Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale, Max Ernst's 1924 painting and its poetic title fill me with dread. Tapping into subliminal imagery, the seemingly dreamy artwork suggests an anxious narrative, not far from the strangeness of my current social media timeline, where pictures of stunning influencers attending fashion shows are interlaced with those of newborn babies being hidden in Kyiv shelters.
The cultural movement of Surrealism started off in Paris in 1924 as a reaction to the slaughter, absurdity and insanity of World War I. Refuting the Western political and social system, the revolutionary movement prioritised the unconscious and dreams and the uncanny in the everyday to reveal hidden truths. But Surrealism stretched far beyond its roots to become a global and polymorphic phenomenon.
The Tate exhibition, prepared in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has been six years in the making and gathers an incredible selection of artworks from all over the world. From Dalí’s iconic Lobster Telephone and René Magritte’s Time Transfixed to Leonora Carrington’s Self-Portrait, the exhibition explores familiar Surrealist themes. Yet it is in its careful consideration of how, far beyond Europe, Surrealism served artists as a tool in the struggle for political and personal freedom that the exhibition strikes a powerful chord.
‘Our Surrealism will enable us finally to transcend the sordid antinomy of the present,’ writes Caribbean artist Suzanne Césaire on the subject of French colonialism.
Gathering artwork from more than 50 countries created over a period of 60 years, the exhibition demonstrates how the movement was transformed, from Tokyo to Mexico City, Buenos Aires to Cairo.
Among rarely seen works are photographs by Cecilia Porras and Enrique Grau, which defied the conservative social conventions of 1950s Colombia and a triptych painting by Mexican-based artist Remedio Varo.
This exhibition also includes the work of afro-surrealist Aimé Césaire, one of the founding fathers of a movement that is seeing a revival in the work of African-American filmmakers and writers today.
It is impossible not to be fascinated by the Exquisite Corpse, Long Distance, conceived by poet and jazz musician Ted Joans over a 30-year-period. Exquisite Corpse is a collective art game in which artists draw a figure, each one adding a section on a piece of folded paper without seeing the previous contributions. It challenges principles central to traditional art, such as originality and authorship and instead imposes discontinuity, paradox, and cognitive disruption – spot drawings from Allen Ginsberg and Dorothea Tanning.
This exhibition celebrates the diverse, subversive voices of Surrealism and the universal power of unlocking the creative subconscious. There is a lot to take in and at times it feels that many hours would be needed to give this exhibition justice.
Somehow, in the current, fast-changing political climate, it feels acutely timely.
|What||Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition, Tate Modern|
|Where||Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Southwark (underground)|
24 Feb 22 – 29 Aug 22, 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here for more information|