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Surrealism Beyond Borders, Tate Modern

Salvador Dali (1938)

A telephone receiver morphs into a lobster, a train chugs out of a fireplace – these are all images famously associated with Surrealism. The new show at Tate Modern is stuffed full of well-known names: Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Jean Miro et al. But there are many (maybe more) unfamiliar names too. Most of us connect Surrealism with Europe (more particularly Paris), but the packed rooms go well beyond this traditional centre to the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Japan, Mexico, Africa and Australia.

Rene Magritte (1938)

Surrealism wasn't a style but a state of mind. Nor is it solely related to painting. It is an avant-garde cultural movement launched by Andre Breton in 1924. This is reflected in the huge number of different mediums on show: paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs (and 'outographs'), radio, film, books, poetry and manifestos. Freud was an early vital stimulus for many artists approach to Surrealism and these artists sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind (and dreams) by depicting uncanny (sometimes unnerving)) illogical scenes, often by the irrational juxtaposing of images.

Joan Miro Mai 68 (1968-73)

It is striking that many involved in Surrealism did so in secret – for instance, under the Czech Socialist Republic. The black and white films on the wall in the second room made in the 1960s conjure up the unpredictability and absurdity of everyday life under Totalitarianism. Revolution is a central Surrealist idea and surrealists have expressed revolutionary ideas in poetic and artistic terms. The beautiful large Miro (painted in May 1968 during the final years of General Franco's dictatorship in Spain) title (Mai 68) and date demonstrates Miro's support for the student uprising during which demonstrators painted surrealist slogans on the wall of the Sorbonne in Paris. Surrealists also generated collective actions and identities condemning imperialism, capitalism, fascism, racism and other forms of power and control. The collaborative aspects of creation is exemplified in the group production of a nine-metre long paper concertina with drawings by 132 people. Draw a figure, fold it up, and pass it on. Children will love this.

Cadavre Exquis

This show is BIG and not chronological or geographical (but in rooms with themes of a sort) which is sometimes confusing. You will need time. Ultimately, I think most adults will conclude that the famous names are famous for a reason (they are better artists!), but we also think that children are more open to forms that have no basis in the reality and will like to explore as well as see some iconic pieces.

Surrealism Beyond Borders

Tate Modern

Until 29th August 2022

Anya Waddington 24th February 2022


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