Global perspectives on surrealism explored in groundbreaking exhibition at the Met

Umi (The Sea) by Koga Harue (1929). National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

Almost since its inception, Surrealism has had an international reach, but understanding of the movement has come primarily from a Western European orientation. The great exhibition Surrealism beyond borders reconsiders the real “movement” of surrealism beyond geographical and chronological boundaries, presenting it as networks that stretch from Eastern Europe to the Caribbean, from Asia to North Africa and from Australia to Latin America. With examples from nearly eight decades, produced in 45 or more countries, the exhibit offers a fresh assessment of some of the collective concerns and exchanges – as well as historical, national and local accolades – that will redefine the appreciation of this world. the most revolutionary and the most covering movement. Surrealism beyond borders is exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from October 11, 2021 to January 30, 2022, then travels to Tate Modern, London, February 24 August 29 2022.

Mayo (Port Saïd, Egypt 1905-1990 Seine-Port, France), Sticks, 1937. Oil on canvas. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Max Hollein, Marina Kellen, French Director of the Met, said: “Surrealism is an ‘ism’ of the art world that has truly globalized, and its universal and complex artistic language has had a lasting effect on the art world. imagination and creative production. Even those familiar with surrealism will find this show full of surprises and discoveries. Surrealism is often presented as a canonical and monolithic movement, but in this important exhibition we see it as something more dynamic and connected, something that allowed artists to imagine the world beyond their own artistic situation. cultural, social or political – and continues to do so today. This revolutionary spectacle not only opens the field of surrealist studies, but generates broader questions about modernism itself.

Plate 7 by Carlos Mérida, from the Estampas del Popol-Vuh portfolio (1943) © 2021 ARS, New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

Sheena Wagstaff, Chairman of Leonard A. Lauder of the Met’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, added: “A radical idea that has infiltrated culture in many cities around the world, surrealism demonstrates just how extensive research by academics living in all parts of the world can circulate and earn change. Rather than adopting a universalist approach, this ambitious show offers a nuanced and expansive account of the history of this art, which aligns with the core mission of the Met’s modern and contemporary art program. By reassessing ancient orthodoxies, this exhibit speaks to local terrains and their specific cultural, historical, and geopolitical conditions, while following the flow of intersecting currents of influence across the globe.

Curator of the exhibition, Stephanie D’Alessandro, Leonard A. Lauder, Curator of Modern Art and Senior Coordinator of Modern and Contemporary Art Research at the Met, added: “Surrealism is inherently dynamic and has traveled and moved from place to place and from time to time. Its scope is (and always has been) international and, more precisely, transnational, extending beyond national borders to unite ideas and people, while remaining specific and local in its liberating momentum. The works in the exhibition represent just a sample of how artists around the world have continued to embrace surrealism since its inception in the 1920s. ”

A revolutionary idea born in Paris around 1924, surrealism gives priority to the unconscious and dreams over the familiar and the everyday. While surrealism has often generated poetic and even humorous works – such as Salvador Dalí’s telephone receiver that turns into a lobster, or Renè Magritte’s miniature train that shoots out of a fireplace – it has also been used by artists from the whole world as a serious weapon in the struggle for political, social and personal freedom. The dynamic, transhistoric and transnational journeys presented in the exhibition recognize not only the common and particular interests of the artists associated with surrealism, but also the conditions in which they lived and worked. The presentation includes paintings, sculptures, works on paper, photographs, films and radio plays, as well as examples of rare publications that animate the dynamism of surrealism. Organized in 14 galleries, the exhibition explores the collective interests shared by artists across regions and presents a selection of points around the world where the convergence, relay and exchange of surrealism radiate. The exhibition also examines some of the events and conditions of the past hundred years that have affected surrealism, including the pursuit of independence from colonialism and the experience of exile and displacement brought on by international conflicts. Neither singular in the narrative nor linear in the chronology, the exhibition goes beyond traditional borders and conventional narratives to draw a map of the world during the surrealist era as an interdependent network, which makes visible many linked lives, places and encounters. through the freedom and possibility offered by surrealism.

Eight galleries will reconsider familiar themes related to surrealism and its exploration of the unconscious to overcome habits and conventions, such as “The Uncanny” and “The Body of Desire”, but from a new and broad geographic and temporal perspective. In the gallery dedicated to “The Work of Dreams”, for example, the familiar and iconic Two children frightened by a nightingale (1924), by Max Ernst, will rub shoulders with a lesser-known work by Antonio Berni, Landru at the hotel, Paris (1932), a painting that featured in the first surrealism exhibition in Argentina. Visitors will also find the Skunder Boghossian’s Night flight of dread and delight (1964), painted by the artist following his experience of the work of Wifredo Lam and Roberto Matta, which offered him a way to merge his experience of the black diaspora with surrealism.

