We went to see the Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition at Tate Modern. This has a few of the usual big names of the movement, but also tries to broaden out and taken in the influence and expansion of surrealist styles outside Europe and America and its reintegration with indigenous styles of art that were part of its sources of inspiration. There is also an attempt to show more of the female artists in the movement, such as Ithell Colquhoun, Dorothea Tanning, Leonora Carrington and also Eileen Agar, whose reputation was growing since the 80s.
The show is organised with 2 different structuring principles: about half the rooms take up themes from surrealist theories and manifestos about the uncanny, the unconscious, the relation to political action, whilst the others focus on geographical centres of surrealist activity.
Here are some images of the images. Unfortunately some of the smaller works, such as the ones by the Iranian artist Kaveh Golestan did not photograph very well and the displays of surrealist writings do not make great pictures.
The 9 metre long poem composed by Ted Joans during one of his travels:
Fun fact: I use the exhibition guide to check some of the names of these pictures, and I put a marker in at page 224 when I found the Taro Okamoto picture. Then when I wanted to find the one above, I opened the book and I was already at the right place, it was on page 225. That’s the sort of moment Breton would have appreciated.
This last work was of course referenced in a film, a book about which is in the gift shop:
Back to the show:
This one has similarities with Dali’s “Premonition Of Civil War”:
I’ve lost the title and artist of this one, and it doesn’t seem to be in the exhibition guide:
This is not included in the exhibition guide:
The exhibition also features films by Jan Svankmajer and Maya Deren (not Meshes Of The Afternoon, the scariest movie ever made). There are various examples of surrealist writings, including the work of a Czech underground group during the German occupation. Were they being alluded to in Kundera’s Life Is Elsewhere, which featured an avant garde artist who fancied himself as a follower of Breton? Surrealist writings have been back in print for many years: Breton’s Nadja and also De Chirico’s Hebdomeros, but the big prize that finally got a new edition last year is The Eater Of Darkness by Robert Coates, which is now classed as “dada” but could just as well pass for the first ever surrealist novel. I have not checked that new edition to see if they get the typography right – there was an awful print-on-demand digital edition on Amazon in which the text was mangled by passing through a scanning system that tried to convert it back to a conventional text. We could of course say that that was a further extension of the textual instability… but still ask for your money back.
Some of the later works in the exhibition blur into heavy metal album sleeve art or mass-market fantasy imagery, which I suppose marks the success of the movement in reaching a wider audience, but also failure by simply becoming assimilated to the category of a familiar visual style and coding. Even Meshes Of The Afternoon ended up referenced in a music video. The Uncanny becomes ordinary and expected and needs to be deinterpreted.