Another World shows Surrealist work by Dali, Magritte and Miro
As a major exhibition of surrealist works bursts onto the Edinburgh art scene, curator Patrick Elliott talks to Neil Cooper about the powerful and highly influential movement
When you’re 16 and teenage dream states are everything, being strange is all the rage. For the easily-led adolescent, distorted realities where worlds collide and melt out of shape into hallucinogenic symbols of the inner id can’t help but flood through the after-hours subconscious mind’s eye and into some sort of upside-down wibbly-wobbly perspective.
Thank goodness, then, for Dada, surrealism and everything psycho-actively skew-whiff that’s grown out of what’s now regarded as the most significant art movement to gloop out of the battle-scarred remains of the 20th century. Where the workaday order of Sunday painter landscapes and fruit bowl still lives are simply too still for the more fevered imagination, an alternative universe of Dali surprises, Magritte hat-tricks and Miro-esque assassinations has already been whipped up to float around in. Some visitors like it so much they never grow out of it.
National Galleries of Scotland curator Patrick Elliott was just such a 16-year-old dazzled by what he found in surrealism, and is about to repay the favour with Another World, a comprehensive and mind-meldingly major collection of surrealist art from maestros both familiar and arcane so eye-poppingly over-powering that it threatens to burst through the Dean Gallery’s walls and into some other realm.
‘The objective is to arrive at an all-singing, all-dancing blockbuster of a show,’ says Elliott with an unabashed populist squint at things. ‘We’ve got something by everyone of importance, and we’ll be showing their work through a whole variety of forms, be it collage, frottage and photography as well as painting and sculpture. That will take up the entire building in a way that adds to the experience.’
Coloured walls full of densely hung rarities are promised, alongside cabinets of curiosities, including numerous periodicals and manifestos that vented the spleen of the movement that exploded into the 1920s with an energy that was in turns eccentric, radical, provocative, contrary and ultimately hugely influential.
If there’s any danger of the exhibition neutering the anti-establishment wildness of some of the work, surrealists always did flirt with the mainstream that patronised them, embedding its iconography into the collective (un)consciousness via ad-land’s hi-tech wizardry in having animals escaping from vodka bottles and so forth. Culturally, too, the juxtaposed none-sequiters found a natural home in the Oxbridge-educated anarchy of Monty Python, particularly in the animation of Terry Gilliam.
Interestingly, alongside the more lionised icons of the short-lived movement, are the lesser-known British artists, of whom Elliott sounds particularly enamoured. Many of these come from the expansive collection of artist and collector Roland Penrose.
‘The British surrealists arrived a little later than their continental colleagues,’ Elliott points out, ‘which seems to be the way the British do things. But it’s important to see them next to the better-known names. A lot of exhibitions of surrealism tend to be themed: surrealism and sex, surrealism and homosexuality or whatever. With Another World I just wanted the best. If you go to an exhibition of surrealism you can see a multitude of styles and techniques. Surrealism is an adjective rather than a style.’
Another World – Dali, Magritte, Miro And the Surrealists, Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, Sat 10 Jul–Sun 9 Jan.