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Feature Archive

July, 1999: Spotlight on Surrealism

I have often been struck by the immense popularity of certain Surrealist artists. If we use a slightly liberal definition of the term, we can include Dalí, Magritte, Escher, Picasso, Klee, and Miró - six of the superstars of 20th century art. These artists have captured the public's imagination in ways that conventional abstract and realistic artists seldom do.
The Surrealist movement has its roots in the early 20th century Dada movement, and quite a few central figures participated in both - e.g. Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Max Ernst, and André Breton. But while Dada was largely an exercise in using non sequiturs to create absurdities which defied all attempts at interpretation, Surrealist art frequently has significant thematic content.
Perhaps a more similar intellectual approach is that of Symbolists such as Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau, and George Watts. The main difference is that in many cases the Symbolists anticipated Jung, while much Surrealist art has a distinctly dreamlike feel and seems to be influenced by him.
The featured artist for July is Odd Nerdrum, an intriguing Norwegian painter recently seen on the cover of Art News. He doesn't have any connection to other 20th century surrealists; he's more of a fantasist in the style of Hieronymus Bosch and some of the works of Goya and Pieter Bruegel.
I have no idea is this is Nerdrum's intention, but to my eye his works have an air of mythic deathliness to them, as if he were painting the underworld, or the afterlife.
Nerdrum is controversial, not least in his native Norway, and his work isn't for everyone, with its morbid subject matter and occasionally shocking nudity. But it's serious work, brilliantly executed. Click here to see a list of places where his work can be seen online.

The featured museum site is the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which has a number of well-designed exhibits online. Click here for a brief review of the site.

The featured online exhibit is the Virtuo Official Magritte Site, which contains hundreds of reproductions of the Belgian surrealist's unique works. Click here for a brief review of the exhibit and to visit it.

The featured book for this month is actually software available from Amazon.com: The Mystery of Magritte, which reproduces some 400 of Magritte's paintings. I haven't seen it, but the Belgium-based Virtuo Magritte Site (which also sells it) has posted a number of glowing reviews from sources such as the Times, the Sunday Times, and Le Figaro.

The featured print is Salvador Dalí's Santiago El Grande (a.k.a. St. Jacques Le Grand), which also decorates my favorite t-shirt. This vast (13' by 10') and stunning work shows Dalí really cutting loose, showing off the megalomaniacal scope of his vision and his uncanny classical draughtsmanship. It's available as a poster from AllPosters.com.
The original is off the beaten track, at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. I haven't got a link to it on my Dalí page yet, but you can see a pretty good reproduction of it here.

Previous Features
  June, 1999
Artist: Audrey Flack
Museum: Carol Gerten's Fine Art
Exhibit: Michael Lucero: Sculpture 1976-1995
Book: Anish Kapoor
Print: Cupid And Psyche, by Antonio Canova
  May, 1999
Women in the Arts
Artist: Georgia O'Keeffe
Museum: National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.
Exhibit: Jenny Holzer: Please Change Beliefs
Book: Cindy Sherman: Retrospective
Print: Self-Portrait with Monkeys, by Frida Kahlo
  April, 1999
The Golden Age of Illustration
Artist: Maxfield Parrish
Museum: Fine Arts Museums Of San Francisco
Exhibit: Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe online
Books: Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe
Print: Cinderella (Enchantment), by Maxfield Parrish
  March, 1999
Vincent van Gogh
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Museum: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Exhibit: The Vincent van Gogh Information Gallery
Book: Van Gogh's Van Goghs
Print: Terrasse de Cafe
  February, 1999
Great Art
Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Museum: The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Exhibit: John Singleton Copley: Watson and the Shark
Book: The Sistine Chapel: A Glorious Restoration
Print: L'Astronomia, by Raphael