February 13, 2011

"Surreal Objects" at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt

"The marvelous is always beautiful; everything marvelous is beautiful; nothing but the marvelous is beautiful!" wrote the Father of Surrealism, André Breton, in the "First Surrealist Manifesto" in 1924. With this proclamation Dada was dead and the floodgates of Surrealism had opened to engulf the worlds of art and literature with its revolutionary ideas. The Surrealists sought to provoke and amuse both themselves and their audiences in an effort to challenge established ideas of society. One of their primary tools for accomplishing this goal were "objects" - often ordinary items used in an extraordinary way thereby causing the viewer to re-assess his prior beliefs.

There have been many exhibitions of Surrealist Art in the past few years, but never one that focused exclusively on these fundamental objects. Last week I had the great pleasure to be present at the opening of "Surreale Dinge. Skulpturen und Objekte von Dali bis Man Ray [Surreal Objects. Sculpture and Objects from Dali to Man Ray]" a fabulous show at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany. This was an extra special event as it was also a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the museum and it was quite a party! But let's begin with the exhibition...

The curator, Dr. Ingrid Pfeiffer, and her team had a very clear vision of what they did not want the show to be. They did not want a staid, formal presentation of well-known pieces shown like specimens under glass. Instead they, like the Surrealists themselves, threw off museum convention and created a salon with reproduction 1930s furniture made of painted black plywood against an almost kitschy maroon flocked wallpaper. The works on display were primarily three dimensional sculptures, rather than two dimensional paintings, and were set on platforms in the open air. The result was that there with nothing between the viewer and the art which, for the most part, made it much more present and accessible.

Another goal of the organizers was to avoid the clichéd ideas of Surrealism and to present fresh material to the public. In what must have been a treasure hunt worthy of Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Pfeiffer managed to accumulate 180 amazing pieces by 150 different artists, many of whom were quite obscure.

The end result is a comprehensive but not over-loaded collection of marvelous works in an inspired setting. Pure Surrealist genius is found in items like Salvador Dali's "Lobster Telephone (Aphrodisiac Telephone)", 1936/1964, Oscar Dominguez's pink satin upholstered "Wheelbarrow", 1937, Leonor Fini's wood and metal "Corset Chair", 1938, Marcel Mariën's one-eyed spectacles "The Untraceable", 1937, Meret Oppenheim's "Fur Gloves", 1936, and Wolfgang Paalen's "Articulated Cloud II", 1940, an open umbrella covered in natural sponges and hanging upside down.

But as I said, this was a double celebration! In honor of the museum's silver jubilee a special fireworks presentation was commissioned! Despite a light rain, "Time Tower" lit up the night sky and excited onlookers cheered the beautiful pyrotechnic display. It was a great commemoration of two wonderful events and I was thrilled to be a part of it!

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