Traveling Exhibition: The Surreal Visions of Josephine Tota


The Surreal Visions of Josephine Tota introduces over 90 paintings and objects created by Josephine Tota (1911-1996), a first-generation Italian immigrant. Tota, though reserved and reluctant to discuss her art, produced a decade’s worth of wild, brightly colored, and deeply symbolic paintings toward the end of her life, most of which have never before been exhibited. It is this powerful body of work—dozens of untamed paintings in egg tempera and gilding on board completed while she was in her seventies—that the Memorial Art Gallery explores and advocates for inclusion into the canon of self-taught artists.

Tota channeled her obsessive energy, personal hardships, and a lifetime of memories into harrowing, self-referential paintings. Surreal Visions explores the richness of her unique imagination while challenging stereotypical ideas about artists who work outside the mainstream. Despite her relative isolation in producing this body of work, Tota was profoundly influenced by years of amateur art classes and her personal interest in medieval and modern art, particularly the work of the Surrealist artists. Tota’s work cannot be defined as entirely mainstream, outsider, visionary, or surreal. It is instead a rich tapestry that weaves numerous influences into a vibrant and singular body of work.

In a broader sense, the exhibition and catalog explore currents within the American experience primed for deeper art historical inquiry, such as the structural failure of the insider/outsider duality, the far-reaching legacy of Surrealism, the marginalization of female visionary artists, and the relationship between age and creative agency.

Number of Works: 91 objects including 90 framed paintings and 1 painted dress form

Organized by: The Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY

Curator: Jessica Marten, Curator in Charge/Curator of American Art at the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester

Approximate size: 250-300 linear feet

Participation Fee: $15,000 + outgoing shipping for venues in the contiguous U.S.

Booking Period: 8 weeks

Tour: Begins January 2019

Availability: January 2019 – October 2021

Publication: 100+ page, full-color catalog published by RIT Press. Authors include Jessica Marten and Dr. Janet Berlo.

Contact: Jessica Marten;

Lindsay Goodwin

Categories: Traveling Exhibitions