Surrealism at the AGO

September 26, 2009 at 8:54 pm (Uncategorized)

The day after the kids went back to school, I went to see an exhibition entitled “Surrealist Things” at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The exhibition with an emphasis on “things” not painting featured surrealist creations like Dali’s famous Aphrodespiac Jacket, Man Ray’s Cadeau, and many other fascinating objects. Yet as interesting and provocative as the exhibition was, it was disturbing on another level.

The Surrealists argued that “poetry must be made by all.” The point being that art, poetry, the creative side of human activity is often seen as a passive activity: you go to the art gallery. You experience the paintings. You go home.  Art is made by specialists. The Surrealists sought to tear down the barrier, and top make art, the marvellous, part of everyday life.

Dali’s Aphrodisiac Jacket, which featured glasses filled with alcohol attached to the jacket, was orginally accompanied by a bottle of creme de menthe for viewers to drink. Thus the viewer could experience the art and the alcohol. At the AGO, the jacket was safely behind glass. Sadly, there was no alcohol.  As one of the accompanying exhibition texts noted, once surrealism was shorn of its radical political thrust, it became a marketable  commodity. Art was once again a spectacle.

For me though, the weirdest party of the exhibit was witnessing a guided tour of the exhibit. A group of bored tourists followed a guide who provided insights and interpretations about the exhibit. The surrealists would have been appalled: not only were there works exhibited as traditional art, but people were then instructed as to what they meant.

Happily, a book order arrived at home that day containing a collection of surrealist games. Exquisite corpse anyone?

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