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Exhibition of works by some of the greatest masters of Avant-Garde opens in Bologna
Installation view.

BOLOGNA.- Through a rich narrative, the exhibition illustrates these artists’ determination to revolutionize art, make a break with the past, and fashion a new world. -180 works are on display from The Israel Museum,Jerusalem, which for the occasion has generously emptied over 1,000 square metres of its exhibit itinerary, so as to share its amazing collections with visitors in Bologna. The connection between Dada, Surrealism, and the Israel Museum began as a “chance encounter” more than fifty years ago and has since evolved into a deep and lasting relationship. Thanks in great part to generous gifts from donors and artists alike, the Museum has been able to form a spectacular holding of Dada and Surrealist material, embracing all of the media employed by these groundbreaking movements: paintings, readymades, collages and assemblages, photographs, and works on paper.

The Museum owes this richness first and foremost to Milanese scholar-poet-dealer Arturo Schwarz, who donated his vast collection of Dada, Surrealist, and pre-Surrealist art, comprising more than 700 works constituting the major part of the collection and the selection of work on view.

The masterpieces include: Le Chateau de Pyrenees (1959) by Magritte, Surrealist Essay (1934) by Dalí, L.H.O.O.Q. (1919/1964) by Duchamp, and Main Ray (1935) by Man Ray.

The exhibition has been designed by the great architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca, who for the event has reconstructed Dalí’s famous Mae West room in Palazzo Albergati, along with the installation 1,200 Sacks of Coal that Duchamp created for the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in 1938.

As an encyclopedic museum of world-class standing, The Israel Museum travels exhibitions worldwide on a broad range of themes based on its rich and varied holdings. Notable traveling exhibitions include Cradle of Christianity: Treasures from the Holy-Land; and Chagall, Life and Love, as well as exhibitions which present selections from the Museum’s comprehensive collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting and sculpture, among other treasures.

Organized thematically, Duchamp Magritte Dalí. The revolutionaries of the XX century: Masterpieces from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem offers a rich vision of this avant-garde heritage across the range of artistic strategies and innovative mediums that were used in these groundbreaking movements, including painting, sculpture, assemblage, readymade, photomontage, and collage.

The show is divided into five sections:

Section 1: Marvelous Juxtapositions
The use of found and readymade materials in Dada and Surrealist collages, montages, and objects breaks down the borders between art and life. Fragments of the everyday world placed in unexpected juxtapositions shock, seduce, and disorient the viewer. The relocation releases their poetic potential, creating a dream object “drawn from the strange depths of the unconscious mind.” Dada exploited the rapid technological development of radio, cinema, manufacturing, and the illustrated press. The Dadaists were an international group that included Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Höch, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp, some of whom continued to be active in the Surrealist movement. Their strategies involved purchasing, editing, and arranging objects, texts, and mechanically produced images. Chance, humor, and punning were among their major weapons.

The readymade challenged handmade artifacts and the notion of self-expression. Exhibiting mundane items – such as a bottle rack – with almost no intervention, Dada artists questioned the transformation of an object when placed in a museum or gallery. The idea behind the artwork now constituted the real act of creation, anticipating late 20th-century conceptual art. The Dadaists deliberately minimized the value of the original work of art and the artist’s effort and skill.

Duchamp’s radical operations began before the war and independently of Dada. André Breton described his readymades as precursors of the Surrealist object. These objects were perceived as visual equivalents of the powerful poetic metaphors used in Surrealist core texts: “as beautiful as the chance encounter on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.”

Collages and objects inspired later artists, such as Joseph Cornell, and have become mainstream in contemporary art, feeding into installation and site-specific works, as well as commercial media.

Section 2: Automatism and its Evolution
Aiming to rejuvenate poetry and the visual arts by drawing on untapped sources of creativity, Surrealism explored the mind’s hidden realms – dreams, mental illness, and the unconscious. Writers and artists developed “automatic” techniques in order to circumvent conscious control and access the wellspring of the unconscious. Automatism reflects the movement’s fascination with new developments in psychiatric thought in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Surrealists saw automatism as a visual parallel to Sigmund Freud’s use of free association in psychoanalysis.

