"Everything leads us to believe that there exists a state of mind where life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, no longer seem contradictory"
–Andre Breton, The Surrealist Manifesto, 1924
The Proper Meaning is a group exhibition that brings together artists from different periods of the 20th century all sharing an interest in the surreal. The exhibition will include paintings, sculptures and drawings.
The notion of the surreal is so pervasive in contemporary culture that it is hard to imagine that the surrealist project is less than 80 years old. Although art history locates the period of High Surrealism between 1924, the year when Andre Breton published The Surrealist Manifesto, and 1940, Surrealism is arguably the most influential art movement of the 20th century, inspiring artists, writers, dramatists, and last but not least, contemporary image-making in the both the media and advertising. In the visual arts, Surrealism, although somewhat upstaged by the radical abstractions of the New York School in the 1940s and 50s, has made a quiet, but persistent comeback starting in the 1960s and has, in recent years, been central to the art-making of many of today's most celebrated artists.
Surrealism would not be possible without Sigmund Freud's work in psychoanalysis, in particular his interpretations of dreams. Through his readings of dream imagery, he opened the door for visual artists to exploit the ambiguity of an object, exploring associations and implications, through irrational juxtapositions, rather than the literal meaning of the thing itself. For the exhibition The Proper Meaning, the gallery has assembled a group of works that both examine the inherent ambiguity of everyday objects, and the link between the unconscious and the real forms of the material world.
Rene Magritte, in his 1928 painting L'invention de la vie (The Invention of Life), gives visual form to the notions of life and death. Using two female figures set in a somber landscape, one shrouded in gray fabric as the other eerily stares out at the viewer, Magritte evokes the very fragility of human life. As it has been noted that the female figure resembles the artist’s mother, who committed suicide when Magritte was a boy, this work may conjure Magritte’s own struggles with the death of his mother.
In Robert Gober's sculptures Disappearing Sink, 1986 and Two Doors, 1989, the domestic landscape is exposed to reveal the ambiguities of everyday household objects and how one's own memories are projected onto inanimate objects. By positioning objects such as doors and sinks out of context and stripping them of their ordinary functions, Gober challenges their familiarity, allowing them to act as a conduit to deeper psychological reservoirs. In a similar manner, a rare sculpture by Vija Celmins, from 1969-70, entitled Pencil is a six-foot long, artist’s pencil. By shifting the scale, a particularly surrealist technique, the ordinariness of a pencil is subverted, and the meaning of the object bizarrely displaced. The artist's very own tool becomes a vehicle for self-portraiture.
In the 1963 sculpture Briques, Marcel Broodthaers crafts familiar objects such as bricks out of foam, stacking them on a wooden shelf complete with a bricklayer's mortar tool. The physical relationship of his objects symbolizes their practical usage, but the strange situational context, void of any recognizable purpose, signals a deeper investigation of the thing itself.
The nightmarish landscape painting Aux Antipodes du Paysage, 1936 by Max Ernst, depicts a sublimely exotic netherworld. The reference to the term "antipodes", which means 'two places that are at opposite sides of the world' or 'diametrically opposed', displays Ernst's life-long interest in the unification of the conscious and unconscious side of the human psyche, a key proponent in the Surrealist Manifesto. Jardin Gobe Avions, 1935, combines irrational juxtapositions of splayed airplane wings and anthropomorphic decorative floral motifs in a stylized desert setting.
The human body, and especially the female body, was a central subject throughout Surrealism. Hans Bellmer's use of the female anatomy in his perverse adolescent doll sculptures of the 1920s and 30s, where naturalistic body parts are reassembled in unnaturalistic forms, reveals many of the Surrealists' libidinal preoccupations with death and eroticism. In the work Doll, 1936 (cast in1965), the female body has been reduced to a dismembered torso with several genital areas, whose only potential function is sexual.
Louise Bourgeois' 1968 work Fillette (Sweeter Version) consists of a phallic object crossed with the textures and colors of a slab of raw meat, suspended from the ceiling. Mixing female and male elements, breasts and penis, the androgynous nature of the work hints to more universal ideas, namely the passive and active, yet complementary, components of the individual. Similarly, Robert Gober’s Untitled, 1990, is a wax torso that is both male and female. Whereas Bourgeois seeks to disclose a symbolic harmony, Gober sets out to disrupt our normal visual associations, skewing our perception of the human body by morphing both sexes.