The Colour of My Dreams: The Surrealist Revolution in Art

I recently visited Vancouver, B.C. where I saw the exhibit The Colour of My Dreams: The Surrealist Revolution in Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery.  It is a huge show and if you haven't seen it yet you have until the end of the month, it ends on Sunday, October 2.  There are hundreds of artworks by 80 artists in a wide variety of media.  If you are interested in Modern Art I definitely recommend this exhibit.

I am interested in all of the meanings behind Surrealism and know I have a lot to learn.  The exhibit is huge and brings Surrealist work together and borrows from dozens of museums and private collections. 
René Magritte, The Six Elements, 1929, oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950
© Estate of René Magritte / SODRAC (2010)

There are paintings, videos, drawings (including several "exquisite corpse drawings") and sculptures.  The sculpture also includes many works from Canada's First Nations (known in America as Native Americans) which had a strong influence on Surrealism.  I hadn't realized this earlier but seeing the side by side comparison gave me a new appreciation for both types of art. 

Surrealism began in Europe in the 20's and the movement was influenced by a variety of things including-
-The studies of Freud and new ideas about psychoanalysis as well as dream analysis.
-The art of the Dada artists a decade earlier who used art to make sense or World War I (or use their "nonsense art" to show that the war didn't make sense).
-The Metaphysical art movement also about a decade earlier which was the first to explore the ideas of the unconscious.
-The idea that tapping into the unconscious and letting go of rational thought completely frees ones creativity.
        Joan Miró, Photo: This is the Colour of My Dreams, 1925, oil on canvas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection, 2002
© Successió Miró/SODRAC (2011)
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource, NY

I will fully admit that I am not expert on the period, I have mostly been researching pre-20th century art.  However I have always found it fascinating, ever since I saw the work of Rene Magritte as a child.  A year ago I saw an amazing exhibit of Metaphysical art in Florence and this past spring my interest was renewed when I visited the Magritte Museum in Brussels.

Surrealism didn't have one specific style but most artists were interested in either creating very realistic works that didn't make visual sense (such as Magritte) or in creating works that were done when they let go of a rational thought process (such as Miro).  One example of the latter is the painting above by Miro which gave the exhibit its name.

Max Ernst, The Forest, 1923, oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950
© Estate of Max Ernst / SODRAC (2010)

Rather than being arranged chronologically, the curators divided the art work into several categories.  Some of those categories were "Spaces of the Unconsious", "Forests/Labyrinths", "Exquisite Corpse", "Myths, Maps, Magic" and "Anatomies of Desire" each highlighting a different aspect of Surrealism.

Both forests and labyrinths were aspects of the human psyche, forests were thought of as dark and foreboding and could be interpreted as the darker part of human nature.  Labyrinths were confusing places where people lost reason.  The Surrealists had a journal titled "Minotaur" after the Minotaur that was in the labyrinth of Greek Mythology.

Pietà or Revolution by Night, Max Ernst, 1923, oil on canvas
Tate Modern, Purchased 1981, © Estate of Max Ernst/SODRAC (2011)
Photo: Tate, London/Art Resource, NY


The "exquisite corpse" were group drawings where a folded piece of paper each had an artist add an element of a figure to it.  It is the visual equivalent of having everyone add a line to a story without seeing the line preceding it.  The results were interesting and usually pretty amusing in a creative way.

Myths, Maps, Magic highlighted the influence of the Canadian First Nations upon Surrealism.  There was a beautiful example from the Kwakwaka’wak tribe of a peace dance headdress made of maple, abalone, paint, cloth, ermine fur and sea lion whiskers which is part of the permanent collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

I came away with a better understanding and appreciation for Surrealism, as well as a sense that I want to learn morn about this art movement.  The Surrealists have provided inspiration for generations of Modern and Contemporary artists.

I think everyone will want to see this show, but if you do miss it there is a very good exhibit catalog which accompanies it: 

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