After studying at the Bauhaus, Otto Umbehr, who was known professionally as Umbo, worked in film production, in an arts and crafts workshop, and even as a clown. In 1928 he joined Dephot, a German photojournalism agency, and continued working as a freelance photographer for the majority of his career. Umbo’s works were known for their dark humor, seen here as a mannequin’s molded legs and feathery slippers are transformed from elements of consumer display into symbols of erotic dismemberment. Through such images Umbo’s work was linked to the avant-garde interest in animated puppets or automatons as surrogates for human desire, an interest cultivated by German writers and artists in the 1910s and 1920s and embraced by the nascent Surrealist movement in the mid-1920s. In 1932, New York art dealer Julien Levy featured Umbo’s work in one of the first Surrealist exhibitions in the United States.
Travis, David. 1976. “Photographs from the Julien Levy Collection: Starting with Atget.” Exh. cat. p. 72, cat. 131.
Phillips, Sandra S., David Travis, and Weston J. Naef. 1985. “André Kertész: Of Paris and New York.” Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago/Metropolitan Museum of Art/Thames and Hudson. p. 66, fig. 5
Greenough, Sarah, Joel Snyder, David Travis and Colin Westerbeck. 1989. “On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography.” Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art/The Art Institute of Chicago. p. 292, cat. 232.
De Salvo, Donna. 1997. “Staging Surrealism: A Succession of Collections 2.” Exh. cat. Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University. cover.
Schaffner, Ingrid and Lisa Jacobs. 1998. “Julien Levy: Portrait of an Art Gallery.” Exh. cat. The MIT Press. p. 120, pl. 27.
Art Institute of Chicago, “Photographs from the Julien Levy Collection: Starting with Atget,” December 11, 1976–February 20, 1977; traveled to the International Center of Photography, New York, April 21-May 29, 1977; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, November 4-December 18 1977; Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, January 13-Ferbruary 26, 1978; Lakeview Center for the Arts and Sciences, Peoria, Illinois, March 16-April 30, 1978; and Cincinnati Art Museum, November 17-December 24, 1978. (David Travis)
Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago, “A History of Photography from Chicago Collection,” April 24–June 6, 1982.
Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, “On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography,” May 7–July 30, 1989; traveled to The Art Institute of Chicago, September 16–November 26, 1989; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 21, 1989–February 25, 1990.
Columbus, Ohio, Wexner Center for the Arts, “Staging Surrealism: A Succession of Collections 2,” September 20, 1997–January 4, 1998.
New York, New York, The Equitable Gallery, “Julien Levy: Portrait of an Art Gallery,” August 13–October 31, 1998.
Art Institute of Chicago, “Object as Subject,” February 17–May 20, 2001. (David Travis)
Art Institute of Chicago, “A Mind at Play,” June 14–September 7, 2008. (David Travis)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Vancouver Art Gallery, “The Colour of My Dreams: The Surrealist Revolution in Art,” May 28–September 25, 2011.
Art Institute of Chicago, Gallery 10 Permanent Collection Rotation, November 23, 2013–May 4, 2014.
Art Institute of Chicago, “The Modern Series: Shatter Rupture Break,” February 15-May 3, 2015.
Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.