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Posts Tagged ‘surrealism’

Studies in Latrinalia, and Other News

November 24, 2014 | by

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Photo: Conway L, via Flickr

  • A 1950 letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac—“16,000 amphetamine-fueled, stream-of-consciousness words” that inspired Kerouac to rewrite On the Road in a more breathless vein—is up for auction.
  • A chat with William Gibson: “I’ve always embraced the fact of any imaginary future becoming archaic. Imaginary futures are about the moment of their creation, they aren’t about the real future. Ultimately every imaginary future will be read as an artifact of the moment of its creation.”
  • The language of poker: Today’s players are the strong, silent types, “But many of the earliest tournament pros … were famous for blustery speeches, part of an aggressive style of banter meant to put their opponents ‘on tilt.’ And while these players were haranguing their opponents, they would watch closely to see what clues—‘tells’—leaked out under pressure.”
  • What’s the meaning of the writing on the bathroom wall? “The most common type of graffiti was ‘presence-identifying’ (just scrawling your name, for example), but men were identifying their presence more than women. Women, on the other hand, wrote more insults … When a woman goes into a women’s restroom and finds herself surrounded by only women (in a room full of mirrors, no less), she may very well become hyper-aware of the fact that she is a woman. People might be putting on makeup, performing their gender, and behind closed doors, they’re dropping their pants. Meanwhile, next door in the men’s room, dudes are standing next to each other at the urinal, aggressively not making eye contact, trying to ignore the miasma of testosterone that I assume hangs in the air like a fog.”
  • Are the British simply too polite to be any good at surrealism?

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Magritte Shaving

November 21, 2014 | by

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René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), 1952, oil on canvas. Image via SFMOMA

René Magritte was born on this day in 1898. Louis Simpson’s poem “Magritte Shaving” appeared in our twenty-fifth anniversary issue in Spring 1981.

The houses look at one another,
a language of windows.
The violin stands above the collar ...
sleigh bells in a blue sky.

How calm the torso of a woman
like a naked statue.
Reclining in an alcove
with curtains, the window gives
a view of earth ... yellow fields.
She has a blue leg and a green arm,
red arm, and leg painted saffron.

The orange sphere floating in space
in front of the blue canyon
has a face like a mask
with fixed brown eyes.
Directly underneath, on the parapet,
stands a shirt with a tie
in a dark, formal suit.

He has left his shaving brush
on top of the cabinet with doors of glass
that is merging with a cloud.

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“At the Well”: Four Paintings by Neo Rauch

November 6, 2014 | by

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Neo Rauch, Marina, 2014, oil on canvas, 98 1/2” x 118 1/8”. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

Neo Rauch’s “At the Well,” featuring new small- and large-format paintings, opens today at David Zwirner Gallery.

Rauch was born in Leipzig in 1960; his parents died in a train accident when he was four weeks old. Growing up in East Germany, he wasn’t exposed to much of the Western avant-garde, and though he’s denied that reunification influenced his development, I think it’s no coincidence that his show comes now, on the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

His aesthetic couches the East with the West, and they make for strange bedfellows: the work is full of doom, but it’s never quite nefarious. If anything, a disquieting calm obtains. “My pictures supposedly have a vital quality, like an animal, a living thing,” Rauch told the Art Newspaper in 2011. “There is no need to understand, only to feel that this creature is, to the greatest possible degree, at peace with itself.”

Whether we’re at peace with it is another question. Looking at Rauch’s paintings, you feel as if you’ve gotten lost in the corridors of a vast, oppressive Soviet bloc building and opened the wrong door: you’ve stumbled upon the neon guts, the recondite boiler room, of social realism. Everyone is hard at work—but what are they working on? Again and again, his paintings find stone-faced men and women in dutiful pursuit of some arcane greater good. They plod through slanted, parti-colored worlds of clock towers and quaint rooftops, abrading the land without doing violence to it. This is labor as ritual, or ritual as labor. As a statement by the gallery says,

His paintings are characterized by a unique combination of realism and surrealist abstraction. In many of his compositions, human figures engaged in indeterminable tasks work against backdrops of mundane architecture, industrial settings, or bizarre and often barren landscapes.

Rauch said in a 2009 interview,

What finally condenses on the canvas is highly subtle and in need of protection. Sometimes I am surprised by the result of my art. There is a figure, which appears again and again: it might be a revenant or a reincarnation. He finds his way on to my canvas subconsciously. Only when I look at the finished work I realize: here he is again. It is true, his is the face of a decade and that decade is the fifties.

“At the Well” is up through December 20. Read More »

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In Which André Malraux Kills Death

November 3, 2014 | by

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An engraving by Fernand Léger.

André Malraux was born today in 1901, and his first novel, Paper Moons (Lunes en papier), was published when he was only twenty. If that provokes pangs of jealousy, bear in mind that the print run was limited to 112 copies. The National Library of the Netherlands has a terrific post about the first edition, which was published by Éditions de la Galerie Simon, one of the most forward-thinking publishers of its day.

