With the support of the M.T. Abraham Foundation, on November 19, 2014, as part of the celebrations of the 250-year anniversary of the State Hermitage, the “Dada and Surrealism from the Collection of the Israel Museum” exhibition organized by the State Hermitage Museum in collaboration with the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and supported by the Hermitage Foundation in Israel, opened in the General Staff building.
At the exhibition paintings, sculptures, collages and photographs made by artists of the XX century that are not represented in the collection of the Hermitage, are displayed. The works of Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, René Magritte and Joan Miró are of particular interest. The influence of Dada and Surrealism on the art world lasted for quite a long time, thus the exhibition includes more recent works as well, for example, the works of Joseph Cornell, