Menil Collection opens Late Surrealism exhibition

The Menil Collection presents Late Surrealism an exhibition on view May 24 – August 25, 2013.

Arshile Gorky, L'amour du fusil neuf (Love of the New Gun), 1944. The Menil Collection, Houston© 2013 The Arshile Gorky Foundation / The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston.

Arshile Gorky, L’amour du fusil neuf (Love of the New Gun), 1944. The Menil Collection, Houston© 2013 The Arshile Gorky Foundation / The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston.


Surrealism was an artistic and literary movement that began in the early twentieth century. Centered in Paris and interested in imaginary images, juxtaposition, chance, and the expression of the subconscious, it can be characterized as a retreat from the rational and an inquiry into the mysterious depths of the psyche.

Following World War II, many European artists and thinkers sought refuge in the United States, and New York City became the new center of the art world. At the time, American abstract painting was flourishing, and the methods, techniques, and philosophy of the Surrealists gave way to Abstract Expressionism. Yet the ideas espoused by the Surrealists continued to have an important, if often contentious, impact on art making, and the relationship between the two movements is often described as a push-pull between figuration and abstraction. This exhibition explores the works that came out of this interchange, showcasing paintings and drawings by artists such as Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, and Arshile Gorky as a means of demonstrating the enduring importance of Surrealism into the mid twentieth century.

Many art historians and scholars of the 1940s believed that Surrealism and abstraction constituted two different ways of thinking about representation that were aligned with either an American or European sensibility. Art patron Peggy Guggenheim famously attended an exhibition opening wearing an unlikely pair of earrings: a small abstract work by Alexander Calder in one ear and a miniature Surrealist landscape painting by Yves Tanguy in the other. While the earrings were meant to demonstrate her impartiality, the story also illustrates how divergent the two movements were thought to be.

Yet when we look at work made during this fascinating time, there is a wonderfully slippery intersection where nonrepresentational forms hint at figures or quietly slip into dreamscapes. Art historical categories are not always neat, either in terms of boundaries or linear narrative, and it is in this space between Surrealism and abstraction that we are best able to reflect on the rich influence of Surrealism on modern art. This exhibition is curated by Michelle White, curator.

This exhibition is generously supported by Taub Foundation: Marcy Taub Wessel, Henry J. N. Taub II, and H. Ben Taub; and the City of Houston. www.menil.org

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