Kay Sage was a leading woman Surrealist in the United States. She created haunting images of ruins, scaffolding, and isolated figures in remote landscapes. She used landscape imagery as a metaphor for psychological states of mind.
Sage spent most of her childhood living in Europe with her mother, who loved her daughter in an abnormal and sexual way. During a stay in Italy, Sage married an Italian aristocrat, who had numerous affairs and divorced her for being sterile. Her first solo exhibition was held in 1936 in Milan.
A year later she moved to Paris and entered Surrealist circles. She saw Yves Tanguy’s painting “Je vous attends” and believed that the artist was sending her a message. She began an affair with him and bought him away from his wife. In 1940 the following year Sage and Tanguy married and left Europe for the United States. Their sadomasochistic relationship became legendary. After his unexpected death in 1955, she had difficulty living without him.
Sage’s work was exhibited in New York in Peggy Guggenheim’s 1943 show of 31 women artists. She had solo exhibitions in New York in 1940 and 1947, and she participated in the 1947 “International Exhibition of Surrealism” in Paris.
In the mid-1950s, Sage began to lose her eyesight and turned to collage, creating surrealist assemblages of wire, glass, and small stones. While many female surrealists used the game of chess in their art, it was Sage, who used the game most brilliantly. One of her last and most telling assemblages was a group of bullet casings of various sizes placed upright on a chessboard in “Your Move.” This assemblage, done in 1961, predates her suicide in 1963. Despairing of her deteriorating physical condition and mourning the loss of Tanguy years before, she ended her life by shooting herself in the heart.
Her work was featured in the 2012 exhibition at LACMA “Wonderland” which was a major showing of surrealist women artists from America, Mexico, and Europe.