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New art exhibit features etchings by surrealist Unica Zürn

The newest exhibition at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, “This Strange Presence,” features work by German surrealist Unica Zürn. Oracles et Spectacles, Number 2, 1967. Etching and aquatint on Japan nacre paper. Bequest of Robert S. Handler.

March 13, 2020  

Editor’s note: Many events have been canceled or postponed in accordance with current university policy on the COVID-19 outbreak. Visit the Coronavirus Updates for the Emory Community website to learn more about how Emory is responding to COVID-19.


Etchings and drawings from German surrealist Unica Zürn will be on view in a new exhibition at Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum until Sunday, Sept. 20. 

Perhaps better known for her writings and her photographic collaborations with Hans Bellmer, Zürn was an accomplished visual artist in her own right. She created automatic drawings as well as paintings and sculptures, which were exhibited in four solo shows and alongside her better-known male counterparts in the 1959 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme. Her success was hindered, however, by the male-dominated surrealist world in Paris and the shadow cast by a lifelong struggle with mental illness. 

The etchings in “This Strange Presence: Unica Zürn Etchings,” comprising Zürn’s “Oracles et Spectacles” series, were made after a series of drawings she created during a 1960 hospitalization caused by a clinically diagnosed psychotic episode. Zürn populated these immersive scenes with transformative creatures rendered in the delicate, linear style that became her hallmark. 

The dreamlike quality of her visual art also emerges as a pervasive theme in her writings. In the semi-autobiographical “Dark Spring,” for example, the protagonist endures life only through the refuge of her fantasies, where she feels safety and power as well as terror, the feeling she treasures most of all. 

A selection of Zürn’s drawings appear alongside the “Oracles et Spectacles” etchings, including two original drawings for “Hexen texte” (Witches Text), a collection of etchings and anagrammatic poems published in Berlin in 1954.

Learn more about the exhibition in a gallery talk with  Andi McKenzie, curator of Works on Paper for the Carlos Museum, on Wednesday, March 4, at 7 p.m.

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