Under the Surface: Surrealist Photography just opened this week at Bowdoin College Museum of Art and runs through June 1, 2014.
Space Writing (Self Portrait), 1935© 2014 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris. All Rights Reserved
This is no “what do we show next?” kind of filler exhibit. With over 60 images on view, from Man Ray to Berenice Abbott, as well as many publications of the surrealists’ works, the viewer taking his/her time here can really learn something. I learned about courage.
The surrealists were basically coming off of the horrific experience of World War I. Frankly, they could be justified in becoming unglued. But instead they fearlessly explored a world outside of reality, and beyond the human everyday experience, and they realized that new world through art.
While Man Ray is perhaps the best known artist represented in this show (including the maker of one of the two films on view), I was surprised to see works by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Manuel Alvarez Bravo, not to mention Eugene Atget. The point this makes is that even if some of the artists whose works are on view were not specifically surrealists, they were very much influenced by their surrealist colleagues, and I think we all know that influence continues to impact artists today.
It’s one thing to realize a work of art that represents what everyone can see. But to take on the challenge of losing yourself in the dark recesses of the mind and trying to realize THAT visually? – that takes courage. And thick skin. These artists went where no artist had gone before, and as you work your way through this exhibit constantly remind yourself of the era in which these risky, daring and very, very edgy works were conceived and presented. Think Salvador Dali and his melting timepieces, etc. I suspect many of these artists were considered quite mad.
Distortion #24©Andre Kertesz Estate. All Rights Reserved
Photographs and publications have been loaned to this exhibit from museums all over the country and it was quite a thrill to see so many vintage prints by some of the masters. That opportunity alone is worth a trip for committed practitioners of today. The prints are all small, another reminder of the era they represent, and, you might think, quite a handicap for realizing the abstract depths of the surreal compared to what would be available technologically to those artists today.
The prints included here by artists who were deeply influenced by the surrealists, but who most likely did not consider themselves surrealists at all, show that influence in “straight” photographs that reach to the edge in content and composition. These works imply there is more here than meets the eye, a definite nod to the surrealists’ agenda.
The exhibit will be up for several months allowing us all to visit it more than once. I hope Maine’s fine art photographers will be inspired to break new ground and really push the limits of their visions after spending time with these passionate artists from the past who traveled to new worlds without fear, and in so doing, left a lasting mark on us all.
Dream #28©Greta Stern Estate. All Rights Reserved