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article imageDrawing Surrealism in New York Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Feb 25, 2013 in Entertainment
New York - On now through April 21st at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, 'Drawing Surrealism' examines the role and function of drawing in the surrealist art movement. It's fascinating for both artists and non-artists alike.
The show features 165 works by 70 artists from 15 countries, spread lovingly over two expansive rooms. Covering the years between 1915 to 1955 and arranged chronologically, Drawing Surrealism offers a rich, fascinating experience for both newcomers to the surrealist movement as well as longtime fans of its artists and influencers.
As The New York Times Roberta Smith noted in her review, "despite drawing’s centrality to Surrealism’s many explorations, there have been very few exhibitions devoted exclusively to Surrealist drawings." She also notes that drawing, "being the art medium connected most directly to the brain, ...also fit with and furthered the Surrealists’ wide-ranging interests in the id, dreams and language; chance, speed and fun; and disturbing juxtapositions."
The exhibition beautifully illustrates artist Andre Breton's theory that there is a direct link between drawing, artwork, and the artist's unconscious mind, owing to the immediacy of the medium. With Drawing Surrealism, the central tenets of surrealism, along with their related techniques, are presented in clear relationship to one another, with various approaches (automatism, frottage, collage, decalcomania, exquisite corpse) surveyed, along with the effect the surrealist manifesto had on a wider swath of artists and creators. Such attention to detail makes for a fascinating survey that is at once fun, thought-provoking, educational, and beautiful.
Salvador Dalí (1904–1989)  Study for “The Image Disappears ” 1938. Pencil on paper © Salvad...
Salvador Dalí (1904–1989), Study for “The Image Disappears,” 1938. Pencil on paper © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2012 Photo © 2012 Museum Associates/ LACMA, by Michael Tropea, Private Collection.
Museum Associates/ LACMA, by Michael Tropea
For all of its emphasis on the unconscious, of deliberately turning away from the Old Masters and classical depiction, Salvador Dali whole-heartedly embraced meticulous realism and classical forms, liberally mixing them in his own unique way with dream-like images to create a captivating hybrid that would inform much of the public’s idea of surrealism. His Study for "The Image Disappears"" from 1938 offers us a graphite version of what Dali had already been doing in his painted works. His penchant for optical illusion found express that same year (in painted form) with “Apparition of a Face and Fruit Dish On A Beach” and, while that particular work, like many, features a heady mix of textures, forms, histories and styles, it’s the beautiful simplicity of the lines of graphite here, its sensual lines and keenly observed forms, that underline the artistic confidence that marked so much of Dali’s work throughout his long career.
André Breton (1896–1966)  Jacqueline Lamba (1910–1993)  Yves Tanguy (1900–1955)  Exquisite C...
André Breton (1896–1966), Jacqueline Lamba (1910–1993), Yves Tanguy (1900–1955), Exquisite Corpse, 1938 Collage. Gale and Ira Drukier © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris © 2012 Estate of Yves Tanguy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New Y ork
Estate of Yves Tanguy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New Y ork
Dali’s embrace of painting was hardly typical of the various techniques favored by early surrealists. In fact, many turned against painting, and instead employed techniques that would fully access the unconscious, openings door to new possibilities for creation and artistry. These techniques including included a game known as exquisite corpse, in which a group of participants would draw on a section of folded paper, without seeing any of the others’ drawings. The Morgan's notes helpfully remind us the "(t)he name of the game derives from a sentence that was created when the surrealists first used the process to write poetry: The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine." One might guess, looking at the exquisite corpse drawings on display at the exhibition, that more than a bit of wine was probably involved in their making - but that suspicion does nothing to take away from the deeply intriguing, essentially playful nature of the works. Whimsical though they may be, in many ways they exemplify the surrealist spirit, one that embraced experimentation, chance, individualism and community, and a thirst for discovery.
Max Ernst (1891–1976)  Le start du châtaigner (The Start of the Chestnut Tree)  1925. Frottage w...
Max Ernst (1891–1976), Le start du châtaigner (The Start of the Chestnut Tree), 1925. Frottage with graphite pencil, and gouache. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Gift of Walter Feilchenfeldt in honor of Eugene and Clare Thaw, 2011.28 © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2012.
