Surrealism in War

True to my form, lately, I caught the last day of an exhibit at the Frist, but I’m very glad that I did. The exhibit was Monsters and Myths: Surrealism and War in the 1930s and 1940s. 

 Surrealism arose around 1920, according to the exhibit, as artists were influenced by Sigmund Freud, and felt that they could step beyond the confines of the past. Many of the artists had been soldiers in the First World War, and surrealism gave them an avenue to paint their dreams and nightmares.

The most famous of the surrealistic painters are likely Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, and Pablo Picasso, though their styles are very different. Picasso’s most famous work is likely “Guernica,” which is an incredible bit of surrealism that came directly from the Spanish Civil War, representing an intense bombing of that Spanish town. While “Guernica” remains in Spain, the influence of the Spanish Civil War was intense upon the artists who created surrealism, and works by Picasso, Joan Miro, and others influenced by that terrible war were featured.

Surrealism was not confined to painting, and sculpture and cinema were also featured, including Un Chien Andalou, which was the first movie from Luis Bunuel. You may be familiar with Bunuel from a depiction of him in the film Midnight in Paris. I feel compelled to tell you that the 1929 surrealistic movie is about as weird as anything that I’ve ever seen, and I did not sit through the entire film. But if you ever feel inclined to see a bit of outrageous cinematic history, it is available on YouTube and clocks in at 21 minutes. 

If surrealism was born from war, then it also seemed to die with war, as the end of WWII seemed to usher in the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and others. I enjoy these types of works and artistry, and this exhibit was a great opportunity to learn more about the rise and fall of surrealism.


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