According to André Breton, the essence of automatism consists of heeding the “voices... of our own unconscious,” while attempting to relinquish conscious control of logic, aesthetics, or morality – enemies of fantasy and creativity. The Surrealists strove to expand their mental worlds and recapture the freedom of imagination normally accessible only in childhood, in dreams, and perhaps in insanity. The role of reason was to be limited to recording and appreciating the magnificent phenomena produced by the unconscious.

Surrealism’s search for processes that would free artworks from conscious thought manifested itself in multiple forms and techniques. These include Jean Arp and André Masson’s “automatic drawings” and Joan Miró’s semi-automatic works and Max Ernst’s frottages (rubbings) and grattages (scrapings). Man Ray and other photographers developed techniques such as solarization, photograms, and chance effects to create mystery and ambiguity.

In the 1940s, with the wartime exile of major Surrealist artists to the United States, automatism became a major force for New York school artists. Future Abstract Expressionists, were impressed with the idea that the source of art could be the unconscious, and expanded the repertoire of automatism.

Section 3: Biomorphism and Metamorphosis
Biomorphism reflects the tendency to favor ambiguous and organic shapes. Anatomy, plants, bodies of water, and astronomy inspire paintings, reliefs, and sculptures. Jean (Hans) Arp and Yves Tanguy – each working in a distinctive style in the realm between figuration and abstraction – developed a language of “biomorphs.”

Arp simplified nature’s forms and reduced them to their abstract essence. His biomorphic works capture and express the vital energy of being, and liberate art from the constrictions imposed by civilization. Yves Tanguy’s paintings fuse animal, vegetable, and human figures with rock formations that hover in vaporous landscapes. During and after World War II, Tanguy’s landscapes became more deserted and war beaten, a convincing psychological portrait of wartime Europe. Surrealism elevated magic and the transformational process of metamorphosis and hybridization. Picasso’s use of metamorphosis influenced Surrealism in the 1920s. It appeared both as subject matter and as procedure in figurative painting in the more abstract, automatic works of André Masson.

Metamorphosis attested to the power of the individual imagination to transcend reality and reason in favor of the marvelous. American Indian and Oceanic cultures and their myths provided models of uncensored expression and images of human-plant metamorphosis. Drawing on non-Western cultures, alchemy, and other occult phenomena, Max Ernst felt that the artist must regain a mythic, spiritual harmony with nature lost in Christianity, Western rationalism, and technology.

Victor Brauner thrived on the occult and the mystical. Brauner’s art reflects a fusion of a wide range of world cultures, mythologies, and religious beliefs. While focusing primarily on figuration – whether human, animal, or mythological – the works create an intricate lexicon of symbolic forms.

Section 4: Desire: Muse and Abuse
The exploration of desire offered artists and poets a vast territory in which to probe unconscious fantasies, fears, and inhibitions. The drive to liberate desire through art was related to the rise of Communism and Fascism and to the two World Wars. Libido became a revolutionary force and constituted a rebellion against political and social censorship.

By the late 1920s, desire had become a principal obsession. Sigmund Freud’s theories of sexuality circulated within the group, and artists and writers viewed themselves as agents of desire. Woman, perceived as a source of creative inspiration, offered promise and power. The passive femmeenfant (woman-child) was valued for her dual nature – naive yet seductive. The Surrealist conception of woman was patriarchal: “What matters is that we be masters of ourselves, the masters of women and of love too” (Manifesto of Surrealism, 1924). This elevation of desire was rooted in the ideas of 18th-century French aristocrat Marquis de Sade, who viewed uninhibited passion as a male right.

In paintings, objects, photographs, and collages the female body became a core component, either idealized and mystified or assaulted and fragmented – the passive target of violence. Collage and montage became supreme mediums through which to dissect, rearrange, or disfigure the female image. Using woman as an object for the projection of unresolved anxieties and conflicts, artists, particularly Hans Bellmer, examined the darker sides of desire.

André Breton viewed the physical reaction to art as indistinguishable from erotic pleasure. This intoxication reverberates in Man Ray’s photographs focusing on the female body. Marcel Duchamp, with his female alter ego “Rose Sélavy,” explores the erotic impulse and examines gender boundaries, recreating himself as an object of desire.

Section 5: Illusion and Dreamscape
The belief in the intoxicating and liberating value of the imagination and dreams was central to Surrealism. Surrealist dreamscapes evoke mystery and challenge our perception of reality. They juxtapose disconnected objects, often within landscapes in which time and space are distorted. As in dreams, memory and place are disconnected and reality becomes fantastic. In the 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism, André Breton described a “resolution of these two states, dream and reality … into a kind of absolute reality, surreality.”

The dream imagery created by Surrealist artists reflects the influence of Sigmund Freud’s groundbreaking Interpretation of Dreams (1900), where Freud described dreams as portals to the unconscious. The dream offered artists a territory in which judgment and reason were suspended. Particularly influential in this context was Giorgio de Chirico, founder of the Italian movement of Metaphysical Painting. Captivated by the dark, elusive, and melancholic, de Chirico created timeless cityscapes that manipulate perspective and emanate an unsettling quality. René Magritte’s poetic inventions are seemingly simple images replete with complex associations. His visual metaphors reflect a mastery of the dramatic and the shocking. Both Magritte and Salvador Dalí exhibited unusual technical virtuosity; this allowed them to create tangible illusions that blur the border between reality and fantasy.

The fusion of images in an illusory space became popular in Surrealist photography as well. Photomontage combines multiple images in a single photograph. Adopting a medium usually perceived as the most “real”, Herbert Bayer challenged viewers by defying gravity and space. Bayer and others used eyes as recurring symbols of voyeurism and the power of inner vision. Dreams are perhaps best captured in cinema. Using montage, double exposure, and dissolve, Surrealist films evoke a hallucinatory state and equate the process of filmmaking with dreaming.

Dadaism and Surrealism: a century has gone since these two fundamental currents first made their appearance, and in our day “marvellous” juxtapositions, automatism, readymades, photomontages, metamorphoses and dream-like landscapes are something obvious and taken for granted – and not just in art either.

At the time, however, the first artists to invent such techniques, to develop ideologies, to discover Freudian psychoanalysis and to apply it to art and life not only challenged and rejected tradition, but introduced innovative materials and strategies, destined to transform the language of art and especially to leave a legacy that has yet to be exhausted.

Spurred by the devastation of World War I, Dada emerged in 1916 in Zurich, and rapidly spread to Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, and Paris. For the Dadaists, the war was final proof of the bankruptcy of late 19th-century rationalism and bourgeois culture, and the movement was launched with antiwar performances at the Zurich Cabaret Voltaire. Romanian poet Tristan Tzara asserted in the 1918 Manifesto that the infantile yet suggestive word “Dada” (“hobbyhorse” in French), lifted at random from a French-German dictionary, does not signify anything. Aiming to destroy accepted principles and deconstruct the traditional language of art, the Dadaists adopted radical ideas and modes of artistic expression. Their collages, assemblages, montages, readymades, films, and performances are often considered nihilistic anti-art.

The exhibition illustrates all this through works by Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Höch, Erwin Blumenfeld, Marcel Janco, Francis Picabia, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp.

The Surrealist movement, born in Paris after 1919 out of Dada’s ferment, was committed to a revolution of the spirit and the search for a new reality. Inspired by Sigmund Freud’s exploration of the unconscious, Surrealism gave voice in its 1924 Manifesto to the irrational and creative forces found within the human psyche. The use of chance, automatism, biomorphic shapes, and dream imagery and the manipulation of mundane objects characterize the work of artists as distinct as André Breton, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, René Magritte, and Salvador Dalí, whose works are on display.

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