As that small print-run indicates, Simon wasn’t a major operation. Malraux’s publisher, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, had a shrewd and prescient eye for writers and artists. He was also an art dealer, one of the first to find merit in the work of the Cubists, who were largely written off as pretentious pranksters at the time. As a publisher, he sought work that “accomplished in words what the Cubists did with paint”; accordingly, he published early work by Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Raymond Radiguet, Pierre Reverdy, and Antonin Artaud, among others, often with artwork from his friends. In the case of Lunes en papier he called on Fernand Léger to contribute several wood engravings. This was not, it must be said, a popular or canny decision at the time:

Léger [had] caused a sensation at the Salon des Indépendants in 1911 with his Nude in the Woods (Nus dans la forêt). Kahnweiler was immediately intrigued and attempted to contact its creator, who had previously made a living as a draughtsman for an architectural firm. Léger was mockingly called “tubiste” because of his tube-like presentations: he felt isolated and unappreciated.

As for the novel itself:

Lunes en papier continually subverts the reader’s expectations, starting with the cryptic subtitle and the warning in the front of the book: “There is nothing symbolical in this book.” The three stories are absurdist in nature, with strange plot turns and metaphors, airy, sometimes humorous in tone, while still dealing with seemingly serious matters, and ending with the death of Death … Malraux would later qualify his first effort as a “gloire de café.” But it suited the Surrealist and Dadaist ideas of its time extremely well.

There’s a translated excerpt from Cipher Journal that includes the bit where Death dies. More specifically, Death—a woman in a dinner jacket that makes her look like an insect—receives a visit from a dubious physician, who informs her that she may be going bald. He prepares her a bath of nitric acid. She slides on in and begins to corrode; by the time her servant intervenes, it’s too late, and Death has resigned herself to dying. Read More »

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The Solar Anus

September 10, 2014 | by

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Photo: Steve Kollis, via Flickr

Happy birthday to Georges Bataille, connoisseur of Eros, born on September 10, 1897, a simpler time he took it upon himself to complicate. Actually, to call him an erotic connoisseur grossly understates what so many readers find, uh, gross about him. Suffice it to say his work revels in varieties of sexual expression that remain taboo today; a given Bataille text presents you with a veritable cavalcade of the debauched and the proscribed, and, worse still, makes all of it seem terribly worth investigating. Even his fellow Continental philosophers—not exactly vanilla adherents of the missionary position—thought he was something of a degenerate. Jean-Paul Sartre said Bataille “incarnated human sexuality in its most degraded form”; André Breton described him more succinctly as a “sick and dangerous pervert.”

But history teaches us that perverts make fine litterateurs, and Bataille is no exception. (Not to say there aren’t exceptions. There are plenty.) In Paris, he worked as a librarian and at night went drinking and whoring on the rue Pigalle. His first novel, 1928’s L’Histoire de l’oeilStory of the Eye, which he published under the pseudonym Lord Auch, or aux chiottes, or “to the shithouse”—was hailed not as a transgressive surrealist masterwork but as pornography, plain and simple. Its reputation has improved since then: it’s still regarded as porn, just the good kind. (John Wray wrote about it for the Daily a few years ago.)

Here, for your edification and titillation, is a bit from The Solar Anus, a short something-or-other published in 1931. I don’t know what you’d call it. It’s metaphysics. It’s a taunt. It’s a series of aphorisms. It’s an extended metaphor that stops shy of allegory. It’s a hymn; it’s a rant. And what it lacks in logical validity it makes up for in images. Among the lines of inquiry pursued: the passage of energy, heliophilia, heliophobia, fecundity, decay, volcanoes, the phallic, the Sapphic, the erect, the supine, excretion, intake, and many other things besides. Have at it: Read More »

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The Surreal Life

August 14, 2013 | by

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A young woman from an affluent family finds herself dreading her formal entrance into high society. An affable hyena offers to take her place; the young woman acquiesces, but the hyena demands a face to wear in place of her own. A maid enters, and the hyena murders her. The debutante doesn’t object; she merely asks that the killing be done quickly. Later, the debutante learns of what transpired at dinner: the hyena’s masquerade persisted until she took umbrage to the cake being served. She stood, tore off her false face, and escaped through a window.

All of this takes place in Leonora Carrington’s short story “The Debutante.” The motifs it contains recur throughout her fiction: an occasionally amoral protagonist; animals that speak and attract no alarm while doing so; and a satirical jab at certain institutions—here, the wealthy. Carrington is best known for her surrealist paintings and sculptures, but her idiosyncratic literary legacy is equally deserving of attention.

Carrington’s best-known work of prose, the novel The Hearing Trumpet, begins on a note of gentle absurdity and gradually becomes truly bizarre. Marian Leatherby, the novel’s protagonist, is an elderly woman living with her son and daughter-in-law. Using the titular device, she learns that they plan to place her in a home; after she arrives there, her narration gives way to a low-grade conspiracy narrative. Marian discovers evidence of mysterious gatherings, disappearances, and hints of the supernatural. Ultimately, all this leads to a total reordering of the terrestrial order: a world "transformed by the snow and ice.” Marian anticipates the day when “the planet is peopled with cats, werewolves, bees, and goats. We all fervently hope that this will be an improvement on humanity …” Read More »

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