Surreal photograph of a woman with a star for a head

‘Mannequin-étoile'(1936), Dora Maar. © Adagp, Paris, 2019. Photo © Centre Pompidou

To the majority of people, Dora Maar is Picasso’s lover and his muse, and yet Maar was an innovative and avant-garde artist in her own right – before Picasso came into the picture. In the Pompidou’s latest retrospective exhibition, Dora Maar is finally given the centre stage she deserves.

There are nearly 500 of her works and documents on display, inviting the visitor to journey through the entire length of her career, from her initial works as a professional photographer in the fashion industry, to the capturing of both political and social concerns in her street photography, and her central involvement in the surrealist movement. This is the first exhibit of Maar’s work at a national museum, presenting the rare opportunity to see works from both public and private collections in one place.

Surreal photograph of woman's legs disembodied

‘Sans titre’ (1935), Dora Maar. © Adagp, Paris 2019. Photo credit © Centre Pompidou

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The stand out pieces of the show are her iconic surreal photographs. They are oddities formed of auto-curious objects which hold us between disbelief and reality, as seen in Mannequin-Étoile (1936) and sans titre (1935). In Mannequin-Étoile we are positioned to be frustrated, caught between identifying the stage set and the female performer, but also restrained from knowing or seeing the whole truth – we are unclear of where she is going and who she is. Her star head simultaneously functions as a clue to the theatre setting and a disguise. It is through Maar’s use of the uncanny and strange that we are able to identify the influence of other surrealist photographers such as Man Ray and Hans Bellmer, as well as other artists such as Breton and Miro. Like them, her work continues to actively challenge and provoke its audiences, inviting us to embrace new perspectives and break away from the norm.

Naked woman photographed against a wall with her shadow

‘Assia’ (1934), Dora Maar. © Adagp, Paris 2019 / Photo © Centre Pompidou

Rosie Ellison-Balaam

‘Dora Maar’ runs until 29 July 2019 at the Pompidou Centre, Paris. For more information visit: centrepompidou.fr