Surrealism: the poetry of dreams

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SURREALISM | ART │REVIEW

Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art presents a large exhibition of surrealist paintings, sculpture, objects, films, photographs, drawings and collages, writes Sue Smith

June 11, 2011 ─ October 2, 2011
Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

Victor Brauner Loup - Table (wolf table) 1939, 1947 Wood and taxidermied foxA large exhibition, drawn from the collection of Paris’s Musée National d’Art Moderne, of 180 works by European artists René Magritte, Victor Brauner and many other surrealists working from the 1910s to the late 1960s has been drawing delightedly puzzled crowds to Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art (the exhibition’s only Australian venue).
Paris in the early 20th century saw the growth of a new art form called surrealism.  Both a formal movement and a spiritual orientation, surrealism embraced ethics and politics as well as the arts.  Surrealist artists sought to create a medium that liberated the subconscious mind, making use of automatism, paranoia or the exploration of dreams.

While surrealist art no longer shocks viewers, as it did decades ago, many works neverthless still today pack a powerful visual punch. 

One such piece is Victor Brauner’s confronting sculpture, Loup-table (wolf-table) 1939, 1947, which comprises a wooden work table with a taxidermied snarling fox head, turning around as if to bite its own tail (below which hang furry testicles). 

The relations of the machine-made and nature, sex and death, are startlingly brought together in the foxy assemblage.  It perfectly demonstrates the surprise effects created by the surrealist method of bringing together incongruous objects to create new entities and transform familiar ones.

Rene' Magritte "The Summer Steps" 1938 Musee National d'Art ModernsMore strangely dreamlike and enigmatic is the exhibition’s poster image: Magritte’s painting Le marches de l’ete (The summer steps) 1938 which shows a headless fragmented female torso in a landscape metamorphosing into blocks.

Rene Magritte (1898-1967), also represented in the show with a painting of boots metamorphosing into feet, was a wonderful inventor of images. Yet, fascinatingly, for a man whose head was evidently stuffed with very strange visions he outwardly lived a very bourgeois, highly respectable married life in a Brussels suburb.

Magritte was said to have scorned artistic airs, wore a bowler hat and painted his canvases not on an easel but flat on his kitchen table. The bowler was not, as might be expected, part of a stock-in-trade public persona like Dali’s big moustache. Rather, Magritte wore a bowler because it matched the rest of his quiet clothes and his middle-class background as the son of commercial parents.

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