Sunday, April 10, 2011

Surreale Dinge (Surreal Objects)

At the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, I was pleasantly surprised to find the exhibition Surreale Dinge (Surreal Objects). I enjoy most an exhibition that a) makes me smile or gasp, Wow! and b) that helps me to see art in a new way; one that I had not thought of before.

Once I had entered the show, I can only describe the experience of walking up the steps to the main hall like being inside an amusement park fun house. The light was low with a reddish tinge. On the red painted walls were models of body parts and heads with various other objects hanging at odd angles off the walls. At the top of the flight of stairs I found normal exhibition galleries which began with a wall of quotes from the surrealists artists themselves. Then came a few of the surreal mannequins presented as they were in the Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Beaux-Arts in 1938, on platforms without vitrines independent and unrelated to each other. None really making any logical sense. The following galleries held 150 more surrealist objects of all descriptions as well as photos of objects.

André Breton, the writer and critic was one of the founders of the surrealist movement which came out of the devastating experience of World War I and the Dadaism. He presented the first Surrealist Manifesto in 1924 which I have looked at and it is impossible to explain or repeat without 6 more blogs! The most direct and simple definition that I could find according to the WebMuseum's glossary is, “surrealism is a 20th-century literary and artistic movement that attempts to express the workings of the subconscious by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter.”

The first exhibition which was devoted to the surrealist object was in 1936 at the Galerie Ratton in Paris; here and at the Galerie Beaux-Arts in 1938 we find the genesis for the present exhibition. The idea of surrealism and the exhibition is to push the viewer to look at things differently and it certainly succeeded with me!

I have seen many photographs of surrealist objects but seeing the three-dimensional works themselves, they make much more sense to me. Somehow the penny never dropped that the photo images I had seen in the past were mere substitutes for the objects themselves and lacked their emotional impact. Man Ray’s iron with spikes coming out of the center underneath perfectly illustrates Salvador Dali’s 1942 definition: “The Surrealist Object is one that is absolutely useless from a practical point of view and is irrational, created wholly for the purpose of materializing in a fetishistic way, with the maximum of tangible reality, ideas and fantasies that have an insane character.”

One of the most provocative entries in the exhibition was a breast with fur surrounding it, Marcel Duchamp and Enrico Donati’s, „Prière de Toucher“, 1947. Of course in the museum display they covered it in plexi. What kill- joys these museum curators are!

André Breton said already in 1924, “In the bad taste of my time I go further than anyone else, or I try to anyway.” The prime exampl
e for me in this instance was done a quarter century later in 1953 by Hans Bellmer “Halbpuppe” or “Half Doll” which shows one arm, one leg, one breast and in the top of the head the ass crack. To me the work relates to another Breton quote, this time from 1953, “In surrealism, woman is loved and glorifies as the great promise that will still exist after its been fulfilled.”

If a picture is worth a thousand words I would assert that seeing a 3-dimensional work of art is worth a thousand photos of it. Although Surrealism was part of my art education it was only in seeing this exhibition of Surreal objects that I truly felt the impact of the movement.

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