Sunday, February 3, 2013

Drawing Surrealism


I guess you could call the exhibition organized by the Los Angeles County Museum and The Morgan Library and museum will be on at the Morgan until April 21, a real eye opener.  Did I like it?  I cannot answer that yes or no.  It was a learning experience.

The exhibition, for me, analyses Surrealism and how it worked process by process.  The exhibition takes us through “Automatism”, “Collage”, “Frottage”,  “Exquisite Corpse”, “Decalcomania” and “Dream Imagery”.  Each process is explained and illustrated with representative images.  I would have expected a few paintings that we associate with Surrealism at the end,  so it was a surprise for me when there were none. The closest we come is a watercolor by André Masson, “Ville Cranniene”.

"Ville Craniene (Skull City)" by André Masson (1896-1987)

What made it particularly difficult for me to get my head around the show were 160 artists from 70 different countries using 6 processes.  That is a lot to digest, particularly when a lot of unfamiliar artists as well as countries are presented.

For me it was a bit like when we took our son, Hunter, around to universities to find the appropriate theater school; at one, I remember, he had the opportunity to meet with the founder of the program at the school.  The man took the time to talk to Hunter and describe all his obvious assets but then he took an equal amount of time tearing him down.  Later we found out that this process upset our son but from his parents point of view we saw a master teacher starting the student on his way to learning.  For me that was “Drawing Surrealism”.

"Olga" by Francis Picabia (1879-1953)

Surrealism is traditionally dated as starting in 1924 when Breton published his “Mannifesto of Surrealism and ending with the last Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Maeght in 1947. This presentation starts a bit earlier and ends a bit later (1915-1950) because no bell rang to say that now it is time for Surrealism!  It evolved like all art movements, and much else in life, and then slowly ebbed away.

Drawing was particularly appreciated by the Surrealists because of its immediacy and spontaneity.  The exhibition begins where the artists started trying to free their minds of the rational. They wished to bypass consciousness.    This is “Automatism” Or “Automatic Drawing”.  The artist allowed his hand to wander across the page as quickly as he could so that rational thought would not intervene. These are all sketches of ideas and in this section they are all drawings except a few photographs (Rayographs) where Man Ray draws with light.

"Exquisite Corpse" by André Breton (1896—1966),
Jacqueline Lamba (1910-1993),  & Yves Tanguy (1900-1955)

Joseph Cornell’s surrealist collages were greatly influenced by Max Ernst, who played a large role in the Surrealist movement, and were first exhibited at the Julien Levy gallery in 1932.  Levy was a pioneer in photography as well, and did many a great show.  After his death much of his collection went to the Art Institute of Chicago.  Some came up for sale at the Witkin Gallery in the late 1970’s and we were lucky enough to be able to acquire a couple of the Surrealist photos.

I will mention one more process and that was of Decalcomania where ink, gouache or some other wet medium was placed on a sheet that was then pressed against another creating random designs.  It reminded me of an exercise that we were given in kindergarten or first grade.  That led me to another thought.  I would have liked to see the exhibition through the eyes of a 6 year old, a child who was not stuck with all the my years in the field and the values that they have imposed on me.  I wanted someone with fresh eyes who could tell me what they believed I was looking at.

"La Tempête (The Storm)" by René Magritte (1898-1967) 

All the images I could find on line or that the Morgan made available to the press were representational imagery where one could easily interpret the imagery so it is not possible to illustrate the results of a number of the processes.  In order to see for yourself you will either have to go to visit the exhibition, a worthwhile venture, or buy the fully illustrated catalog.

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