Sunday, 28 January 2018

Magritte and Contemporary Art

Magritte and Contemporary Art: 
The Treachery of Images    
An Artist Ahead of His Time, and Ours
Images: John Baldessari's gallery design features Magritte's Personal Values next to Vija Celmins's Untitled (Comb), with Jeff Koons's stainless steel Rabbit in the right foreground.Left: the entryway to the exhibition, with Magritte's The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe) on the far wall. Installation photos by Steve Oliver.
The Installation
NOTHING WILL QUITE PREPARE YOU for the setting of LACMA's astonishing new show featuring the works of René Magritte and thirty-one contemporary artists. As Suzanne Muchnic wrote in the Nov. 12 Los Angeles Times, “John Baldessari, a pioneering conceptualist represented in the show, has designed an installation intended to turn the galleries—and visitors' experience—upside down. The entrance will re-create ‘The Unexpected Answer,’ a Magritte painting of a door with a cutout silhouette of a ghostly figure. Visitors will walk through the open silhouette into galleries carpeted with a woven version of a Magritte-style blue sky with fluffy white clouds. The ceiling, where the sky should be, will be papered with images of freeway intersections. A big square window will be covered with a transparency of the New York skyline. The guards will wear derby hats. Not the usual Magritte exhibition, but it was inspired by institutional logic . . . . ‘We felt that it was time to not do just another Magritte retrospective’ [LACMA Senior Curator of Modern Art Stephanie] Barron says. ‘We wanted to look freshly at his work . . . . I was interested in what it was in Magritte that spoke to a number of artists.’”
John Baldessari, featured artist and exhibition designer: "The show attempts to look at Magritte in a new light, so we don't see him as a cliché or a stereotype." Photo by Peter Brenner.
An Artist Ahead of His Time, and Ours
Robert GoberUntitled, 1990, beeswax, cotton, wool, human hair, and leather shoe, 27.3 x 52.1 x 14.3 cm, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 1990, © Robert Gober, photo © Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, by Lee Stalsworth.
René MagritteTime Transfixed, 1938, oil on canvas, 147 x 99 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, Joseph Winterbotham Collection, photo © The Art Institute of Chicago.
MAGRITTE AND CONTEMPORARY ART: The Treachery of Imagesexamines the diverse and sometimes subterranean ways that René Magritte’s images and broader themes have seeped into popular culture as well as influenced the work of American and European artists over the past fifty years. Rather than describing a direct chain of influence, the exhibition focuses on a broad and subjective dialogue that has taken place between artists across mediums and time.
    Magritte (1898–1967) is closely linked to the surrealist movement, which was founded in Paris by French writer André Breton in 1924. Surrealism was shaped by emerging theories of perception, including Sigmund Freud’s theories (though Magritte always denied any Freudian interpretations of his work), such as the psychoanalytic concept of the uncanny—a sense of disquietude provoked by particular objects and situations. The movement’s primary aim was to resolve the contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality—a super-reality—and to revolutionize human existence by freeing people from what the surrealists saw as false rationality and restrictive social customs.
    Initially influenced by Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico, Magritte was one of the founders of Belgian surrealism in 1926. His work from this period frequently places objects in unusual contexts or with unusual words or phrases, thus giving them new and surprising meanings. In 1929, Magritte moved to Paris in order to collaborate with Breton’s group. However, the idiosyncratic Magritte grew tired of their rigidity.
In 1933, he broke from them by stating that the primary aim of his work from that point on would be to reveal the hidden and often personal affinities between objects, rather than juxtaposing unrelated objects. Nevertheless, he would remain associated with surrealism in general throughout his career.
    Magritte’s philosophical approach to images and language interested many postwar artists. In 1954, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg saw a groundbreaking exhibition of Magritte’s word-and-image paintings at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, and later acquired examples of these works. Magritte’s interests also foreshadowed other postwar artistic pursuits: a generation before the artists involved in pop art began working with images from popular culture, Magritte himself turned to this source. And before his death in 1967, Magritte even lived to see the impact of his own works on advertisements, popular culture, and television at a time when a number of the artists in this exhibition were coming of age.
In 1954, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg saw a groundbreaking exhibition of Magritte’s word-and-image paintings at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, and later acquired examples of these works.
Shift in Scale and Materials
Personal Values, 1952, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, purchased through a gift of Phyllis Wattis, photo © SFMOMA (98.562) by Ben Blackwell.

Vija CelminsUntitled (Comb), 1970, enamel on wood,
195.6 x 61 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Contemporary Art Council Fund, M.72.26, © Vija Celmins; phtograph of the artist with Untitled (Comb)courtesy of Vija Celmins and McKee Gallery, New York.
René Magritte
AN UNEXPECTED SHIFT in scale is central to the presence of the uncanny in both Magritte’s work and that of a number of contemporary artists. This is readily recognizable in Magritte’s Personal Values, which shows a group of oversized domestic objects in a diminutive bedroom. Alone, this assemblage is unremarkable. However, the discrepancy between the size of the objects versus the size of the room and its furnishings conflicts with Magritte’s realistic attention to detail of each of the individual elements and challenges the viewer to make sense of this illogical image.
    Inspired by Personal Values as well as the memories of a comb owned by her parents when she was a child, Vija Celmins’s sculpture Untitled (Comb) takes Magritte’s exaggeration of scale to its ultimate logical conclusion: a six-foot comb that mimics its size within Magritte’s painting. Part of a larger series of oversized objects, the labor-intensive two-year fabrication process of Comb represented an intense physical engagement for Celmins. Reflecting on this isolated, unusable, and oddly alarming object, she recently stated that she hopes that the piece will always bring to mind the painting that inspired it.
Vija Celmins’s sculpture Untitled (Comb) takes Magritte’s exaggeration of scale to its ultimate logical conclusion.
Words and Images
René MagritteThe Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe), 1929, oil on canvas, 60 x 80 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection, 78.7,
photo © 2006 Museum Associates/LACMA.
John BaldessariWrong, 1967, photographic emulsion and acrylic paint on canvas, 149.9 x 114.3 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Modern and Contemporary Art Council, Young Talent Purchase Award, M.71.40, © John Baldessari, photo courtesy of Museum Associates/LACMA
PERHAPS MAGRITTE'S MOST celebrated contribution to art history is his play with words and images, typified by his iconic The Treachery of Images. Below a realistic image of a pipe, Magritte has written ceci n’est pas une pipe —meaning “this is not a pipe.” This simple phrase emphasizes the central contradiction of representation: the fact that the painting does not contain a pipe, but merely the image of one. Fascinated by the arbitrary relationship between everyday objects and the abstractions of language, Magritte’s exploration of the critical distance between images and language undermined the idea of a common system of communication and challenged the very idea of interpretation.
    The Treachery of Images influenced a number of conceptual artists. John Baldessari’s Wrong features a photograph of the artist in front of a palm tree with the word “WRONG” inscribed underneath it. This statement is both a judgment of the photo—an image that humorously shows the palm tree spouting directly out of the artist’s head—and a commentary on its technique. He created it after seeing an instruction book about properly composing images. ”I loved the idea that somebody would just say that this is ‘right’ and this is ‘wrong.’ So I decided I would have a painting that was ‘wrong,’ a work of art that was ‘wrong’—this seemed right to me.”
Magritte’s exploration of the distance between images and language challenged the very idea of interpretation.
The Body
Robert GoberUntitled, 1990, beeswax, human hair, and pigment, 61.6 x 43.2 x 27.9 cm, collection of the artist, © Robert Gober, photo by Jan Engsmar, Malmö, courtesy of the artist.
René Magritte, The Titanic Days, 1928, oil on canvas, 116 x 81 cm, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf.
THE BODY IN MAGRITTE'S WORK is not an object of fulfillment and plenitude. His early paintings often exhibit harassed bodies under extreme duress. His Titanic Days is one such composition, showing a naked woman desperately struggling with a clothed male attacker who seems to have invaded her body. (His 1934 work The Rape represents an equally disturbing displacement of anatomy and objectification, with a woman’s face transformed into the erogenous zones of her body.)
    There is a similar apprehension in Robert Gober’s work, exemplified by his isolated and truncated torso that is a hybrid of male and female elements tacked onto a sack-like form. This work is part of his larger investigation into the human body as an object of anxiety rather than pleasure. His sculptures highlight the importance of social and cultural influences on individual identity, in opposition to the use of biological factors as the primary influence. Gober’s isolated body parts as subject matter challenge his viewers to look again at something we have taken for granted—our own bodies. Gober’s torso speaks to the Freudian idea of the uncanny: testing the division between authenticity and simulacra, it deals with deep-rooted human fears of having our bodies, lives, and identities usurped.
Like Magritte, Robert Gober's work investigates the body as an object of anxiety rather than pleasure.
Pop Art
René MagritteDecalcomania, 1966, oil on canvas, 81 x 100 cm, collection Dr. Noémi Perelman Mattis and Dr. Daniel C. Mattis.
Andy WarholJackie II, 1965, silkscreen, 61 x 76 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Graphic Arts Council Fund, M.67.21.5.
EARLY IN HIS CAREER, Magritte sustained himself by creating advertisements and other commercial artwork. Given its graphic simplicity, the image of the pipe in The Treachery of Images (and its subsequent related paintings) appears to originate from commercial advertising. However, as well as using popular culture as inspiration, Magritte also cannibalized his own body of work, using individual elements—such as his famous man in a bowler hat or objects such as bells and apples—as generic and interchangeable figures in the abstract economy of his representation. The man in a bowler hat and business suit is generally accepted to be a veiled self-portrait; this well-known figure is a play on the artist’s own middle-class identity, which stood in contrast to the stereotype of the bohemian artist.
    This conscious repetition by Magritte of self-referential elements prefigured Andy Warhol’s multiple representations of himself and iconic figures such as Jacqueline Kennedy. Warhol’s use of press images of celebrities highlights their universal presence in the culture as something akin to an inanimate commercial product. Looking at Warhol’s Jackie II, it is as if Warhol no longer sees a person but only an abstract sign that represents the idea of fame.
Magritte's conscious repetition of self-referential elements prefigured Andy Warhol’s representations of himself and iconic figures such as Jacqueline Kennedy.
Painting Badly
Rene MagritteThe Stop, 1948, oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm, private collection.
Martin KippenbergerPunch VIII, oil on canvas, 180 x 150 cm, private collection, courtesy Marc Jancou Fine Art, New York, © Martin Kippenberger.
IN 1948, MAGRITTE RADICALLY DEVIATED from the detailed, realist style that had made him famous and openly attacked the cultural ideals of good taste and craftsmanship. Created for his first solo exhibition in Paris in twenty years, the seventeen oil paintings and twenty gouaches from his sarcastic vache period, including the provocative The Stop, were all completed within about five weeks. Magritte’s goal was to shake up a complacent Parisian public and the exhibition was greeted with total incomprehension. The scandal it provoked almost ruined his career.
    This vache period (French for “cow,” vache can also mean something stupid or ugly) was long dismissed as a brief and uninteresting sideline in Magritte’s career. However, in the late 1970s and 1980s, a generation of artists interested in figurative painting embraced these pictures as a model of rebellion against the accepted standards of art history. Recent painters have also used the idea of painting badly and quickly as a way of rebelling against expectations of their art and as a mark of the authenticity of their expression. Here, Martin Kippenberger’s violent brushstrokes in the vibrant and yet disturbing Punch VIII demonstrate the artist’s raw emotional energy that refuses to be codified into something pretty and polite.
Magritte's rebellion against the accepted standards of art history provoked a scandal that almost ruined his career.
    Text by Sara Cochran.
    All Magritte images © 2006 C. Herscovici, London, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    Rene Magritte Belgian Painter

