See surrealist artworks made by the original Paris-based group and other international artists running this month.
The surrealist group was inspired by dreams and the unconscious mind. This selection includes work by members of the original Paris-based group, as well as international artists who developed their own approaches to the irrational.
The poet André Breton published the First Manifesto of Surrealism in Paris in 1924 and remained at the movement’s heart until his death in 1966. Breton had been stimulated by the theories of Sigmund Freud, who suggested the existence of an unconscious mind, containing the ideas and emotions that our conscious mind refuses to acknowledge.
Dreams were one of the ways in which such repressed feelings could be brought to the surface. Breton and his associates argued that artists and writers should actively seek to unlock the unconscious, releasing hidden desires and irrational love, the delirium of obsession and madness.
Surrealism never became a shared artistic style. Some artists used highly realistic means to depict the imagery of dreams. Others made abstract works generated through ‘automatic’ techniques conceived without prepared themes or correction in order to avoid the control of the conscious mind.
The power of the irrational was harnessed by artists across the world. Over time, groups and individuals in Brussels, Cairo, Mexico City, Prague, Tokyo and elsewhere were drawn to the uncensored creative impulses suggested by the ‘revolution of the mind’.
The organization of works in this room reflects the surrealists’ own approach. The International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936 introduced the movement to London by setting dissimilar works densely against each other. Visitors were invited to immerse themselves in unexpected conjunctions and, in the words of artist Salvador Dalí, ‘to descend to the subconscious’.
To walk into this exhibition is to enter a different reality; where social and perceptual conventions disappear or become absurd; where neuroses, obsessions, and fears are allowed to come to the surface; and where the ‘marvelous’ and the fantastic become the reality.
This is above reality – this is what André Breton, the ‘Pope of Surrealism’; called ‘surrealiti’. Surrealism is not just an art movement; it is a way of thinking, a way of life – a way of transforming existence. This display with its roll call of strange and wonderful images demonstrates the variety of ways by which the Surrealists believed world transformation could be achieved. The period it covers is that which comes directly after the First World War, continuing through the years which ran seemingly inevitably up to the Second World War. This new ‘religion’ had to be broadcast and this was done in the form of magazines.
Littérature, which was published in 1919 by a group of poets in Paris, was the seed of the movement. Its nonconformist approach owed much to the unconventional and anti-art of the Europe-wide Dada movement. This group’s anti-rational art fitted well into the Littérature group’s experiments with automatic writing.
Many of the Dada artists such as Ernst, Arp, Picabia, and Miró were attracted to surrealism because of its interest in poetry or in its anarchic and unconventional approach and all of them provided illustrations for Littérature. As Arp explained, ‘I exhibited along with the surrealists because their rebellious attitude towards “art” and their direct attitude towards life was as wise as Dada.’