Over the Labor Day weekend, I snapped this photo while sitting on the deck of my friend’s Hamptons Beach House, just as the sun was setting. This was more about capturing a Friday-evening-moment of relaxing with a glass of wine than making art, but what was unexpected is how a cloud’s reflection is seen in the remaining wine in my glass. Cloud in a glass.
Le Faux Miroir (1928) presents an enormous lash-less eye with a luminous cloud-swept blue sky filling the iris, and an opaque, dead-black disc for a pupil. The allusive title, provided by Belgian surrealist writer Paul Nougé, seems to insinuate limits to the authority of optical vision: a mirror provides a mechanical reflection, but the eye is selective and subjective. Magritte’s single eye functions on multiple enigmatic levels: the viewer both looks through it, as through a window, and is looked at by it, thus seeing and being seen simultaneously. The Surrealist photographer Man Ray, who owned the work from 1933 to 1936, recognized this compelling duality when he memorably described Le Faux Miroir as a painting that “sees as much as it itself is seen.”
The Palace of Curtains, III (1928) is one in a series of paintings by René Magritte that explores the resonances between words and images. Two polygons with nearly identical profiles lean against a wood-paneled wall. Each shape frames a depiction of sky, one with a painted representation, the other with language (the French word ciel, meaning sky).
Magritte was fond of unexpected pairings between interior and exterior scenes, as with the patch of blue sky against the finite backdrop of the wall. Placing words in absurd or unexpected contexts, Magritte challenged the conventional use of language. Though the use of text in his word-picture pairings may seem incongruous, the artist viewed all language as arbitrary: “An image is not so wedded to its name,” he said , “that one cannot find another which suits it better.”