Dorothea Tanning

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Last year the Philadelphia Museum of Art purchased Dorothea Tanning’s Birthday, 1942, an early self-portrait in which the bare-breasted, bramble-skirted heroine, accompanied by an apparently benevolent minidragon (first of the animal demiurges so often inhabiting the artist's future paintings), stands with her hand on the knob of a white door in an infinite regress of half-open portals. This acquisition has now been celebrated by curator Ann Temkin with a small show of paintings, objects, and drawings from Tanning’s long career, “a hidden treasure of modern art,” concluding with one of the dozen “imaginary flower portraits” painted in the artist’s eighty-eighth year.

Pictures from the ’40s and and ’50s crystallize (surely the right verb for this mordantly illusionist work—“big bare rooms,” as Tanning describes Interior with Sudden Joy, 1951, “with white frozen figures, like Sodom and

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