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 Mimi Parent  (1925 - 2005)

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Lived/Active: Quebec / France/Canada/Switzerland      Known for: surrealist painting, tableaux boxes

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
La Porte de la sorcière, 1978
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Mimi Parent (1924 – 2005)
Mimi Parent was an expatriate Canadian Surrealist* painter, sculptor and printmaker.  She was born in Montreal (Outremont), Quebec, Canada; lived most of her life since 1948 in Paris, France; and died in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.  She was a student of Alfred Pellan and an associate of Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp.

Her works are in the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, Quebec; the Quebec Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec City; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Tate Modern, London, England; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Her work and her life is discussed in Surrealism and Painting (1965) by André Breton; “Surrealist Women: An International Anthology” (1998), by Penelope Rosemont; and Surrealism and the Politics of Eros, 1938 – 1968 (2005) by Alyce Mahon.  Attached below is a biography courtesy of The Canadian Encyclopedia (online); and her obituaries from the The Independent and The Guardian.

(1) The Canadian Encyclopedia

Mimi Parent, surrealist* artist (b at Montréal 1924.)  She was a student of Alfred Pellan at the École des Beaux-arts de Montréal, from which she was eventually expelled in 1947 for being undisciplined.  The same year, she held her first solo exhibition at Montréal's Dominion Gallery.  A year later, she co-signed, along with 13 other artists, the Prisme d'Yeux* Manifesto. After marrying Jean Benoit in 1948, she left Canada to live permanently in Paris.

Joining the surrealist group in 1959, Mimi Parent conceived the poster and the catalogue layout for the EROS exhibition in 1959, where she was also in charge of the fetishism room.  Although she participated in the collective surrealist enterprises (Milano, 1960; L'Ecart absolu, Paris, 1965; Sâo Paulo, 1967; Le Principe de plaisir, Prague, 1968), she also held solo exhibitions (Galerie André-François Petit, Paris, 1984; Museum Bochum, 1984; Noyers-sur-Serein, 1992). Galerie 1900-2000 in Paris organized a retrospective of her work in the fall of 1998.

Parent's works for the last three decades have consisted of numerous "tableaux-objets", ie, black wooden boxes in which a scene, composed of different elements, can be seen behind a glass.  Each box presents itself as an unusual "theatre of the unconscious" in which a disturbing strangeness is underlined by the sumptuousness of the colours used.  A survey exhibition of Parent's works would reveal one of the most coherent and original Canadian artists of the 20th century.

Authors –   Andre Bourassa and Jean-Marie Apostolides

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia (online) -

(2) The Independent

Obituary - Mimi Parent
'Incorrigibly Wild' Surrealist
Saturday, 25 June 2005

Marie "Mimi" Parent, artist: born Montreal, Quebec 8 September 1924; married 1948 Jean Benoît; died 14 June 2005.

The artist Mimi Parent was described by André Breton, leader of the Surrealist movement, as one of the "vital forces" of Surrealism*.  Penelope Rosemont, writing in Surrealist Women: an international anthology (1998), the most comprehensive review of Surrealist women's writings to date, rates Parent's "gardens of earthly desire and other assorted delights and terrors amongst the most splendorous paintings of our time, or any time". " Her Surrealism," she says, "has always been incorrigibly wild and absolute."

Mimi Parent was born in Montreal in 1924, the eighth of nine children of the architect Lucien Parent.  From 1942 to 1947, she studied with Alfred Pellan at the Ecole des Beaux Arts de Montréal, where she met the artist Jean Benoît, her future husband.  Together with Pellan and Benoît, Parent formed the short-lived Prisme d'Yeux*, an organization of Quebec artists whose common concern was freedom of expression.

The period from 1944 to 1959, during the term of Maurice Duplessis as premier of Quebec, was known as the Grande Noirceur ("Great Darkness") and was Canada's "McCarthy" era, characterized by extreme conservatism from government and from the Catholic Church.  Probably as a result of this conservatism, Parent was expelled in 1947 for "insubordination", related to the staging of an exhibition at the school.

Her first one-person show, which was praised by Time magazine, was held at the Dominion Gallery in Montreal in 1947.  Whilst in Montreal she took part in evenings of playing cadavres exquis, a favourite Surrealist pastime in which several artists would work together on a picture, without knowing what the others had already drawn.

In 1948 she won the Cézanne medal, including a stipend which allowed her to travel.  Parent and Benoît, by now married, decided that October to move to Paris, which would become their home for the rest of their lives.

Although she had been involved with Surrealism from early in her work, it was not until 1959 that Parent joined Breton's group in Paris and became involved in its activities, which included the organization of the event Exposition inteRnatiOnale du Surrealisme (EROS) at the Galerie Daniel Cordier in Paris.  On 2 December, two weeks before the exhibition was to open, Benoît performed a piece entitled The Execution of the Testament of the Marquis de Sade at the apartment of the Surrealist poet Joyce Mansour.  Whilst a thunder soundtrack played, Breton read de Sade's testament, and Parent gradually removed Benoît's costume.  In a dramatic finale to the performance, Benoît burned the word "SADE" on to his chest with a branding iron.

The exhibition "Surrealist Intrusion into the Enchanter's Domain", which opened in New York in November 1960 and at which Parent showed, was the last official International Surrealist Exhibition organized by Breton and Duchamp.  Breton recognized Parent's contribution to the movement by reprinting the preface to one of her solo shows in his book Surrealism and Painting (1965).  After Breton's death in 1966 and the dissolution of the Surrealist group in 1969, Parent continued her work in the creation of what were known as "picture objects", hybrids between painting and sculpture.

