For all D.C. surrealist fans, the City of Brotherly Love just up the road a bit is well worth a rush trip this weekend to see The Surrealists: Works from the Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
It closes March 2 which, on the first Sunday of the month, happens to be "Pay What You Can Day."
It's not a big show, just three galleries, but the art is more than enough to keep your mind occupied long past your exit from the museum.
Oils, photographs, sculpture, furniture, printed materials, rare books, and clothing, all from the museum's collection, are represented in 100 creations by 50 artists who explore their subconscious minds, dreams, and fears. They made visual, the unconscious; real, unreality; and they exaggerated.
Curator John Vick led a tour and said the surrealists revolted against traditional names and values and practiced their own personal styles. The movement "about diversity, difference, and individuality," became "a real driving force in Europe" in the 1920s, spanning the aftermath of World War I, the entirety of World War II. and the Spanish Civil War (July, 1936 - April, 1939).
Vick said it was Philadelphia's "first exhibition [where] we've been able to feature our surrealism collection in a comprehensive format."
The show unfolds chronologically and geographically as artists fled Paris and Europe for New York, joining thousands displaced by World War II.
Not all the names are familiar (Pierre Roy, Eli Lotar, Esteban Frances, Wifredo Lam) but most are well known: Joan Miro, Kay Sage, de Chirico, Giacometti, Max Ernst, and hometown boy, Man Ray. Some of the works have never been shown.
Curator Vick said Picasso never really joined the trend, being "slightly outside" of it, however, two of his are thrown in for good measure (Bullfight, 1934, and Head of a Woman, 1937). (Picasso is a draw.)
Salvador Dali painted Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War broke out, when he witnessed his country torn apart by bloodshed. The label quotes him describing Soft Construction as "a vast human bodybreaking out into monstrous excrescences of arms and legs tearing at one another in a delirium of auto strangulation." The surrealists were fascinated by and often portrayed the desecration of the human body, especially Dali. (Who would have known?)
Many consider surrealism art to be anti-feminist.
In her self-portrait, Birthday, named by her future husband, Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning paints herself as a sex tool, grabbing her skirt, clothed in a robe of human bodies. Pretty, huh? At the same time she reaches for a door leading to a long hallway of open doors (an escape or a prison?). Her expression exudes self-doubt and sadness. What do you see?
The show contains violence, including violence against women (I could not locate it or them), torment, self-destruction, and exorcism of demons.
Maybe it will help exorcise your demons when you see theirs and realize yours aren't so bad, after all. The artists intended to shock, said Mr. Vick, and they still do today.
When: Now through March 2, 2014. The museum is open every day except Monday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Wednesday and Friday until 8:45 p.m.
Admission: "Pay what you wish" on Sunday, March 2. Customary prices are $20 (adults); $18 (seniors; 65 and over); $14 (students and youth, ages 13-18); free (children, under age 13); and members, no charge.