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Remedios Varo satisfies our inner prima donnas with Icon, making us wish we could layer our own paintings with gold leaf and mother-of-pearl.

Grandeur is certainly par for the course from this leading lady. We’d expect no less from the close confidante of Leonora Carrington, who managed to piss off Diego Rivera at his own wedding to Frida Kahlo. Varo, no less the opinionated 20th century female, assembled Icon with a heavy dosage of her own eccentric charm.

This three panel piece hides a few secrets in its folds, sort of like a big wooden easter egg. What lies within is even more thrilling than gummy worms and half-melted chocolate eggs: Icon contains clever allusions to George I. Gurdjieff, mystic from the Russian Empire. An ornate letter “G” and a delicate symbol, the Enneagram, don’t just demonstrate the wonders of proper penmanship— they identify the painting’s recipients. Varo created Icon for a society of Gurdjieff’s followers in South America. Although clearly fascinated by Gurdjieff’s teachings on reincarnation, Varo shared more with the eccentric mystic than spiritual curiosity. Gurdjieff was fond of odd dinner rituals; he famously led toasts to “idiots” and coerced one follower into mixing mustard with her dessert. Varo, likewise, created atrocities in the kitchen and happily thought up whimsical recipes to fight nightmares.

Although Varo honored Gurdjieff with Icon and no doubt identified with his passion for experimentation, she never joined his groups. This was likely for the best. The leotard-clad mystic was wont to lead his followers in bizarre jerking dance moves, painful poses, and random, halting sprints. His own ego led some to ruin, including a writer who died of tuberculosis after Gurdjieff insisted she recover naturally. Despite his off-putting quirks, Varo seemed to have no qualms recommending her friend, photographer Eva Sulzer, to a group of Gurdjieff’s followers. Perhaps she wanted someone else to test the waters.




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