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Surrealism at Te Papa

Surrealist works never seen in New Zealand before will be exhibited at Te Papa in December, the national museum announced othis week.

Dalí and the Surrealists will be the largest Surrealist exhibition ever shown in New Zealand and includes artworks from the 1920s to the 1960s. The last significant Surrealist show toured to the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1972.

The 180 pieces will include major works by artists such as Dalí, Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington, Rene Magritte and Marcel Duchamp. The exhibition includes works such as Dalí's Mae West Lips Sofa (1938), a couch shaped as a lush pair of red lips, and Magritte's La maison de verre (1939) (The glass house), in which a man's face looks out from the back of his head.

Surrealism began as one of the many -isms of burgeoning modernist movements in the early 20th century.

Founded by French poet Andre Breton in 1924, Surrealism aimed to free the unconscious from the fetters of the rational mind and create artworks that have no rational narrative.

Dreams came from an ocean of raw material as did techniques described by Dali as the paranoiac-critical method. At its most basic, the technique involved a phantom image derived from something else.

Surrealist painter Max Ernst developed the technique of frottage in which he might take a rubbing from an ancient wooden floor and find in the textures great and often ominous strangenesses to enhance.

Leonardo da Vinci encouraged artists to use a similar technique to discover battle scenes in a water stain or moss on a wall. Possibly the wraith-like figures uncoiling from a wall — also Dalí motif — in the Renaissance artist's perspective study for The Adoration of the Magi surfaced from the technique.

From the time Breton launched his manifesto in Paris in 1924, Surrealism spread across all fields of artistic production. Artists, designers, film-makers, writers such as Hans Arp, whose poem What Violins Sing in Their Bed of Lard features below, adopted radical new techniques, subjects, materials and styles.

“Surrealist artists tried to create a new kind of reality which was centred around dreams, the unconscious and the irrational,” says Te Papa head of art, Charlotte Davy.

“They used playful, subversive techniques and materials to shock and surprise their audiences.”

Dalí and the Surrealists: Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Te Papa, December 5 – April 26, 2021.

What Violins Sing in Their Bed of Lard

the elephant is in love with the millimeter

the snail dreams of the moon's defeat

his shoes are pale and purged

like the gelatine rifle of a neo-soldier

the eagle owns the motions of a mind's-eye void

his piss is speckled with gleams

the lion sports a pure and racy gothic mustache

his hide is calm

he cackles like a splotch of encores

the crayfish owns the raspberry's bestial voice

the apple's cunning

the prune's compassion

the pumpkin's lascivity

the cow takes the parchment path

last in a book of flesh

whose every hair weighs a pound

the snake jumps pricking and pricking

around the dishpan of love

filled with arrow-pierced hearts

the butterfly buttered with straw becomes a butterfly in straw

the butterfly buttered with straw becomes a big butterfly

smothered and pappaed in straw

the nightingale pulls heart-stomachs from gut-brains

that is to say the lilies of roses from the carnations of lilacs

the thumb holds its right foot behind its left ear

its left hand in its right hand

on its left leg jumping over its right ear

— Hans Arp

VENUS'S DRAWERS: Surrealist Salvador Dalí often bent Renaissance and Classical Greek motifs into new, oneiric forms. Among them is Venus de Milo with Drawers, based on the c. 100 BC marble sculpture in the Louvre. The drawers could be inspired by something seen at Ikea or they could be saying something about the depths of the human psyche or none of the above. Picture supplied