Thursday, March 15, 2007

Surrealism, Dada & Their Legacies in Contemporary Art

Surrealism, Dada & Their Legacies in Contemporary Art


Salvador Dalí and Horst P. Horst 1906, Weißenfels-an-der-Saale, Germany –1999, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, The Dream of Venus, 1939, Silver print, ink. Gift of the Samuel Gorovoy Foundation, New York, to American Friends of the Israel Museum.

JERUSALEM.- The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, presents a comprehensive survey of Surrealism, from its roots in the beginnings of the Dada movement in 1916 through recent manifestations in international contemporary art. Drawn from more than 1,200 works in the Museum’s world-renowned holdings in these subjects, most notably the Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art, Surrealism and Beyond includes 250 highlights by such artists as Dali, Duchamp, Magritte, and Man Ray, as well as a specially commissioned installation by American artist Mark Dion. The exhibition is on view through June 30, 2007.

“The connection between Surrealism and the Israel Museum began as a ‘chance encounter,’ some forty years ago when the Museum was founded, and it has evolved into a deep and lasting relationship,” states James Snyder, Director of the Israel Museum.“ Thanks in great part to generous gifts from donors and artists alike, the Museum has formed an unusually comprehensive collection and library reflecting the Dada and Surrealist achievement.” The exhibition showcases the range of innovative mediums and artistic strategies used by these groundbreaking movements. Given the encyclopedic nature of the Museum’s holdings, the exhibition also provides some rich opportunities to display works from the Museum’s collections of non-Western cultures, especially examples of African and Oceanic art, illuminating some of the sources that served to inspiration them.

Organized thematically, Surrealism and Beyond offers a rich vision of this avant-garde heritage in painting, sculpture, assemblage, readymade, photomontage, and collage. All major practitioners are represented, among them Jean (Hans) Arp, Salvador Dali, Paul Delvaux, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Hanna Höch, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Man Ray, and Kurt Schwitters, along with contemporary artists influenced by them.

Automatism and Its Evolution focuses on the Surrealists’ exploration of the mind’s hidden realms. Writers and artists developed “automatic” techniques to free their works from the limitations of conscious thought. Arshile Gorky used automatic drawing to create mystery and ambiguity in his work The Beginning (1947). Man Ray, on the other hand, applied these techniques to photography. His 1921 photograph Rayograph (1921) was produced without using a camera; objects were placed directly on light sensitive paper and exposed to light. Man Ray used the same technique for the overnight production of his famous short film Le Retour à la raison (1923), also on view in the exhibition.

Desire reveals how artists and poets probed unconscious fantasies, fears, and inhibitions through their work, driving to liberate desire and libido through art as a form of rebellion against social and political censorship during their time. Using the female body as an object for the focus of unresolved conflicts and anxieties, many Surrealist artists examined the more sadistic sides of these phenomena.

This section includes Dali’s and Horst P. Horst’s photograph The Dream of Venus (1939), showing a woman wearing a black mask and an erotic costume. In her hands she holds two oysters, an eel curls around her waist, and a lobster covers her genitalia, referencing male Surrealist discourse on eroticism and shock. Mixing humor, sexuality, and provocation, Meret Oppenheim’s Squirrel (1960) assembles a foaming cup of beer with a furry tail.

Illusion and Dreamscape examines the Surrealist belief in the liberating potential of dreams and the imagination. Surrealist dreamscapes evoke mystery and challenge our perception of reality, juxtaposing disconnected objects, often within landscapes in which time and space are distorted. Among them, Magritte’s poetic inventions are seemingly simple images replete with complex associations and illusions. His 1959 painting The Castle of the Pyrenees unleashes mystery and a sense of imbalance as an enormous rock, with a castle atop, hovers above the sea in a clouded blue sky. Claude Cahun’s hand-colored photograph Le Coeur de pic (1936), shows dolls’ hands assembled into a sunflower.

Biomorphism and Metamorphosis reflects the Surrealist tendency to favor ambiguous and organic shapes and to look to anatomy, plants, bodies of water, and astronomy as inspiration. Two examples include Jean (Hans) Arp’s Fruit Torso (1960), which links plant life with the feminine form to focus on procreation as a metaphor for artistic creation, and Max Ernst’s bronze sculpture King Playing with the Queen (1944), which reveals the influences of Hopi Indian Kachina dolls and Western African cultures.

Marvelous Juxtapositions explores the use of found and readymade materials in collages, montages, and objects. Fragments of the everyday world are placed together unexpectedly to shock, seduce, and disorient the viewer. Duchamp’s Fountain (1917/1964), for instance, is credited with introducing Dada to American art. While his title suggests aesthetic beauty, its reality is an upturned urinal signed with Duchamp’s pseudonym, “R. Mutt.” Hannah Höch, a member of the Berlin Dada movement, brings together disparate images taken from mass media in Dada-Ernst (1920-21), offering a penetrating critique of the social construction of gender roles and envisioning the political empowerment of women in Weimar Germany.

Concealing what might be a sewing machine in an army blanket, the mysterious bulging forms of Man Ray’s The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse (1920/1971) illustrate Dada’s tribute to the famous dictum of Comte de Lautréamont (alias Isidore Ducasse): “…beautiful as the chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.”

Surrealism’s vibrant legacy can be seen in Mark Dion’s specially commissioned project Package (2006–7), which references Man Ray’s Enigma. The artist sent packages from all over the world to the Israel Museum, with instructions not to open them, but with permission to to x-ray them to discover their enigmatic contents. Dion’s installation features these mystery packages sidebyside with objects from the Museum's collections and with their x-rays displayed on a light box on the opposite wall. In the center of the installation, Dion places a glass case with envelopes selected from Arturo Schwarz’s extensive correspondence with Surrealist artists.

“Dion’s installation shows the artist’s lively engagement with Dada and Surrealist preoccupations,” says Adina Kamien-Kazhdan, Acting Curator of Modern Art at the Israel Museum and curator of the exhibition.“ This continuing tradition is also seen in other works in the exhibition by other contemporary artists in the Museum’s collections, among them Ghada Amar, Boaz Arad, William Kentridge, Eden Ophrat, and Alexis Rockman.

Sponsorship - The exhibition was made possible by: the Sam Weisbord Trust, Beverly Hills; the Estate of Madeleine Chalette Lejwa, New York; and the donors to the Museum’s 2007 Exhibition Fund: Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond J. Learsy, Aspen, Colorado; Ruth and Leon Davidoff, Paris and Mexico City; Hanno D. Mott, New York; and the Nash Family Foundation, New York.

Catalogue - Surrealism and Beyond is accompanied by a 280-page, full-color catalogue, featuring essays by Werner Spies, Dawn Ades, and Adina Kamien-Kazhdan. The catalogue was made possible through the generosity of Nancy Wald, in memory of Benjamin Miller.


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