs, collages and sculptures, from all stages of her career, to finally give her place to this artist with relentless inventiveness.
Born to a wealthy Scottish father and American mother, in Buenos Aires, Agar was a true cosmopolitan, Jonathan Jones said in The Guardian. She befriends Picasso and Ezra Pound and has a long relationship with the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. Yet there is something distinctly British about his work, particularly evident in his 1930s collages and sculptures. Two dominant themes were his love of the seaside and an unprecedented understanding of the ‘power of found objects’: during the show, we see corals and shells “arranged in dreamlike boxes”, “small sculptures made of shells and pebbles. ”, And black and white photographs of“ seashells, rocks and driftwood ”.
His most famous work, Angel of anarchy (1936-40), is a strange plaster head covered with “silk scarves, shells and giraffe skin”; while Marine object (1939) houses a collection of “fantastic wrecks” in the broken neck of a Roman amphora. It is just as attractive as surrealism, but stripped of the psychoanalytic “baggage” so dear to the continental practitioners of the movement. Sadly, the shine of this phase of Hagar’s career did not filter into his later work. The show traces his art to his death and becomes more and more dull as it comes to an end. To call it anti-climatic would be an understatement.
Some of the works on display are less than “remarkable,” Cal Revely-Calder said in The daily telegraph. But Agar’s later career must not be undone: the semi-abstract painting of 1961 Lewis Carroll with Alice is deeply “disturbing”; just as remarkable is the collective unconscious of 1978, a “large acrylic canvas” full of “geometric and organic shapes”.
She has rarely tried to disguise her many influences: while a self-portrait from 1935 owes a debt to Jean Cocteau, Bird’s Nest (1969) shamelessly borrows from Matisse. Yet her work was never less than distinctive, and Agar’s individuality is evident in everything here, from a photo of butt-shaped rocks in Brittany to a 1936 Pathé newsreel in which she stands. walks through London with a hat covered in fake seafood, much to the astonishment of passers-by. It is not a show without ups and downs, but it is a beautiful celebration of a “lively” – and sometimes “masterful” – artist.
Whitechapel Gallery, London E1 (whitechapelgallery.org). Until August 29