The Hungarian National Gallery’s “Dada and Surrealism. Magritte, Duchamp, Man Ray, Miró, Dalí” exhibition offers an extensive introduction to two of the main art movements of the beginning of the twentieth century. The objects and images of internationally prominent artists are accompanied by works showing the evolution of dada and surrealism in Hungary, adding a unique, national perspective.
The first part of the display focuses on the development of the movements worldwide, showing them in a chronological and thematic order. Throughout the rooms, lengthy descriptions help viewers to fully appreciate the significance in art history of the works they see, which may prove especially useful for the understanding of the abstract and revolutionary style of Dadaist artists, with whose work the exhibition begins.
Dada’s aim, essentially, was to question accepted artistic norms and deconstruct traditions in the era after the First World War, which they saw as the final sign of the failure of bourgeois culture. They exploited the technological developments of their age, reflecting on new phenomena in radio, cinema and manufacturing in a humorous and experimental way.
German artist Kurt Schwitters’ series on show, titled “Merz”, is a prime example of this; his collages are made of cast-off bits of paper, including bus tickets and test prints.
Apart from other assemblages, collages and montages, the exhibition features many three-dimensional objects. Perhaps the most famous among these ready-mades is a 1964 copy of Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”, signed by the artist himself. The porcelain urinal was first submitted for an exhibition in 1917, causing a huge scandal and starting a debate about the place of the artist and his works in modern society.
Leaving the Dadaist experiments of Man Ray, Duchamp and Schwitters, one arrives at a room filled with surrealist visions; the latter movement, centred in Paris, developed out of the artistic achievements of Dada in 1919. Surrealism’s objective was to discover new realities, largely drawing on Freud’s concept of the unconscious, with biomorphic elements, metamorphosis and the world of dreams appearing in the pictures.
Yves Tanguy’s “Composition” (1927) is among the early works of the movement, depicting a fantastic vision of underwater depths, already bearing a resemblance in its style to later paintings by Dalí and Magritte.
One of the most vibrant parts of the exhibition, which also features works of these two artists, is called “Illusion and dreamscape”, referring to the juxtaposition of disconnected objects and the distortion of time and space in the paintings, often including landscapes. Defining works of this section are Magritte’s “Castle of the Pyrenees” (1959), the metaphor of an unachievable dream, and Dalí’s “Surrealist essay” (1934), showing the duality central to the artist’s work; the sexuality presented by phallic forms, contrasted by the limp watch, a symbol of impotence.
Desire and eroticism are also the themes of the last, international part of the exhibition, which presents the patriarchal concept of surrealists about women. They were seen as passive, yet seductive, as muses and subjects of art. This duality is present in Philippe Halsmann’s famous photograph “Dalí’s Skull” (1951), where the artist is sitting in front of a skull made of naked women.
The last section is also an exhibition on its own; “Rearranged Reality” features the works of Hungarian artists, whose oeuvre was influenced by one of the two movements. Dada’s achievements appeared in the works of Lajos Kassák, László Moholy-Nagy and Sándor Bortnyik, members of the “MA” (Today) group, while the European School (1945-1948) aimed to connect to the surrealist circles of Western and Eastern Europe. In the 1950s, the movement lived on in the paintings of Lili Ország and the 1970s saw the return of Dadaist tendencies as observed again in the prominent neo-avant-garde trends.
As the newest example of the cooperation of the Hungarian National Gallery and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the exhibition successfully combines these two unique collections; the internationally prominent works from abroad and the regionally important Hungarian movements, inspired by them.
Dada and Surrealism. Magritte, Duchamp,
Man Ray, Miró, Dalí
Hungarian National Gallery
Buda Palace, Building A,
Szent György tér 2, District I
Until 5 October
Tickets: HUF 2,400