Exhibit | Marvelous Objects: Surrealist Sculpture from Paris to New York

Alberto Giacometti Woman with Her Throat Cut, 1932, cast 1949 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase, 1949 © 2015 Alberto Giacometti Estate / Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York, NY 

Salvador Dali’s sublime, surreal world is one into which we easily slip without much hesitation. He observed, “What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it,” and with unshakeable confidence and ingenuity, he set out to prove this true.

Like many of his contemporaries, the Surrealist movement was one of liberation from the known, a disembodied state of existence that evoked intense sensory recall, changing the face of art. Representation of the uncanny, imaginary realm took hold across all media and became a provocative and compelling source of inspiration. Like the figures that slip in and out of our dreams each and every night, artists were driven to manifest these forms in painting, photography, and sculpture.

Jean (Hans) Arp Shirt Front and Fork, 1922 National Gallery of Art, Washington. Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 “Marvelous Objects: Surrealist Sculpture from Paris to New York”, now on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., through February 15, 2016, is the first major museum exhibition devoted to three-dimensional work of the Surrealist movement. “Marvelous Objects: brings together more than 100 iconic works by 20 artists from France, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States from the 1920s-1950s, including Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst, Isamu Noguchi, and Henry Moore.

Dali’s famous “Lobster Telephone” (1938) is included in the show, beautifully evoking modern bourgeois standards while simultaneously tearing them apart, taking shots at the absurdity inherent in the imitation of life. As Dali observed, “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” Once unfettered by the expectation of exactitude, the artist is free to revise reality in the service of art, to challenge our assumptions about order in an inherently chaotic universe.

Salvador Dalí Lobster Telephone, 1938 West Dean College – part of The Edward James Foundation Group © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2015

Dali understood, “The only difference between me and a madman is I’m not mad,” and we see this in not only his work but also that of his contemporaries, artists driven to explore the boundaries of understanding by reordering our perceptions. Works such as Alberto Giacometti’s “Woman with Her Throat Cut” (1932) and Man Ray’s “Object to be Destroyed (Indestructible Object)” (1933) took things a little further, removing the comic wit of Dali and replacing it with pathos, revealing the ease into which Surrealism slides into nihilism.

“Marvelous Objects” concludes with sculptures that transition from surrealism to postwar metal constructions, such as Alexander Calder’s “Devil Fish” (1937) and “The Spider” (1940), revealing a new, lyrical approach to the abstracted form, and reminding us of the primacy of the individual artist to express their own, intuitive response to the unconscious drive to create art, the well spring a continuous source of mystery. We may gaze eternally at each object and never quite know what to make of it. And even here, Dali understood, “The secret of my influence has always been that it remained secret.” And that’s all he wrote.

Marvelous Objects: Surrealist Sculpture from Paris to New York” is now on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., through February 15, 2016.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.