Magritte at MOMA

(Mostly about art rather than language.)

In the September 23rd New Yorker, a review by Andrea Scott, “Strange Days: MOMA refreshes the image of the Surrealist René Magritte”, beginning:

René Magritte was a pop-culture meme years before there was an Internet. In 1951, when CBS aired a new logo—a stylized eye hovering in a cloud-clotted sky—it bore an uncanny resemblance to his painting “The False Mirror” (1928). (The sky was later removed by the network.) Over the years, Magritte’s art has been hijacked for designs ranging from the Beatles’ record label to a Volkswagen ad to a bowler-hat light fixture. The Belgian Surrealist, who died in 1967, at age sixty-eight, is still going viral: in April, an anonymous artist started a Tumblr called Super Magritte, reimagining the artist’s works as 8-bit designs by Nintendo. In one case, the locomotive that floats indelibly in the fireplace of the painting “Time Transfixed” (1938) is replaced by Super Mario’s slow-moving bullet.

Magritte’s enduring popularity has edged his once shocking imagery into the realm of cliché. But his radical use of language and his transposition of the banal and the unnerving set a precedent. Would the enigmas of Jasper Johns’s flags or Ed Ruscha’s deadpan pairing of image and text have been conceivable otherwise? Magritte, who dressed like a banker and was known to paint at his dining-room table, saw himself as a “secret agent” in the war on bourgeois values. He once said of his mission, “Too often by a twist of thought, we tend to reduce what is strange to what is familiar. I intend to restore the familiar to the strange.’’

New Yorkers can recapture that strangeness in “Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938,” at MOMA (co-organized with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Menil Collection) [Sept. 28 – Jan. 12]. The exhibition focusses on a dozen watershed years, starting with works that Magritte made for his first solo show, in Brussels — the reviews were not great, but they established him as Belgium’s only Surrealist and prompted him to move to the outskirts of Paris. There, he had a furiously productive three years (he made more than a hundred works in 1928 alone), but returned home in 1930, after the stock-market crash. The show ends in 1938, the year Magritte said, in a now famous lecture, “Surrealism claims for our waking life a freedom similar to that which we have in our dreams.”

Earlier on Magritte on this blog: “Magritte” on 7/9/12 (with parodies); “More Magritte” on 7/21/13.  And a bonus: a strange work of Magritte’s, a sort of visual portmanteau entitled Invention:

One Response to “Magritte at MOMA”

  1. Surreal Zippy | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] On Surrealism on this blog, see the posting of 3/22/13. Magritte has come up a number of times, notably on 7/19/12, 7/21/13, and 9/27/13. […]

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