The Drawing Center will present Unica Zürn: Dark Spring, the first major museum exhibition in North America devoted to the work of the late German artist and author, Unica Zürn (1916–1970). The exhibition will foreground the role of drawing in Zürn’s artistic career and will bring together for the first time nearly 40 ink and watercolor works on paper spanning from the early 1950s until Zürn’s tragic suicide in 1970, as well as related texts, photographs, and personal correspondence. Unica Zürn:?Dark Spring is curated by João Ribas.
Already an established author of expressionistic prose in postwar Berlin, Zürn began experimenting with Surrealist ‘automatic’ drawing and anagrammatic poetry after meeting Hans Bellmer, who would become her long-time partner and collaborator, in 1953. The resulting drawings and texts were made during an intensely productive period for the artist also marked by the onset of mental illness. At once delicate and haunting, the drawings reflect the hidden codes and meanings Zürn found in her cryptic anagrams and depict hallucinatory motifs ranging from chimerical beasts to calligraphic detail hovering between image and writing.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Unica Zürn was born in Berlin-Grünewald in 1916, and lived and worked in Berlin and Paris. From the mid-1930s, Zürn first worked as an archivist, editor, and artistic advisor at the Berlin-based German national film production company, UFA, before devoting herself to writing. Zürn produced numerous expressionistic short stories that were published in German newspapers throughout the 1950s before moving to Paris with German Surrealist artist, Hans Bellmer. During the following decade and a half, Zürn produced paintings and drawings while living in Paris, becoming acquainted and exhibiting with many artists in the Surrealist circle, including André Breton, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp. In 1954, Zürn produced her first series of anagram poems, Hexentexte (Witches’ Texts) which incorporated ten drawings and provided the central framework for many of her later experiments with prose, including her autobiographical novella, Dark Spring (1969), and more avant-garde texts such as Im Hinterhalt (1963) and Die Trompeten von Jericho (1968). In the early sixties, she began suffering a series of mental crises leading to intermittent hospitalization during which she continued to draw and write poetry. In October 1970, having been released from a clinic, Zürn returned to Paris and Bellmer; on the morning of October 19, Zürn leapt to her death from the balcony of the apartment the couple shared on the rue de la Plaine—as she had described in the last pages of Dark Spring. Bellmer died on February 24, 1975 and was buried, at his request, next to Zürn in Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery.
PUBLICATION In conjunction with the exhibition, The Drawing Center will publish Drawing Papers 86: Unica Zurn: Dark Spring featuring essays by João Ribas and Mary Ann Caws, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, English, and French at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. The publication will be approximately 100 pages, with 50 color images, and will sell for $20.