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La Subversion des Images: Surrealism, Photography, Film at The Centre Pompidou

Sarah Moroz writing for VINGT paris

EXP-SUBVERSIONDESIMAGESThe Pompidou’s new exhibit, La Subversion des Images: Surrealism, Photography, Film, showcases a special relish in the absurd and fantastic within art.

The avant-garde circle known as the Surrealists swelled with creativity during the ‘20s by using experimental methods of deconstruction. They were visionaries both literally and figuratively: looking at art from different angles and using innovation at every turn. This densely-packed exhibit displays more than 350 of their works, encapsulating the themes of provocative theatricality, geometric multiplicity, and willful distortion and obfuscation.

The camera is the star of this era. There is a kind of joy that comes through the mechanical medium: a sheer excitement about the possibilities opened through new forms, and a delicious deviousness about playing with expectations. Hallowed artists like Dali and Magritte are seen making cheeky grimaces and purposefully closing their eyes in photostrips taken in the then newfangled photomaton. Snapshots of these art history figures make them seem less preserved-in-a-textbook-inaccessible and much more fun. Moreover, the camera captures reality but also distorts it, eliciting new ideas about how things are framed and what elements go together and why – or why not.

Playing with the subject of art is taken that much further by playing with the execution of form. Surprising juxtapositions and superimposed fragments reconfigured the viewer’s notions of what is sensible, of what is beautiful. Deconstructive practices like collage, découpage, cube-o-mania, and special photo printing techniques (i.e. solarization and brûlage) were some of the radicalized approaches used to re-imagine the art subject.

Even without extensive reconfiguration, subjects were made exciting and new via unusual proportions. Jacques André Boiffard’s Gros Orteil, a picture of someone’s big toe, which, though just a toe, seems peculiar and unnerving when seen in extreme close-up. Another instance where anatomy is examined biologically and yet made foreign is Man Ray’s Oeil de Lee Miller. We each have two of ‘em, and yet Ray’s tight framing of the eye somehow makes it seem sinister, watchful, all the while provocatively highlighting the essential importance of vision.

And, of course, the experimentation did not exclude the sexual (just ask Surrealist poet Paul Eluard - that guy was a freak and proud of it). An enclave sectioned off of the exhibit, showing pornography from the 20s, is proof of a racy subculture. It’s impressively titillating: the kind of stuff that makes modern perverts like American Apparel seem like utter amateurs.

The last leg of the exhibit, ‘Surrealism put to use’, shows how surrealist visions infiltrated the mainstream. Often, Surrealist artists were commissioned for magazine shoots and advertisements, and so their concepts, like many good ideas, trickled into public domain from the fringes. While experimentation often gets watered down for the greater population, in this case it seems a great boon to know that their innovative visions did, and have since, affected the way people view things: be it stimulating art or even brass-tacks commerce.

23 septembre 2009 - 11 janvier 2010
11h00 - 21h00 Galerie 2, Centre Pompidou

12€, tarif réduit 9€

Bonapart Paris apartments

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