Challenging the social construct
Art history undergraduate discusses opportunity to co-curate Lilley exhibition on Leonor Fini
Leonor Fini / Not a Muse, An Artist is an exhibit currently showing at the John and Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art. As an undergraduate, I never thought I would have the opportunity to co-curate a show, especially not one that has gained such traction within the community. I can only give my immense thanks and gratitude to Director Vivian Zavataro for entrusting me with this exciting responsibility. At the inception of our show, Director Zavataro and I were brainstorming themes that would be relevant within the community and current events. That is how we landed on the concept of focusing on the life and art of an overlooked and somewhat forgotten gem of the 20th century: Leonor Fini. Fini was a woman who defied all odds, broke all the rules and changed the expectations of what a woman artist should be. She was bold, humorous and forthright. She said things that were instantly iconic, wore clothes that shocked even the most openminded and created art that can take your breath away. She obviously was a woman of incredible accomplishments and yet, most do not even know her name. Being able to highlight the life and work of this woman is an honor, and learning about her was a pleasure.
Leonor Fini flirted with the Surrealist circle, making friends with names like Picasso, Miró, Man Ray and Dalí. However, her dislike of the Surrealist ringleader, André Breton, kept Fini from joining the Surrealists officially. Despite this, her work is of the Surrealist canon, focusing on surreal themes, such as sphinxes and witches. Her paintings defy the Surrealistic norms, altering them to make them more like herself: sensual, mysterious and whimsical at times. Her sphinxes are alluring, instead of threatening. Her witches ride flowers, instead of the stereotypical brooms. Everything Fini created, she created because she wanted to see her wildest fantasies physicalized. To me, Fini is the perfect role model in today’s world. Learning her story meant a great deal to me, as a woman.
After the brainstorming phase of designing the exhibition, Director Zavataro and I catalogued all the paintings we thought could fit the theme of the show, which was highlighting Leonor Fini as an artist, not a femme-enfant or a female muse. Then I got to work, researching each individual image, learning their history and then wrote artwork labels for over 50 pieces, 35 of which are included in our exhibit. In addition to this work, I also wrote an essay on Fini and her relationships, both professional and personal. My research on her works of art in the exhibition are on display as information cards that visitors can take home with them. My extensive essay on Fini’s relationships will be published in the exhibition catalog. Seeing the work that I have done over the past months come to a physical realization is the perfect homage to Fini, I believe. This inspiring woman challenged the social construct into which she was born, and lived an unusual life. Her work was extensive and powerful, and we were lucky enough to temporarily loan paintings from local collectors, the Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco, and the CFM Gallery in New York. It is an exciting show and invite you to come visit.
The Lilley’s hours of operation: Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 12 - 4 p.m.; Thursday 12 - 8 p.m.; Saturday 10 - 6 p.m. The museum is following face mask and social distancing mandates.
(Gabrielle Kortemeier is an upperclassman at the University of Nevada, Reno, majoring in art history with a minor in museum studies. Gabrielle plans on earning graduate degrees in curation and museum studies. Her ultimate goal is to work at a museum in a curatorial role.)