Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An Exhibit, 'Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938

Rene Magritte's work is unsettling to many, but the current exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago may be worth seeing because it is so large and fascinating.

A review of the exhibit by Lisa Marder, art expert, follows:

"I was privileged recently to see the exhibit, "Magritte: the Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938" at the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibit was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Menil Collection, Houston, and runs through Monday, October 13, 2014. If you are in Chicago or can get there, I recommend seeing it. For a fascinating, interactive preview of the exhibit, go to http://www.moma.org/magritte. (This is fascinating, if this link does not work, type in the address in your browser. There are so many images to see, and includes x-ray views of earlier ideas redone in some of the works!)

Rene Magritte (1898-1967) was a 20th century Belgian artist known for his Surrealist works. Artists help us to see the world differently, some by showing us what they see, some by showing us what they imagine or dream, some by reflecting ourselves back to us. Surrealists explore the human condition through imagery that extends beyond the limits of reality and enters the realm of the subconscious. Magritte's main goal as an artist was to make the viewer see differently by using odd and surprising juxtapositions of familiar objects at varying scales, by deliberate exclusions, and by playing with words and meaning, as in one of his most famous paintings, "The Treachery of Images," which is a painting of a pipe below which is written "Ceci n'est pas une pipe."  (English translation: "This is not a pipe.") The works in this exhibit display a visual tension that is transmitted to the viewer.
The Art Institute of Chicago's website reads, "Throughout these seminal years, Magritte used displacement, transformation, metamorphosis, and the 'misnaming' of objects as well as the representation of visions seen in half-waking states, consistently unsettling the balance between nature and artifice, truth and fiction, reality and surreality.  His images, then and still today, force us to question the nature of appearances - both in the paintings and in reality itself."  Through sometimes disturbing imagery, Magritte's work draws us to see the mystery in the ordinary.  He paints identifiable objects in a manner that is almost photorealistic, but compels us to take notice and look deeper by carefully rearranging reality into jarring juxtapositions and by selectively omitting things and confounding expectations. 

Walking through the darkened intimate warren-like spaces of the exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute, one feels as though one is "discovering" each painting one by one, heightening the sense of the mystery, and compelling the viewer to linger and ponder the meaning of it. In combination with Magritte's paintings, the experience is powerful, and even unsettling. It is almost a relief to exit the exhibit and to re-enter the "real" world. 

“Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.”  - Rene Magritte

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