Man Ray (1890 – 1976) was a consummate avant-garde artist who often incorporated everyday materials in his work and embraced chance and accident. In this piece, originally created in 1923, and tiled Object to Be Destroyed, Man Ray places a photographic eye on the ticking wand of a metronome to make an object at once mechanical and human, quotidian and bizarre. The use of found objects aligns the work with Dada, while the psychological resonance of the eye points to themes that would become important to Surrealism, officially founded a year later in 1924. Man Ray remade the present version in 1963, six years after the original was destroyed at an exhibition. He wryly re-titled it Indestructible Object to reflect its seemingly indestructible nature.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
South of Scranton (1931) gathers various scenes that artist Peter Blume (1906 – 1992) encountered during an extended road trip in the spring of 1930. Setting out from his residence in Pawling, New York, Blume drove through the coalfields of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and then headed south toward the steel mills of Bethlehem. Blume then traveled further south to Charleston, South Carolina, where he witnessed several sailors performing acrobatic exercises aboard the deck of a German cruiser ship in the harbor. In an account of the painting’s origins, the artist stated, “As I tried to weld my impressions into the picture, they lost all their logical connections. I moved Scranton into Charleston, and Bethlehem into Scranton, as people do in a dream.” Blume’s crisp technique heightens the painting’s surreal appearance.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
One of the most prominent women associated with Surrealism in the United States, Kay Sage (1898 – 1963) made this work after a five-month hiatus from painting following the sudden death of her husband Yves Tanguy. like many Surrealists, she utilized landscape imagery as a metaphor for the mind and psychological states of being. Rendered in somber gray tones, Tomorrow is Never (1955) combines motifs that appear often in in the later stages of her career, including architectural scaffolding, latticework structures, and draped figures, to evoke feelings of entrapment and dislocation. The painting is one of Sage’s last large works before her suicide in 1963.
Tomorrow is Never his part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
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.”
Elastic Shapes with Dali-esque shadows litter Tanguy’s landscape, like the paradoxical meeting of unrelated materials in the painting’s title. According to the poet, John Ashbery, the self-taught artist chose titles arbitrarily, sometimes asking friends for suggestions.
Painted in 1940, The Satin Tuning Fork is part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Little is known about Costo Archillopoulo, the designer of this table (circa 1934), which is both a functional piece of furniture and a fantastical Surrealist sculpture. The glass tabletop rests improbably atop small balls balanced on the tips of three delicately tapering fingers, generating a sensation of tension and unease.
Disembodied hands and gloves are recurrent motifs in Surrealist art, with the left hand, in particular, symbolizing the irrational. The cloudlike element from which the hand emerges also suggests a transition from the conscious to the subconscious world.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
Painted in the summer of 1929, The Accommodations of Desire is a small gem that deals with the twenty-five-year-old Dalí’s sexual anxieties over a love affair with an older, married woman. The woman, Gala, then the wife of Surrealist poet Paul Éluard, became Dalí’s lifelong muse and mate. In this picture, which Dalí painted after taking a walk alone with Gala, he included seven enlarged pebbles on which he envisioned what lay ahead for him: “terrorizing” lions’ heads (not so “accommodating” to his “desire” as the title of the painting facetiously suggests), as well as a toupee, various vessels (one in the shape of a woman’s head), three figures embracing on a platform, and a colony of ants (a symbol of decay).
Dalí did not paint the lions’ heads but, rather, cut them out from what must have been an illustrated children’s book, slyly matching the latter’s detailed style with his own. These collaged elements are virtually indistinguishable from the super-saturated color and painstaking realism of the rest of the composition, startling the viewer into questioning the existence of the phenomena recorded and of the representation as a whole.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
A red wooden gate affixed to the painted surface opens onto a painted scene dominated by blue sky. At left, a female figure brandishes a small knife; another falls limp in a swoon; a man atop the roof carries off a third, his hand outstretched to grab a real knob fastened to the frame. The title of the work (inscribed at the base), was inspired by a fever dream the young Max Ernst experienced while in bed with measles.
As Ernst recalled in third-person, the dream was “provoked by an imitation-mahogany panel opposite his bed, the grooves of the wood taking successively the aspect of an eye, a nose, a bird’s head, a menacing nightingale, a spinning top, and so on.” A poem Ernst penned shortly before making this work in 1924 begins, “At nightfall, at the outskirts of the village, two children are threatened by a nightingale.”
Two Children Are Threatened By a Nightingale is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
Jean Arp, also known as Hans Arp (September 16, 1886 – June 7, 1966) was a German-French sculptor, painter, poet and abstract artist in other media such as torn and pasted paper. When Arp spoke in German he referred to himself as Hans, and when he spoke in French he referred to himself as Jean. Interesting!
Arp was a founding member of the Dada movement in Zürich in 1916. In 1920, as Hans Arp, along with Max Ernst, and the social activist Alfred Grünwald, he set up the Cologne Dada group. However, in 1925 his work also appeared in the first exhibition of the surrealist group at the Galérie Pierre in Paris. Through his investigation of biomorphism (as seen in Constellation with Five White and Two Black Forms: Variation 2, 1932, above) and of chance and accident, he proved especially influential on later 20th-century art in liberating unconscious creative forces.
Constellation with Five White and Two Black Forms: Variation 2 by Jean (Hans) Arp is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. View it in Painting and Sculpture I, Gallery 12, 5th Floor.
This Surrealist object was inspired by a conversation between Meret Oppenheim, (Swiss, 1913–1985) and artists Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar at a Paris cafe. Admiring Oppenheim’s fur-covered bracelet, Picasso remarked that one could cover anything with fur, to which she replied, “Even this cup and saucer.” Soon after, when asked by André Breton, Surrealism’s leader, to participate in the first Surrealist exhibition dedicated to objects, Oppenheim bought a teacup, saucer, and spoon at a department store and covered them with the fur of a Chinese gazelle. In so doing, she transformed genteel items traditionally associated with feminine decorum into sensuous, sexually punning tableware.
Fur-Covered Cup, Saucer and Spoon (1936) is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.