Monday, October 29, 2012


Surrealism: Desire Unbound, a 2002 catalogue (edited by Jennifer Mundy) of an exhibition at the Tate Modern and the Met, is a well illustrated, theoretically sophisticated, and absolutely essential book about this often misunderstood Modernist movement. It is that rare--indeed, almost unknown--thing in the contemporary artworld, an exhibition catalogue interesting enough to be read more than once. Consisting of scholarly essays on various aspects of the movement, it presents not a narrative history but a thematic survey focusing on the artists' transformations of erotic desire. Unsurprisingly, the theoretical take tends toward Lacan and Bataille, but the authors' interpretations resist dogmatism and revel in complexity, as worthwhile scholarship always should. More important and provocative than the essays, though, are the illustrations, many of which are marvelous. The full-page photograph of Meret Oppenheim's My Nurse from the Moderna Museet in Stockholm shows it to be an object much more multifaceted and polymorphously perverse than her better- known Le dejeuner en fourrure, the fur-covered teacup at MOMA. The large reproduction of Man Ray's great photograph of Oppenheim as phallic woman, Veiled Erotic, is endlessly fascinating, as are the photos of works by Hans Bellmer, Alberto Giacometti, Louise Bourgeois and Joseph Cornell, the last an artist whose works' multi-dimensionality usually resists photographic treatment. There's also an excellent reproduction here of a work very well-known, Magritte's The Rape, an image that should never cease to disturb and provoke. Overall, this catalogue is a fine antidote to the popular tendency to see Surrealism as the whacked-out comic relief side of High Modernism, HighMod for stoners, too 'far out, man' to deserve sustained attention. The artworks the Surrealists created are both more serious and more deeply, distressingly comic than that. Study the illustrations in this catalogue and you'll see what I mean.

No comments: