Karla Huebner’s Magnetic Woman: Toyen and the Surrealist Erotic (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020) follows the life and career Czech artist Toyen (Marie Čermínová, 1902-1980). Toyen’s career spans the twentieth century, from the cultural flux of interwar Prague to postwar France. Huebner traces the growth, divergence, and fluidity of Czech as well as international avant-gardes. Eroticism, Huebner argues, centered Toyen’s life, settings, and art. Toyen’s ambiguous gender equally found its own place in the predominantly male Czech Devětsil group, lesbian milieus of interwar Paris, and André Breton’s postwar Surrealist network. So too did Toyen’s work in erotic drawings, book commissions, collage, and oil paintings, all generously represented in this monograph. Magnetic Woman hence unites art history with cultural and intellectual history. Huebner analyzes Toyen’s artistic collaborations and friendships with figures as diverse as Jindřich Štyrský, Karel Teige, and Philippe Soupault. She traces Toyen’s wide reading of European classics, contemporary writing, and psychological and sexual literature of the day. Huebner anchors Toyen’s artwork in these contexts throughout the monograph while showcasing its inherent originality and formal innovations.
Magnetic Woman: Toyen and the Surrealist Erotic furnishes readers with both a fascinating biography of the artist and a map of the entangled histories of the Czech and French avant-gardes. Huebner’s work will interest scholars of interwar European history, of European sexuality and gender, art history, and international history alike, and the heavily illustrated monograph will intrigue scholars, general readers, and artists in equal measure.
John Raimo is a PhD. Candidate in History at NYU finishing up my dissertation (on postwar publishing houses) this summer in European history.