Dream Logic: The Art of Ten Contemporary Surrealists – The Missouri Review – article

Dream Logic: The Art of Ten Contemporary Surrealists

Kristine Somerville | The Missouri Review

2019-11-19

Once in a dream I sat reclined in an old-fashioned dentist’s chair at the center of an empty stage illuminated by a single white spotlight. Over my right shoulder, a kangaroo in a surgical mask, its eyes large and brown, with glamorous lashes, held in its five-fingered paw a whirling drill. An audience dressed in fine Victorian evening wear shouted “Bravo” as the kangaroo filled my molar with gold. While many theories have tried to explain the phenomenon of dreams—that they represent a dramatization of personal concerns, a processing of intense emotions, a rehearsal [End Page 90] Click for larger view View full resolution Ronen Goldman, above: Lucky Man; below: We Were Meant for Each Other, photography [End Page 91] Click for larger view View full resolution Robin McCarthy, Baggage, mixed media with hand-embroidered embellishment for threatening situations, or, most recently, random neural activity—I woke with a feeling of pure pleasure, delighting in the power of my imagination to stage a comic surrealist tableau. Nietzsche wrote, “The wonderful illusions of the world of dreams, in the creation of which each man behaves as a real artist, are the premise of every kind of visual art.” The absurdist drama staged by my unconscious mind reminds me of the [End Page 92] crucial role of dreams in the formation of some the most interesting art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Click for larger view View full resolution Robin McCarthy, Birds of a Feather, mixed media with hand-embroidered embellishment Artist Max Ernst, who served during the First World War, said of his experience, “The hearts of all of us were full of rage at the idea of sacrificing our wonderful lives—whether we wanted to or not—for something trebly pointless: God, the Emperor, the Fatherland.” Many who had served in the war were not as lucky as Ernst; they either were wounded or never returned home. A new art emerged from the fear that enveloped Europe during this time. In his 1916 Dada Manifesto, Hugo Ball lamented [End Page 93] the social order that had fostered the slaughter of his generation; he condemned the false pretext of cultural progress and the smug central roles of philosophy, technology, and science in society. The only answer to this pseudocivilization and its false ideologies was a new anti-art that proclaimed, “Meaning resides in the meaningless.” Ball opened Cabaret Voltaire, a satirical nightclub in Zurich, and launched a magazine called Dada, a word selected at random from a dictionary. The movement sought to break down the barriers and outmoded language of established art, dispensing with conventions of style, subject, and medium. Click for larger view View full resolution Okanoue, Toshiko, Fantasy, 1953, photomontage, courtesy of the Third Gallery Aya [End Page 94] Click for larger view View full resolution Okanoue, Toshiko, Meeting, 1955, photomontage, courtesy of the Third Gallery Aya While Dada set to wipe out the art establishment and the bourgeois world from which it emerged, its nihilistic, pessimistic point of view eventually became too extreme for many artists. It also seemed to deny all that was romantic and lyrical in the world, what some artists considered the impulses of the soul. Surrealism, an artistic movement that thrived between the two world wars, agreed that the world had stopped making sense, but surrealist artists didn’t want to succumb to the limitations of absurdity and meaninglessness. Dada’s worldview was, put simply, a dead end. While surrealism strove to find an antidote to the much-traveled route in art, rejecting traditional easel painting and allowing for other media, such as collage, photomontage, and found objects, it also made room for new ways of seeing, asking us to direct our gaze to a world beyond visible reality. [End Page 95] Click for larger view View full resolution…

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