June 04, 1988
Citation for Dorothea Tanning '32 for the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters
Read by Harland Goudie, Professor of Art, June 4, 1988
If you think about Galesburg, you will come to several conclusions, one of which could conceivably be that it would hardly be the place from which would come a great Surrealist artist. But it was. Dorothea Tanning was born here, and she has said that she was a Surrealist by the age of seven. A city institution, the now-vanished grand old Galesburg Public Library, helped to nurture her mind and imagination and clarify her resolve to be an artist and to go to Paris. Some time passed before she saw Paris, but she became an artist on schedule.
She spent two years at Knox, moved to Chicago and then New York. There she saw a major Surrealist exhibition which was, for her, like "an insidious revelation of the Galesburg Public Library." Her early paintings reveal a remarkable grasp of Surrealism with their clear presentation of authentic and compelling visions. Her art extended to printmaking, books, and the design of costumes and sets for people like George Balanchine.
When Dorothea Tanning got to France, her paintings became evocations of the sweeping, but spaceless, domain of the mind, either extending or exceeding the boundaries of Surrealism. The Pompidou Center in Paris has what might be her most innovative work, an environment of soft sculpture whose complexity and power dominate the upper floor of that great museum, startling and refreshing a viewer sated by the volume of art he or she has seen. Her recent paintings testify to her continuing development; they seem to search deeply in the realms of profound feeling, often close to tragedy with a reasserted draughtsmanship and resonating chords of deepening color.
Dorothea Tanning's art has been shown in one woman shows for decades. She has been the subject of a motion picture, several books, and her art is found in major European and American museums. In honoring her with a degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, we also celebrate her return to Galesburg and Knox College.