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Lee Miller photography exhibit opens Saturday at Dali Museum

Bill DeYoung

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Salvador Dali and Gala, c1930 by Lee Miller. © Lee Miller Archives.

A small spider web of cracks has appeared on the Enigma, the onion-like glass window on the Dali Museum’s eastern façade.

They were put there on purpose, museum director Hank Hine says, as a subtle homage to Lee Miller, the early 20th century photographer whose work goes on exhibit Saturday (and no, the “cracks” are not real).

Hank Hine. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

“We’ve shattered our oculus as a gesture to her boundary-breaking,” Hine explains. “The oculus frames a thousand different views of the bay area; it was created to drive that point home about Dali. Lee Miller goes beyond and shatters those boundaries.”

The exhibition, The Woman Who Broke Boundaries: Photographer Lee Miller includes more than 130 images from the New York native’s extraordinary career, as a contemporary of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray and other surrealists, and bohemians, from the 1930s onward.

Picnic, lle St Marguerite, (Nusch and Paul Éluard, Roland Penrose, Man Ray, Ady Fidelin, Cannes, France 1937 by Lee Miller © Lee Miller Archives England.

Miller, who began as a model for Vogue magazine, transitioned into working as a photographer, and something of a surrealist, herself. And as a war correspondent, her images of a ravaged Europe in the 1940s were unlike those of any other picture-maker.

She was also an innovator; along with her lover and collaborator, Man Ray, Miller devised the process known as solarization.

Turning the spotlight on “a surrealist like Dali who’s not as famous,” according to Hine, took some consideration … starting with the exhibit title, The Woman Who Broke Boundaries: Photographer Lee Miller.

“Historically, women have not been given the attention that their artistic activity warranted,” Hine explains. “So we need to bring out who she was. And we also have to declare the medium – people who come are expecting to see paintings, and they’re going to see photographs.

“What we wanted to tell is the significance of her in contemporary terms; her boundary-breaking. The courage that she had. Breaking boundaries is almost a conventional activity for an artist – we expect them to be irreverent. And break the social convention. And break the sexual convention.

“And she did that. It was not common at the time, though, for women to be libertine, to have multiple lovers, to have the dignity to be herself and not an appendage to any of these artists.”

Find more information here.

In the gallery: Picasso and Miller, after the war. Exhibition photo by Bill DeYoung.

 

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