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Beyond Realism: Dada and Surrealism from the National Galleries of Scotland

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One), Edinburgh
Four stars

On the off-kilter face of it, My Windows Look Sideways (1939) appears to be a relatively modest contribution to this expanded two-room compendium of Dada and Surrealist heavyweights. Yet, as Roland Penrose’s playful mix of words and colours hangs above the exhibition entrance/exit, it is the perfect pinned-up welcome mat for a still iconoclastic non-movement.

Penrose was a key figure in Surrealism, as organiser and collector as much as artist. He put together the International Surrealist Exhibition in London during 1936, and it is his acquired archive that forms much of the source for the more than 40 works by 17 artists. The rest of the gang are all here, from the pages of Andre Breton’s original Surrealist manifesto and documents from Tristan Tzara’s Zurich-based Cabaret Voltaire club onwards.

Look, there’s Pablo Picasso, all angles in Nude Woman lying on the beach in the sun (1932) and the wonky-headed but grin-bright visage in Portrait of Lee Miller (1937). And there’s Salvador Dali and Edward James’ cartoon super-villain styled Lobster Telephone (1938). There’s an entire wall-load of Magritte, and another of Max Ernst, who, in different ways, from the deceptively serene flying machines in Magritte’s Le Drapeau Noir (1937) to the dark entries of Ernst’s La Foret (1928), point the way for future sci-fi artists to come.

Less obviously familiar works by the likes of Scottish surrealist Edward Baird,
Czech artist Toyen, aka Marie Cerminova and the army of amoeba-like shapes in Yves Tanguy’s Le Ruban des excess (1932) are just as vital. As is Leonora Carrington’s Portrait of Max Ernst (1939), which casts her lover in a red feather robe aloft a frozen landscape. This is hung opposite a case of Carrington’s typed letters to Penrose that are full of plots, schemes and proposals that suggest, in the Surrealists’ brave new world, anything was possible. 

The List, August 2019



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