Monday, September 07, 2009

A Gangrenous Thumb And A Surrealist Umbrella

Some weeks ago in his splendid blog, Tony mentioned visiting the British Surrealism in Context exhibition in Leeds. Always eager to take a trip into the surreal I organised an outing, and so last Friday the Lad, our good friend Tim, and his friend Lizzie met up in Leeds to sample what the American writer Susan Sontag once called "the contents of a meagerly stocked dream world: a few witty fantasies, mostly wet dreams and agoraphobic nightmares".
The exhibition is based on the collection of the Leeds collectors Ruth and Jeffrey Sherwin and represents one of the largest collections of British surrealism in the UK. In his blog, Tony commented on incongruity of a surrealist exhibition in Yorkshire and posed the question as to whether Yorkshire people were the least surrealistic of any race. One could almost pose the same question about the general concept of "British Surrealism" but there is probably a point at which eccentricity and surrealism merge and it is at that point that you will find the British contingent have established their camp.
I will not attempt to describe the exhibition in detail - it is at Leeds Art Gallery until 1 November 2009 so you can always see it yourself - but I was left with a few impressions at the end of the day. The first was that although wandering through a surrealism exhibition to me is a bit like trekking through the Amazonian jungle with a street map of Birmingham as a guide, it was still possible to recognise works I liked and ones I didn't. The second thing was the frames many of the works were displayed in : these were obviously the original frames dating back to the 1930s and 40s, but they looked so out of place (indeed almost surreal in themselves). If you buy the exhibition catalogue you see the same works without the embellishment of fake plaster cornices and I have to say that I prefer them in their embellished state.
Finally one is always left with the question : is this art or is it a rather elaborate con-trick (or is it both)? There is, of course, a strong theme of mockery which runs throughout the surrealist movement so one can imagine that the surrealists themselves would welcome mockery. Could anyone produce such strange shapes and twisted images? To try and find an answer to this question I have decided to instigate the "Surreal Sunday" project. For the next six Sundays I will present a series of surrealistic images. Five of them will come from the exhibition catalogue and therefore will represent the very best of British surrealism. The sixth - in whichever order it appears - I will concoct on the kitchen table. I suspect (and hope) that the fake will stand out like a gangrenous thumb - but we will see. When the images start appearing feel free to comment as to whether it is a genuine image or a fake.
After the exhibition we gathered at the splendid Victoria Family and Commercial Hotel for lunch and a pint. We talked about madness, life and death as all good surrealists should. By the time we were ready to return to the station it had started to rain. Luckily I had packed my surrealist umbrella, so - as you can see - the party was able to remain perfectly dry.

12 comments:

  1. Looking forward to the Surrealist Challenge... Surprised that the exhibition was in a gallery and not somewhere more surreal - they are not trying hard enough :o)

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  2. Sounds like a fun day! Loved your comments about the frames & the Amazonian jungle, & will look forward to your "surrealist challenge."

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  3. Looking Forward To Your Sunday Kitchen~ Table Concoction!

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  4. "We talked about madness, life and death as all good surrealists should." Love that. And your companions are so lovely!

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  5. Have you ever had the feeling that you will live to regret something you have rashly promised in a blog post. Willow : You are right, they are lovely (but don't let the Lad know I said that)

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  6. You had a fun day. The analysis of it afterwards, the pint, the friends and family make it as so grand. Trying to figure out the motive of an artist is difficult. If painting things off the wall make you a lot of money, then that is what you paint or is it really expressing what they feel.
    I confess I have enjoyed one of your brother's book of sketches at our local bookstore over a cup of java. His paintings in paradise are wonderful. I really enjoy your blogs and I must do more research on the Leeds area.

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  7. Alan will be looking forward to your Sunday project. Too, I remember Tony's post on that, yes. This should prove quite interesting, indeed :)

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  8. This just gave me the idea. Remember the age-old trick of putting some bricks in a friend's (or foe's) bag just before they head off hiking?

    The old Amazon-Birmingham map trick is simply beautiful...

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  9. What a lovely set of blogs you have, AB! I am enjoying much and look forward to your surrealist challenge.

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  10. Ooh Fun. There's so much more to Leeds than I imagined. I remember being blown away by the Royal Armoury! Looking forward to the posts. Dali has an exhibition in Victoria at the moment but sadly it won't be touring Sydney. I don't much mind whether it's art or whimsy, it's the stuff of dreams and nightmares and often very clever.

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  11. Sounds like you had a great time. I'll look forward to this little Sunday Series! And I hope I can spot the fakes! :)

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  12. ok, so i am looking forward to it as well. i rather like surrealism...like seeing what is almost there...

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