    Rene Magritte Photo

    Rene Magritte

    Belgian Painter
    Movement: Surrealism
    Born: November 21, 1898 - Lessines, Belgium
    Died: August 15, 1967 - Brussels, Belgium
    Rene Magritte Timeline
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    "Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist."
    Rene Magritte
    "Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see."
    Rene Magritte Signature


    Surely the most celebrated Belgian artist of the twentieth century, Rene Magritte has achieved great popular acclaim for his idiosyncratic approach to Surrealism. To support himself he spent many years working as a commercial artist, producing advertising and book designs, and this most likely shaped his fine art, which often has the abbreviated impact of an advertisement. While some French Surrealists led ostentatious lives, Magritte preferred the quiet anonymity of a middle-class existence, a life symbolized by the bowler-hatted men that often populate his pictures. In later years, he was castigated by his peers for some of his strategies (such as his tendency to produce multiple copies of his pictures), yet since his death his reputation has only improved. Conceptual artists have admired his use of text in images, and painters in the 1980s admired the provocative kitsch of some of his later work.

    Key Ideas

    Magritte wished to cultivate an approach that avoided the stylistic distractions of most modern painting. While some French Surrealists experimented with new techniques, Magritte settled on a deadpan, illustrative technique that clearly articulated the content of his pictures. Repetition was an important strategy for Magritte, informing not only his handling of motifs within individual pictures, but also encouraging him to produce multiple copies of some of his greatest works. His interest in the idea may have come in part from Freudian psychoanalysis, for which repetition is a sign of trauma. But his work in commercial art may have also played a role in prompting him to question the conventional modernist belief in the unique, original work of art.
    The illustrative quality of Magritte's pictures often results in a powerful paradox: images that are beautiful in their clarity and simplicity, but which also provoke unsettling thoughts. They seem to declare that they hide no mystery, and yet they are also marvelously strange. As Magritte biographer David Sylvester brilliantly described, his paintings induce "the sort of awe felt in an eclipse."
    Magritte was fascinated by the interactions of textual and visual signs, and some of his most famous pictures employ both words and images. While those pictures often share the air of mystery that characterizes much of his Surrealist work, they often seem motivated more by a spirit of rational enquiry - and wonder - at the misunderstandings that can lurk in language.
    The men in bowler hats that often appear in Magritte's pictures can be interpreted as self-portraits. Portrayals of the artist's wife, Georgette, are also common in his work, as are glimpses of the couple's modest Brussels apartment. Although this might suggest autobiographical content in Magritte's pictures, it more likely points to the commonplace sources of his inspiration. It is as if he believed that we need not look far for the mysterious, since it lurks everywhere in the most conventional of lives.

    Most Important Art

    Rene Magritte Famous Art

    The Treachery of Images (1929)

    The Treachery of Images cleverly highlights the gap between language and meaning. Magritte combined the words and image in such a fashion that he forces us to question the importance of the sentence and the word. "Pipe," for instance, is no more an actual pipe than a picture of a pipe can be smoked. Magritte likely borrowed the pipe motif from Le Corbusier's book Vers une architecture (1923), since he was an admirer of the architect and painter, but he may also have been inspired by a comical sign he knew in an art gallery, which read, "Ceci n'est pas de l'Art." The painting is the subject of a famous book-length analysis by Michel Foucault. One might also compare it with Joseph Kosuth's handling of a similar problem of image, text, and reality in his 1965 installation One and Three Chairs.
    Read More ...
    Rene Magritte Artworks in Focus:



    Rene Magritte was the eldest of three boys, born to a fairly well-off family. His father is thought to have been in the manufacturing industry, and his mother was known to be a milliner before her marriage. Magritte's development as an artist was influenced by two significant events in his childhood; the first was an encounter with an artist painting in a cemetery, who he happened across while playing with a companion. Magritte later wrote, "I found, in the middle of some broken stone columns and heaped-up leaves, a painter who had come from the capital, and who seemed to me to be performing magic." The second pivotal event was the suicide of his mother in 1912 when Magritte was 14. According to the apocryphal account, Magritte was present when her body was fished out of a river, her face covered completely by her white dress. While current scholars believe this to be no more than a myth propagated by his nurse, the image of a head uncannily concealed by a contour-hugging cloth reoccurs throughout the artist's oeuvre.

    Early Training

    Rene Magritte Young Man
    Magritte first began to paint in 1915 and enrolled in the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels the following year. However, he was fairly uninspired by his classes, and his attendance suffered as a result. He did become close friends with a fellow student, Victor Servranckx, who introduced Magritte to FuturismCubism, and Purism. In particular, Magritte was drawn to the work of Jean Metzinger and Fernand Leger, both of whom had much influence on Magritte's early work, as is evident from his experiments with Cubism such as his 1925 piece Bather.

    Mature Period

    In 1921, Magritte performed his obligatory military service and returned home in 1922 to marry Georgette Berger, a girl he had known since childhood. He also began work under Servranckx's supervision as a draughtsman in a wallpaper factory. This job lasted about a year, after which Magritte became a freelance designer of posters and publicity. In 1926, he signed a contract with the Galerie le Centaure in Brussels and was able to make his living as a fine artist for a brief spell. This early period was marked by profound changes in Magritte's work. Around 1925 he first saw the work of Giorgio de Chirico and began to work more distinctly within the Surrealist idiom. Not only were Magritte's images from the mid-1920s reminiscent of the desolate and mysterious mood that de Chirico created in his work, but the younger artist also went so far as to actually transpose many of de Chirico's favorite objects such as spheres, trains, and plaster hands onto his own canvases.
    Rene Magritte Biography
    From 1927 to 1930, Magritte lived in Paris and forged strong connections with André Breton's coterie of Parisian Surrealists that at that time included artists such as Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí. He began incorporating more ambiguously organic forms in his work and experimenting with quintessentially Surrealist subject matter such as madness and hysteria. However, Magritte was increasingly disillusioned by the "dark" subjects of his fellow Surrealists. Perhaps most significantly, it was in Paris that Magritte began to experiment with the use of words and language in his paintings.
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    Rene Magritte Biography Continues


    Magritte's work had a major impact on a number of movements that followed his death, including PopConceptualism, and the painting of the 1980s. In particular, his work was hailed as a harbinger of upcoming trends in art for its emphasis on concept over execution, its close association with commercial art, and its focus on everyday objects that were often repeated in pictorial space. It is easy to see why artists such as Andy WarholMartin Kippenberger, and Robert Gober cite Magritte as a profound influence.

    Influences and Connections

    Giorgio de ChiricoGiorgio de Chirico
    Max ErnstMax Ernst
    Jean MetzingerJean Metzinger
    Fernand LégerFernand Léger
    André BretonAndré Breton
    Paul EluardPaul Eluard
    Edward JamesEdward James
    Italian FuturismItalian Futurism
    Rene Magritte
    Rene Magritte
    Years Worked: 1915 - 1967
    Marcel BroodthaersMarcel Broodthaers
    Andy WarholAndy Warhol
    Martin KippenbergerMartin Kippenberger
    Robert GoberRobert Gober
    Joseph KosuthJoseph Kosuth
    John BaldessariJohn Baldessari
    Paul-Gustave van HeckePaul-Gustave van Hecke
    E. L. T. MesensE. L. T. Mesens
    Paul NougePaul Nouge
    Pop ArtPop Art
    Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
    Appropriation ArtAppropriation Art

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