Take a leap down the super surrealist rabbit hole

“Surrealism is the invisible ray which will one day enable us to win out over our opponents. You are no longer trembling, carcass. This summer the roses are blue; the wood is of glass. The earth, draped in its verdant cloak, makes as little impression upon me as a ghost. It is living and ceasing to live which are imaginary solutions. Existence is elsewhere.”
André Breton’s conclusion to the Surrealist Manifesto, conceived in written form in 1924, summed up with poetic precision the uninhibited freedom this new, radical and revolutionary art movement sought to realise. A dream is a tangible experience he argued, grander and more interesting than reality. The subconscious was about to be liberated.
Taking inspiration from the words and actions of the movement’s founder, Moderna Museet Malmö has embarked on an experimental exhibition that celebrates the work of surrealists, past and present. THE SUPERSURREALISM, deliberately capped up by way of emphasis, has been allowed to spill out from the gallery space and into every corner of the building. It’s as if you’ve stumbled into Alice’s Wonderland.
“Just before he died, the founder of surrealism, André Breton, said that ‘surrealism existed before me and I believe it will also outlive me’,” said John Peter Nilsson, director of Moderna Museet Malmö and curator of THE SUPERSURREALISM.
“Inspired by his statement, this exhibition features works stretching from 1566 to 2012, arranged according to an inverted chronology in three chapters: before, during and after. Not everything is strictly surrealist, but it can be regarded in relation to surrealism.”
Instead of starting in the 1920s, as would be expected of a surrealist exhibition, the story goes back as far as 1591. The Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo was centuries ahead of his contemporaries, interpretating his subjects in a decidedly non-figurative way – the entire compositions of a person’s face, subtle facial features and all, were made up of various objects, namely fruit, vegetables and flowers. Some say he was mad, others argue he was just ahead of his time.
Though he achieved fame in his own time, as the years drifted into the silent vaults of history, he was forgotten. It wasn’t until the early half of the twentieth century, when he was rediscovered by artists involved in the surrealist movement, that he would be rescued from the fringes of the great void.
Arcimboldo was an inspiration, an icon whose works suggested deeper and darker influences, independent to the whims of the ruling aristocracy. This naturally appealed to the likes of Salvador Dalí, Meret Oppenheim, Louise Bourgeois, Max Ernst and Man Ray, swashbucklers who revelled in irrationalism.
The bulk of the exhibition largely focuses on this generation of groundbreaking artists, particularly on the works they produced during the interwar period, when the movement was at its most powerful.
One of the key works on show is Dali’s controversial and disturbing painting The Enigma of William Tell (1933), which takes the Swiss folk hero and transforms him into a grinning Vladimir Lenin. According to legend, Tell’s skill is demonstrated when he shot an apple off the head of his son.
The underlying theme is a son’s relationship with his father. Dali has a strained rapport with his dad who disapproved of his surrealist ideals. Tell, all proficiency aside, put his child at risk, while Lenin sold all his children a lie. Here was Dali recording one of his experiences of falling down the rabbit hole. In that respect it is a powerful work of art.
While surrealism in its classic manifestation peaked with Dali and his contemporaries, the ideas of surrealism endured after the war, though less pronounced than they had been. They weren’t any less dramatic – art had moved on, new movements enjoying their place in the sun.
The exhibition includes contemporary works of art by Nathalie Djurberg, Magnus Wallin and Carsten Höller while also looking at modern deviations of surrealism in psychedelic art. Also explored are the transcendental approaches to identity, while considering the existential depths of inquiry undertaken by artists.
“I have always been amazed at the way an ordinary observer lends so much more credence and attaches so much more importance to waking events than to those occurring in dreams,” Breton stated in his manifesto.
Dreams, he noted, are often considered folly; insignificant events and innate reactions in the body without any real usefulness. If that were the case, no-one would dream, every night defined by absolute nothingness. Believing in the ridiculous can be a revelation. This show is demonstrative of that.
THE SUPERSURREALISM at Moderna Museet Malmö runs until 20th January 2013.
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