Thursday, October 10, 2013

Principles of Modernism: Surrealism

Man Ray
1921 (reproduction)

Modernism has been subdivided into multiple divisions, either by art historians looking back or by the artists themselves who gathered under umbrellas of particular philosophies. Poet Andre Breton established himself as surrealism's head by publishing the Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924 Paris.

Man Ray
Ingres' Violin
The Getty Museum

Surrealism was much influenced by Freudian theories of the subconscious and free-association. Visual artists worked to overcome their conscious imagery through techniques such as automatic drawing, free association, and a type of community composition called the Exquisite Corpse (cadavre exquis) in which different artists added to the piece in what quilters would call a Round Robin.

Victor Brauner, Jacques Hérold, Violette Hérold, 
Yves Tanguy, and Raoul Ubac, An Exquisite Corpse drawing 

Meret Oppenheim
Object, 1936
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Meret Oppenheim
Bird Leg Table

Surrealism often featured strange combinations of images, such as Meret Oppenheim's fur-lined tea cup. They could be humorous or unsettling, ironic or confusing---often in combination.

Frida Kahlo
Self Portrait with Monkeys 1940

Rene Magritte
The Empty Mask

Yves Tanguy
Reply to Red

George DiChirico
The Red Tower

Dreams and hallucinations inspired surrealist imagery, which often featured machine-age contraptions that could be impish and threatening at the same time.

Marcel Duchamp
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even
The Large Glass

Joan Miro
The Poetess

Like minimalism, surrealism had a lot of rules. In New York in 1941 Breton fired Robert Motherwell from a surrealist publication because he'd sent hand-etched Christmas cards. "[Breton] said he'd been fighting the bourgeoisie all his life and we were vipers in his bosom," recalled another artist who was "just thrown out."

Other artists hated being labeled as surrealists, but then most people dislike being labeled in any way. Whether the artists sought the label or rejected it, their view of the world and consciousness left a lasting legacy.

Two rather surreal pieces of 1950s barkcloth

See an essay about Surrealism on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website