Drawing Surrealism at LACMA

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The Surrealists revered the unpredictable depths of the unconscious mind and the artists often turned to drawing as a way of revealing unexpected connections and disruptions as thoughts made visible when less censored by logic or convention. Such drawings have been brought together in a comprehensive way at LACMA in "Drawing Surrealism" on view through January 6, 2013. Co-organized with the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, it is presented as "the first large-scale loan exhibition to focus on drawing as a prevailing form of expression for surrealist artists."

Francis Picabia: Olga, 1930
Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Bequest of Mme Lucienne Rosenberg, 1995
© 2012 Francis Picabia Estate/ARS/ADAGP, Paris

Curator Leslie Jones did not limit her selections to the usual practitioners. In keeping with the expanding practice of re-conceptualizing art history in an international framework, she included 250 works by 100 artists including those from Japan, Eastern Europe and the Americas. Max Ernst and Jean Arp represent Dada, a precursor to Surrealism. André Breton may have penned the 1924 literary manifesto that appealed to artists but absurdist, violent and grotesque imagery of the Surrealists spread well beyond its Parisian origins.

To tap into the coveted recesses of the unconscious, the artists often relied upon a technique of automatic drawing, allowing the hand to meander ungoverned by logic. Joan Miró was one practitioner. Exquisite Corpse was a sort of parlor game for artists with several artists making contributions to a single drawing. They also "drew" with unconventional materials like smoke, collage and photographic techniques like photograms.


Ei-Kyu: Work D, 1937
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
© 2012 Ei-Kyu Estate

This is a rich, dense, time-consuming and completely enjoyable exhibition of great variety and delight. Well-known names like Salvador Dali or René Magritte are on view but there are surprising and delightful works by the lesser known Argentinian Eileen Agar or Japanese Ei-kyu or Czech Jindrich Styrsky. Floating eyes, dismembered bodies, blasted landscapes and amoeba-like forms may be the lingua franca of Surrealism but individual works remain compelling.

The show follows In Wonderland, the insightful show of women in Surrealism in the US and Mexico held at LACMA last year and underscores the institution's larger concern with scholarship in Surrealist art. For more information, go to www.LACMA.org.

Coincidentally, a tighter focus on the subject can be found at the Getty Research Institute where Annette Leddy and Donna Conwell have organized "Farewell to Surrealism," a study of the Dyn circle of international artists who immigrated to Mexico City during and after World War II. It is on view through February 17, 2013.


Gordon Onslow-Ford: The Marriage, 1944
© Lucid Art Foundation, courtesy private collection

Dyn was short for Dynaton, meaning the possible, and was the title of an influential journal published in Mexico. It included a manifesto by Wolfgang Paalan that led to his move away from the philosophy of Breton. Influenced by pre-Columbian art, archeology and other forces, Paalen, Gordon Onslow-Ford and other artists began to pursue abstraction born of Surrealism. Robert Motherwell made an appearance. This small but captivating show includes rare photographs, letters, paintings and other material documenting the period. For more information, go to www.Getty.edu.

Alfonso Ossorio: Untitled, 1944; LACMA, gift of the Ossorio Foundation; © 2012 Alfonso Ossorio Estate