The “Bodies of Desire” gallery focuses on the link between the unconscious and the subject of love and erotic obsession. Familiar examples are the photographs of Hans Bellmer which manifest the complicated desires of heterosexual men and their gaze on the female body. Unlike these well-known works, visitors will see the work of Ithell Colquhoun Scylla (1938) – a clever double image of a member of the London Surrealist group – which embodies a shifting imagery of eroticism that invokes and involves a woman’s body as well as her palpable urges and sensations. They will also discover the photographs of Lionel Wendt, who learned surrealism while living in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka); his photographs project an erotic queer desire onto colored bodies. For Wendt, surrealism offered the possibility of mediating more personal concerns, especially his own sexual desires, readable in his homoerotic photographs of working-class naked men posed like a classical sculpture. These works, exhibited in London in 1938 and Colombo in 1940, represent something rare for the time: the image of homosexual desire outside a Western context. They are complicated by Wendt’s position of power and privilege as a member of the Ceylon bourgeois community.

In addition to reviewing and developing familiar themes, Surrealism beyond borders is also interested in some places where artists converged and, by meeting, relayed and exchanged ideas on surrealism. Five targeted galleries will highlight the variety of surrealist experiences in Paris, at the Bureau of Surrealist Research; in Cairo, with the al-Fann wa-l-Hurrīya / Art et Liberté group; in Haiti, Martinique and Cuba, like multiple waves initiated by writers; in Mexico City, shaped by the creative ties of women artists; and in Chicago, where it was deployed as a tool of radical politics. Along with these targeted sections, special loans from a multitude of locations, including photographs by Limb Eung-Sik and Jung Hae Chang from Korea and a film by Dušan Marek from Australia, will provide insight into the adoption and the adaptation of surrealism to the world. .

Considerations focused on the political and social conditions that had an effect on the artists and their connection to surrealism for many years will be presented in the galleries. “Thoughts in transmission”, “Voyage, exile and displacement”, “The Fantasy and Fallacy of Elsewhere” and “Under Pressure” will present a multitude of conditions in which artists have found and engaged in surrealism. Topics include the effects of 20th century technology and social advancements; geopolitics; and colonialism, racism and persecution. “Under Pressure” includes examples of how those associated with surrealism negotiated potential surveillance and the threat of repression. The little-known photographs of Cecilia Porras and Enrique Grau, who produced images defying the conservative social conventions of 1950s Colombia, are featured here. That these images remained in a private album with limited public exposure until their presentation at the Met for a long time is testament to the potential controversy caused by their transgressive and choreographed narratives. Other related presentations include the exile of Eugenio Granell and the origin of El Mirador Azul (The Blue Lookout), the first group dedicated to surrealism in Puerto Rico.

The exhibition also includes a special presentation of the 36-foot design Long distance (1976-2005) by Ted Joans and 132 contributors from around the world. Joans’ very identity was shaped by travel and dislocation: to travel was to abandon what he saw as constraints of nationality, language and culture, borders that could impose artificial limits, and sometimes violent, to freedom, including the racism he suffered in the United States. His adage “Jazz is my religion, surrealism is my point of view” reflects the free and itinerant lifestyle he adopted in his movement across North and Central America, North Africa and West and Europe. Traveling has not only allowed freedom; he also provided the community, as evidenced by his many collaborative works including Long distance, a Exquisite Corpse (exquisite corpse) drawing that the artist began in 1976. He will accompany Joans to London, Lagos, Dakar, Marrakech, New York, Rome, Berlin, Mexico City, Toronto and beyond, growing with invited contributions. With a production life of almost 30 years (two beyond Joans’ own life), Long distance expands the surreal idea of ​​collaborative authorship to include distant people the artist has brought together on her travels.

Artists associated with surrealism have relied on exhibitions and magazines to exchange ideas, expand networks beyond national borders and unite diasporic communities (people of common origin or beliefs dispersed geographically). To animate some of these channels of communication, the exhibition will include many rare newspapers and manifestos, from Yifeng (Wind of art, Shanghai, 1935) to From cero (Starting from zero, Buenos Aires, 1952-1956), and Tropics (Fort-de-France, 1941-44) to Surrealist uprising (Chicago, 1968-1972). Cinema and radio, although each require financial and technological resources not available to all artists, have also brought new adepts to surrealism, and the special selection of radio shows and films in the presentation will bring even more life to it. to surrealism.

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