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Bowdoin College Museum of Art presents exhibition of surrealist photography
Frederick Sommer, Max Ernst, 1946, 1946. Gelatin silver print. Bowdoin College Museum of Art. © Frederick & Frances Sommer Foundation.
BRUNSWICK, ME.- This spring, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art presents an exhibition that explores the radical and multilayered nature of Surrealist photography. Under the Surface: Surrealist Photography features photographs created by leading Surrealist artists, such as Eugène Atget, André Kertész, René Magritte, Man Ray, and Maurice Tabard. In addition to presenting works from the movement’s European roots in the 1920s and 1930s, Under the Surface highlights the extensive reach of Surrealist influence both geographically, by showcasing works of American and Central American artists, and temporally, by tracing the movement’s reverberations through the 1960s. Organized by Andrea Rosen, Curatorial Assistant at the BCMA, the exhibition is on view at Bowdoin from February 27, 2014 – June 8, 2014, and is being shown in conjunction with a film installation, Surrealism in Motion, featuring Man Ray’s Retour a la Raison and Hans Richter’s Ghosts Before Breakfast.

Originating in early 20th-century Paris, Surrealism sought to demonstrate how human psychological impulses could be contemplated and depicted in everyday life. Inspired by Dadaism’s embrace of experimental approaches to the creation of art, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theories, and the disillusioned aftermath of World War I, the Surrealists became known for creating bizarre, disturbing, and often inexplicable images. Under the Surface examines how Surrealists experimented both in front of the camera and in the darkroom to transform a traditionally representational art form into a vehicle for rendering the fantastical. Works such as Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Brussels (1932) and Erwin Blumenfeld’s Solarized Double Mirror Nude (1946) invite audiences to consider how Surrealists used visual motifs such as veils, mirrors, screens, and filters, as well as technical manipulations such as photograms, multiple exposures, solarization, and photomontage to confuse and unsettle the viewer.

“The exhibition explores the fundamental tension between ideas of surface and depth in Surrealist photography, and these artists’ distinctive ability to make the familiar strange,” said Rosen. “By illuminating the psychological depth present beneath the surface of these images, we may begin to understand why Surrealist photography continues to be so enigmatic and powerful.”

Featuring over sixty works, Under the Surface brings together the Museum’s rich collection of Surrealist photography and prestigious loans from collections throughout the country, including the International Center for Photography, Yale University Art Museum, and Minneapolis Institute of Arts, among others. Installed according to the themes of portraiture, still life, bodies, street scenes, and dream scenes, Under the Surface demonstrates the range of subjects that the Surrealists addressed through photography. The exhibition explores how Surrealist photographers experimented with both literal and figurative forms of layering to create striking, enigmatic images. Notable examples include one of Man Ray’s first “rayographs,” Untitled (1921), which distorts recognizable objects into an abstract composition, Hans Bellmer’s La Poupée [“The Doll”] (1934), one of the artist’s many depictions of anatomically incorrect “dolls” in suggestive poses, and Eugène Atget’s Cour, 28 Rue Bonaparte, Paris (1910), an eerie documentation of the abandoned streets of Old Paris.

“Under the Surface provides an exciting opportunity to engage our museum audiences and the Bowdoin College community with work that teases the imagination and tests our sense of how we understand the world around us,” said Anne Collins Goodyear, Co-Director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. “The exhibition and its accompanying programs will illuminate a critical aspect of the Surrealist movement, and offer visitors unparalleled access to these exceptional works of art,” continued Frank Goodyear, Co-Director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

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