From the late 1960s onwards Parent took part in numerous group shows, including the exhibition "Surrealism Unlimited", organized in 1978 by Conroy Maddox at Camden Art Centre in London and set up as a counter to the Hayward Gallery's "Dada and Surrealism Reviewed", a retrospective which Maddox felt did not properly represent Surrealism.

Two of Parent's works were shown at the Tate Modern in 2001 as part of the Surrealist retrospective "Desire Unbound", an exhibition founded on the basis of Breton's belief that desire is the "only master that man must recognize".  These works were Boîte alerte: missives lascives (1959), a small green postbox into which ideas could be "posted" and Maîtresse ("Mistress", 1996), a whip whose leather fronds are replaced by plaited human hair.

"Mimi Parent was one of the most vibrant and provocative of post-World War II Surrealists," says Alyce Mahon, who discusses Parent's work in her forthcoming book Surrealism and the Politics of Eros, 1938-1968:

Her innovative use of found objects to create exquisite sculptural boxes displaying mythological tableaux, and her subversive approach to the themes of sexual desire and gender politics, were vital to the evolution of Surrealism and to the increasingly important role women played within it.  A vivacious lady with a wicked sense of humour, Mimi's passion for life and art inspired everything and everyone she touched.

Marcus Williamson
Source: The Independent -

(3) The Guardian
Obituary - Mimi Parent
Mimi (Marie) Parent, artist, born September 8 1924; died June 14 2005
Provocative artist who kept alive the spirit of surrealism

Wednesday 6 July 2005

To grace the poster of the 1959 international surrealist exhibition in Paris, dedicated to the theme of Eros, André Breton chose the work of Mimi Parent, who has died aged 80.  Masculine-feminine, a tie made of Parent's own long, luxurious mane, set against a man's suit lapels and crisp white shirt, parodied bourgeois dress codes and evoked the erotic texture of hair.  Together with the three-dimensional tableaux boxes for which she is best known, it was the high point of her involvement with the surrealists in the decades after the Second World War.

Born in Quebec, Parent studied art at the École des Beaux Arts in Montreal from 1942 to 1947, and was greatly influenced by her teacher and mentor, the painter Alfred Pellan.  In 1948, with Pellan and other young artists, Parent formed the anti-conformist group Prisme d'yeux*, calling for the liberation of art.  This rebellious, avant-garde attitude led to her expulsion from art school, and lay behind all of her art and life.

Parent's frustration with modern art in Canada led her to Paris.  Awarded a scholarship by the French government in 1948, she and fellow artist Jean Benoît, whom she married that year, moved to the French capital, where they studied ethnography and primitive art at the Musée de l'Homme.  They later befriended surrealist artists and writers.

Parent introduced an important theatrical element to surrealist art with the three-dimensional tableaux boxes she began to make in 1959.  These were boxes lined in black, with glass fronts, containing arrangements of objects discovered in flea markets, such as little dolls and toy animals, which Parent painted, dressed and set against plaster sculpted landscapes, to present dramatic scenes from mythology, folklore and her own imagination.

The boxes often displayed a fascination with the Gothic novel, with magical heroines and with the liberating possibilities of the night.  Many depicted the moment of daybreak, when, according to mythology, lunar (female) and solar (male) powers meet.  In discussions about art, Parent always insisted that surrealism was not about being a male or female artist, but about having a vision of a bold new world in which both sexes were free.

Parent's theatrical talent and alchemical vision were also evident in the fetish room, lined in black fun fur and housing a reliquary wall for erotic objects, including her Masculine-feminine, at the Eros exhibition. The room drew on her Catholic upbringing, and her fascination with totems, crypts and relics.

In addition, she designed an ingenious catalogue deluxe for the exhibition: the so-called Boîte Alerte, whose title alerted the public to its explosive contents. Punning on boîte à lettres (letter box), it took the form of a small green letter box, in which one found a range of titillating and disturbing objects, from the text of erotic short stories to a woman's stocking and a censored love letter, with certain passages blacked out.

Parent assisted Benoît in his Testament to the Marquis De Sade, a dramatic performance held on December 2 1959, the 145th anniversary of De Sade's death, which opened the Eros exhibition.  Here, Benoît paid homage to De Sade by enacting a dramatic striptease to the recorded sounds of city noise, "unshackling" himself from an elaborate costume that symbolized the repressive morality of modern society.

The peculiar combination of the erotic and the macabre that Parent and Benoît displayed in these works established them as vital figures in the last decade of surrealism, right up until its official end in 1969, three years after Breton's death. Parent exhibited in the 1960 Mostra Internazionale del Surrealismo in Milan, the 1965 L'Écart Absolu exhibition in Paris, and the 1967 A Phalla international surrealist exhibition in Sao Paulo.

She was also one of the main figures in the events organized by members of the group at the Ranelagh theatre, in Paris, between 1964 and 1967, and produced anti-Gaullist posters, as well as demonstrating in the streets of Paris in May 1968.

Increasingly recognized as an important surrealist, Parent has had work exhibited in a number of recent shows, including Fémininmasculin, at the Centre George Pompidou in 1995, La Femme Et Le Surréalisme, in Lausanne in 1987, Surrealism: Desire Unbound, at the Tate Modern in 2001, and Paris and the Surrealists, in Barcelona this year.  She and Benoît were also the subject of a joint retrospective at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec last year.

Even as her health deteriorated in the last few years, Parent continued to produce art, working from her apartment in the 20th arrondissement and focusing on exquisite, finely crafted ink drawings. With her vivacious smile and infectious laugh, she would draw you into her created world of fantasy and gothic horror, inspiring you to look at life anew, through enchanting surrealist eyes.

She is survived by her husband Jean.

By Alyce Mahon

Source: The Guardian – 

Submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke

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