From March 23 through May 21, 2006, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present Beyond Real: Surrealist Photography and Sculpture from Bay Area Collections, in conjunction with the exhibition The Surreal Calder, on view during the same period. Beyond Real includes more than 200 photographs and sculptures by artists such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, Dora Maar, and Man Ray, as well as surrealist-inflected work by contemporary artists Bruce Conner, Annette Messager, Cindy Sherman, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and others. The exhibition is co-organized by Sandra S. Phillips, SFMOMA’s senior curator of photography, and Corey Keller, assistant curator of photography, and is drawn from SFMOMA’s rich surrealist holdings as well as private Bay Area collections.
Says Keller, “The Bay Area has turned out to be a treasure trove of surrealist objects, and it is a thrill to be able to bring them together and set them in dialogue with work from SFMOMA’s collection.”
Though Surrealism began as a literary movement in the early 1920s, visual artists quickly began to explore the psychological interests and revolutionary methods of their literary colleagues. Photography, with its inherent ability to transform the everyday into the extraordinary, quickly emerged as a central and extremely fertile mode of surrealist expression. Beyond Real will consider Surrealism as a historical artistic and political movement, while also tracing the powerful influence surrealist ideas have had on contemporary artists.
The exhibition will open with an installation of photographs, sculptures, and assemblages by Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, offering an introduction to some of the key themes for the surrealist movement, and will consider the relationship of Surrealism to the artistic concerns of earlier Dada artists. It also will present an overview of surrealist photographers’ radically experimental techniques—including photocollage, solarization, and brûlage—as well as their fantastic subject matter. Sculptures, such as Joseph Cornell’s assemblage boxes, will be juxtaposed with photographs by artists such as Ilse Bing to provide an expanded look at the surrealist interest in the objet trouvé, or found object.
The exhibition will go on to explore the ways certain surrealist themes—the interest in the doll or mannequin as a playful or grotesque stand-in for the human subject, for example—have re-emerged in contemporary artistic practice and will draw connections between such historical works as Hans Bellmer’s series La Poupée and more recent works by Cindy Sherman and Valerie Bélin. Also featured will be works by Eugène Atget, who neither belonged to the surrealist movement nor considered himself an artist, but in whose photographs of empty streets and shop-window mannequins the Surrealists found affinities with their own vision. The exhibition will conclude with a look at the migration of surrealist ideas across Europe and into the Americas, and the subtle mutations these ideas underwent in the work of artists like Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Ralph Meatyard, and Frederick Sommer.
Beyond Real: Surrealist Photography and Sculpture from Bay Area Collections is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and is generously supported by Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein.