Essay by Valerie Fletcher

David Hare, born and reared in New York City, did not originally intend to become an artist. After earning undergraduate degrees in chemistry and biology, he turned to experimental photography.

During World War II, Hare adopted ideas from the European surrealists, including their enthusiasm for the concepts of Freudian psychoanalysis. In 1942, after meeting the self-proclaimed leader of the surrealist movement, André Breton, Hare became convinced of the importance of free association in the creation of art. After the war, Hare maintained contact with the surrealists in Paris; he married Breton’s former wife, Jacqueline Lamba.

Hare began to sculpt in 1944, seeking to create works that recombine elements from reality into different “relations of memory and association.” As the surrealist movement faded in the 1950s, he adapted his style to a more abstract mode in keeping with the emergence of formalist aesthetics, but he retained the surrealists’ principle of suggesting a subject and hoping that viewers would bring their own freely associated insights.

The Swan’s Dream of Leda, 1962

The title refers to the classical Greek myth in which the patriarchal, dominant king of the gods, Zeus, desired a beautiful human woman, Leda, and in order to take her unaware, he appeared to her in the guise of a swan. Little more than a paean to male lust, the tale was often an excuse to portray a sensuous female nude in Renaissance and post-Renaissance art. To an artist steeped in surrealism and Freudian analysis, the subject offered rich possibilities for sexual innuendo. Yet Hare chose not to depict the obvious phallic and other genital motifs so beloved by most male surrealists. Instead the forms in this sculpture suggest indirect associations, such as the flapping of the swan’s wings.

Valerie Fletcher is Senior Curator at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. Her research on groundbreaking aspects of international, globalized, and transnational art have resulted in numerous exhibitions and publications.