Graham S. Haber
This desire to explore also finds expression through the technique of frottage, the process of rubbing graphite (or any other drawing media) onto a piece of paper that's been placed over a textured surface, in order to reproduce that texture on paper. German artist Max Ernst utilized this technique most extensively; the Dada pioneer regarded frottage as an artistic equal to automatic writing, because of the its connection to the unconscious, and to elements of the unknown and uncontrollable. He said of frottage, “ “I was surprised by the sudden intensification of my visionary faculties, and by the hallucinating succession of contradictory images.” Maika Pollack of Gallerist NY rightly notes that "for sheer experimental zeal, German Surrealist Max Ernst comes across as the group’s real innovator, the Thomas Edison of the Surrealist drawing." This is clearly shown in his "Le start du châtaigner (The Start of the Chestnut Tree)" from 1925, which utilizes frottage in a way that is deceptively simple; the dream-like imagery is complemented by the hazy familiarity of shapes and patterns, its deep, rich texture belying the graphite pencil and gouache used in its creation. Such a simple approach had, and continues to have, far-reaching effects, both in the art world proper and far outside its realms. As FT’s Ariella Budick points out, “Primary schoolers take a cue from Max Ernst when they rub paper against a mottled surface to create evocative patterning, or muster magazine cut-outs into disorienting composites.”
Joan Miró (1893–1983)  Composition  1930. Charcoal on paper. The Museum of Fine Arts  Houston  G...
Joan Miró (1893–1983), Composition, 1930. Charcoal on paper. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Gift of Oveta Culp Hobby © 2012 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris
Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris
Simple tools are, as Drawing Surrealism highlights, sometimes the most effective. Joan Miro’s “Composition” from 1930 is a beautiful simple line drawing full of soft round forms and sensual lines. Playfulness seems like a key element here, with recognizable forms -a breast, an eye, a profile -incorporated into the whole form. The work is a wonderful early example of the Spanish artist’s iconography, and his penchant for simple shapes and flat colors and textures. One is reminded, through the composition here, of his painting “Une Etoile caresse la seine d’un negresse” from 1938, a painting-poem that incorporates verse and imagery, and freely embraces the surrealist technique of automatism. As Jacques Dupin notes in his book on Miro's life and work, surrealism offered ”the possibility of liberating (Miro's) own pictorial style by allowing him freely to combine the earthly and the magical elements seen in his “detailist” period... (t)he world of the imagination and the subconscious, rather than being an end in itself, was for Miro a way of giving shape in his paintings to his lived experiences and his memories.”
Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)  Women at the Seashore  November 25  1932  India ink. Collection of Gail...
Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Women at the Seashore, November 25, 1932, India ink. Collection of Gail and Tony Ganz © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Indeed, the techniques as championed by Breton, Ernst et al, exhibited with such delicacy and skill in Drawing Surrealism, seem to have provided many artists with a set of tools they incorporated into their creative toolbox in the decades that followed. This is evidenced in the work of Pablo Picasso, whose “Women At The Seashore” from 1932 demonstrates the varied style of the artist, with massively distorted figures in a deeply abstract landscape. The lovely, India ink drawing is a strong departure from his other, more realistic depictions of done earlier in Picasso’s career. His pencil "Portrait de Guillaume Apollinaire" from 1916 (not part of the exhibit) is a gorgeously simple, realistic line drawing that lovingly captures the essence of the writer so central to much of the surrealists' early works. One sees this same ability to capture essence -of personality, spirit, time, place - done in a very different style, but with a generous dollop of ferocious individuality, with "Women At The Seashore" -it beautifully conveys is the Spanish artist’s capacity to embrace so many varying artforms, and to wholly make them his own. As Andre Breton wrote of him in Surrealism and Paintings, we claim him unhesitatingly as one of us, even though it is impossible and would, in any case, be impertinent to apply to his methods the rigorous system that we propose to instate in other directions… I shall always oppose the absurdly restrictive sense that any label would impose on this man from whom we confidently expect great things…
Louise Bouregois Untitled  1946. Ink on paper 8 1/2 x 8 3/8 in. Private Collection. Photo: Christoph...
Louise Bouregois Untitled, 1946. Ink on paper 8 1/2 x 8 3/8 in. Private Collection. Photo: Christopher Burke © Louise Bourgeois Trust/Licensed by VAGA, NY
Christopher Burke
Such fame extends itself to the thirteen female artists are represented in Drawing Surrealism, among them Frida Kahlo and Louis Bourgeois, the latter of whom's elegantly jagged "Untitled" work offers a vivid mix of forms that imply a texture far beyond its smooth surface, offering an architectural sort of expression that beautifully anticipates many of her later, famous sculptures. Her inclusion in the exhibit is particularly noteworthy if one recalls the interview the American artist did with Art Info in 2007, when she said of the surrealists that “I was a generation younger so I reacted against them... I did not like their attitudes towards women. The surrealists were interested in literary things, in illustration, dreams and games. I’ve always aligned my work with the existentialists.”
Viewed together, the works featured in Drawing Surrealism imply that drawing was, in many senses, the strongest expression of the surrealist manifesto, and its reach extended far beyond its most famous practitioners. Viewed chronologically (and then, non-chronologically), they offer a vision of a movement whose influence extended far past its roots and into the very heart of daily life, bringing all the fascinating, sometimes disturbing facets of the unconscious along for the ride.
More about Surrealism, Drawing, Salvador dali, morgan library, New york
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