How Magritte made 'everyday objects shriek aloud'

A new MoMA retrospective focuses the Belgian surrealist's attempts to make common objects strangely unfamiliar
L’assassin menacé (The Menaced Assassin) (1927) by René Magritte
L’assassin menacé (The Menaced Assassin) (1927) by René Magritte


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"While other Surrealists painted angels, or more often devils, of their own invention, Magritte stuck closely to what he could see," writes Richard Calvocoressi in our René Magritte book, "the real world that we think we know but which, according to him, we do not know at all."

It is this aspect of the Belgian painter that MoMA curators are focusing on in a large-scale exhibition Magritte The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, opening this Saturday (September 28) on the sixth floor of the West 53rd Street museum and running until 14 January. MoMA says it's "the first show to focus exclusively on the breakthrough Surrealist years of Magritte." 

 

The Interpretation of Dreams (1935) by René Magritte

The Interpretation of Dreams (1935) by René Magritte

This period comes after Magritte's early experiments with Cubism and before a switch to a kind of post-war Fauvism, dubbed by Magritte as 'Surrealism in full sunlight.' Between 1926 and 1938 he created some of his best-known images, such as the pipe in The Betrayal of Images (1929), and the bowler-hat wearers, as seen in The Menaced Assassin (1927). However, it was also during this period that the painter truly established his style, creating partially realistic images that somehow presented common sights uncannily strange, or, as he put it himself, which made "everyday objects shriek out loud," and "challenge the real world."

 

Time Transfixed by (1938) by René Magritte

Time Transfixed by (1938) by René Magritte

Today, Magritte's techniques remain remarkably effective. Few of us sit in front of fireplaces, even less travel on steam trains, but the strangeness of seeing one emerge from the other remains, doesn't it?

 

Not to be Reproduced (1937) by René Magritte

Not to be Reproduced (1937) by René Magritte

New Yorkers can decide for themselves this weekend when this show of 80 paintings, collages, and objects, accompanied by a selection of photographs and secondary documents, opens at MoMA. Find out more here. After its MoMA run the show travels on to Houston and Chicago. 

For greater insight into the famous Belgian, do take a look at our Magritte Colour Library edition, with Richard Calvocoressi's full essay, as well as many beautiful colour images drawn from every period of the painter's career. To understand how his work related to the greater Surrealist movement, please also consider our survey of the 20th century's longest lasting art movement. Finally, to gain access to exclusive events, offers and rewards points, please join Phaidon Club before you purchase.


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