As the year 2011 is drawing to a close, the Albertina
is presenting an exhibition highlight with an extensive tribute to René Magritte, one of the most renowned and popular artists of the 20th century. Some 250 exhibits from all over the world, including 150 important paintings and works on paper, cover every creative phase of the Belgian Surrealists career. More than 90 lenders have contributed to this great retrospective, thus enabling the Albertina to present every single one of Magrittes masterpieces. Works such as The Menaced Assassin, The Secret Player, The Gigantic Days, Time Transfixed, The Eternal Evidence, Golconda and The Empire of Light represent Magritte as a main exponent of Surrealism undoubtedly the most prominent and memorable one next to Dalí. Magrittes works are not only popular but also have a great intellectual appeal and continue to fascinate present-day viewers due to their enigmatic and mysterious nature.
Magritte was primarily a painter of ideas, an artist of visible thoughts rather than of subject matter. His anti-modernist objectivity, juxtaposed to the avant-garde, may not have enriched art history in terms of form, but did all the more so in terms of motif. In his almost anti-formalist oeuvre he dealt with the material world in a provocative and confusingly open manner. All the objects he painted were clearly recognizable, belonging to the banal, everyday sphere. But when Magritte presented them according to his poetic logic, in an order that cast a completely different light on them and gave them an entirely new power, their meaning began to waver. The recognition of the motifs collided with the mystery of the combination: Magritte brought together things that did not belong together. The artist exposed the viewers perception and usual way of seeing as tacit consent and convention, turning the causality of our world view upside down with the depiction of inexplicable metamorphoses, the reversal of the world, the transformation of proportions and surrealistic combinations.
Interior and exterior spaces are connected in a deceptive manner, day and night collide, objects and human bodies merge into one another, and the more distinctly we recognize each object, the more enigmatic the mystery of reality becomes.
Magrittes paintings draw their generally gloomy atmosphere from the cold and unemotionally staged aesthetics of the depicted subject. Bourgeois orderliness and an ambience of old-fashioned cleanliness turn each space into an eerie crime scene, regardless of whether a murder actually took place or not.
In his extensive oeuvre, comprising paintings, drawings, objects, photographs and short films, Magritte employed a limited number of carefully chosen motifs, reusing them in ever-new combinations to create a complex, surreal world of images.
The green apple, the pipe, the man with the bowler hat, the egg, the rock, the curtain, and the sea are some of the elements Magritte repeatedly took up again. They stand for continuity in his creative work and have become the artists trademark.
Reflected in almost all of his works, Magrittes exceptionally eloquent wit is legendary. He pits the symbol against the symbolic, while the occupation with language and parlance generally occupy a prominent position. In his paintings Magritte was influenced by the philosophical theories of the early 20th century, dealing with issues regarding the concurrence of our perceptions, their verbal description and the actual appearance of reality. He was also striving for analogies of an idea, its image and its actual existence, such as in his famous painting The Treachery of Images where he wrote beneath the depiction of a pipe: Ceci nest pas une pipe (This is not a pipe).
Magrittes paintings not only influenced the abstract artistic tendencies of the early 20th century but also Conceptual art and Pop art of the 1960s as well as the analytical approach in contemporary art. In addition, advertising and video clips have been based for decades on the formal principles characteristic of Magritte.
With the additional presentation of the artists early commercial art, his photographic experiments and his late, bizarrely absurd short films, the exhibition in the Albertina covers all aspects and phases of Magrittes creative activity, thus drawing the first comprehensive picture of his complex Surrealist method as well as the continuity of recurring motif groups. As yet another highlight the exhibition provides a profound look into Magrittes life and working method with extensive photo and film footage as well as original documents.
In thirteen chapters, the exhibition retraces the chronological and content-related developments in his art: starting with the classical Surrealist paintings from the 1920s and 1930s, based on the principle of film and collage, and the autobiographically tinted works in which he dealt, among other things, with his mothers suicide, to the experimental phases of the post-war period, defined by Magritte as Surrealism in full sunlight and his période vache (cow period), and concluding with his late work, featuring the mysterious day-and-night paintings of the famous Empire of Light series and the anonymous portraits of men wearing bowler hats.
The exhibition in the Albertina is not the first presentation of the great Belgian Surrealists work in Vienna. The wealth of ideas and omnipresent mystery of his works, however, almost call for a repeated examination of his artistic activity to discover hitherto neglected aspects and thus sharpen our view of his work and our reality. This is made possible thanks to the generous loan of artworks from the most important museums of modern art, including the Kunsthaus Zürich, the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique (Magritte Museum), Brussels, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, The Menil Collection, Houston, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, as well as from prestigious private collections from all over the world. With The Enchanted Spot (1953) the Albertina is in the possession of a major work from the artists late period. The René Magritte retrospective is part of a current special focus program on Surrealist art, introduced by the Albertina in 2008 with an exhibition dedicated to Max Ernsts Surrealistic novel in collage Une semaine de bonté (A Week of Kindness), and will be continued with a Max Ernst retrospective scheduled for 2013 as well as with the presentation of Surrealist graphic art from the renowned Gilbert and Lena Kaplan Collection, New York, shown parallel to the René Magritte retrospective.