The word surreal has long been a part of everyday conversation. Any experience that seems in any way extraordinary or simply strange may be described as surreal. That the word first came into use to name a revolutionary Modern art movement is no matter to most who have added it to their vocabulary. In these times of pandemic, the word is on the tip of our tongues as we try to make sense of the current situation, coping with the fears, interruptions, and isolation forced upon all of us. Now seems as good a time as any to look at the art which made the term ubiquitous and necessary to the art of the last 100 years.
Surrealism as an approach to making art and seeing the irrational nature of human existence has and continues to be part of us. Surrealist art reminds us that while the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment gave us a sense of identity as individuals and democratic ideals, surrealism gives name to all that is unreasonable, at times dark, confusing, or disturbing. This, too, is life, and as our collection here shows, artists refuse or are unable to dismiss what is unsettling yet find humor and irony in what most might accept as rational. This personification of fear and anxiety is how many of these artists exorcised the darkness to assimilate a new structure, a new order, a new way forward.
Our exhibition includes works made between 1924 and 1965 and primarily created by artists working at Atelier 17. Stanley William Hayter was a central figure in the development of Surrealism. And via Hayter, Atelier 17 became a melting pot of techniques, concepts, and politics. As evidenced here, both played a crucial role as Modern art developed in Pre-War Paris, wartime New York City, and Post-War Paris and New York.