Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mysterious Magritte

Discover the parallel world of Magritte at the Menil Collection in Houston with Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, a gathering of works produced during the most prolific period of the Belgian artist. He spent three of these years (1927-1930) in France where he lived in Le Perreux-sur-Marne, a Paris's suburb. Magritte mingled with members of the Surrealist movement, applied some of their techniques and began investigating the relationship between objects, words and images which gave birth to famous paintings like The Treachery of Images, 1929.
Facing the entrance, The Menaced Assassin, 1927, a large painting, engages the visitor at once. It feels like walking through a crime scene with two bowler-hatted men staged on each side as repoussoir directing the viewer's gaze toward a strangely silent drama. The scene involves an exposed female corpse abandoned on a red sofa next to a gallant gentleman and three (most likely four) expressionless onlookers surrounded by a mountainous landscape. The focal point is not the victim but the presumed assassin looking at the horn of a mute gramophone. In the same room, The Encounter, 1926, and The Midnight Marriage, 1926, give the same feeling of suspense with their theatrical props ready for a play. This is Magritte's world represented with eighty of his most famous paintings displayed in chronological order.
Reproductions in books or on the Internet (most with bright colors thanks to Photoshop or the like) will never be able to induce the reactions triggered by the view of famous paintings like The Meaning of Night, 1927, The Secret Player, 1927, The Lovers, 1928... The subjects can provoke ambivalence and worse disgust when looking at Girl Eating a Bird (Pleasure), 1927 or The Murderous Sky, 1927 and require going back to Freud 101 for interpretation. A heavy brushstroke, dark colors, dirty pink or yellowish glabrous nudes with furry islands, Magritte has found his niche with his figurative scenes. The following years, he  introduces words and his close association with the Surrealists in particular André Breton shines through his works. The daily objects become a source of associations with pictures and words. The display of  pages from La Révolution Surréaliste and manuscripts from Magritte Les Mots et Les Images enclosed in glass cases are a welcomed break from looking at the succession of paintings. We could call the following period more Daliesque, with bare compositions like Threatening weather, 1929 and the introduction of bright blue skies with heavy white clouds found on paintings, sculptures, objects, like a wallpaper. In the same room, a nude The Eternally Obvious, 1930 reveals the artist's wife in five paintings focused on key parts of her anatomy leaving the viewer fill the voids to reconstitute the whole body. The muse is not the elegant Gala but the bourgeoise Georgette. Close by, The Rape, 1934, a small painting which made the front cover of Breton's book Qu'est que le Surrealism?  (Breton had a sense of marketing)  appears tacky. The visit goes on with less known paintings like Collective Invention, 1935, an inverted mermaid or The Red Model, 1935, a pair of shoes growing into feet. Magritte declined to give the images a symbolic dimension and aimed at creating unease by their "inappropriate" juxtaposition. But it is difficult not to fill objects like the bilboquets and the jingle bells with some symbolic meanings as they recur more frequently in the compositions.
On the Threshold of Liberty,1930, a panel commissioned to decorate the house of an eccentric Briton in London is a resume of cliches: a sky, breasts, a house façade, fire, a paper cutout, all aimed at by a canon. The Song of the Storm, 1937, the only allusion to music with its title, depicts rain falling in a regular pattern and the windless storm stays silent like the other paintings.
Following the visit, it felt that the shocking, mysterious, uncanny works from Magritte lack the poetry, the humor, the wittiness and the vision of the Parisian Surrealists.

photographs were not allowed
photographs Google images

"The Empty Mask", 1928
"The Lovers", 1928
"The Menaced Assassin", 1927

No comments: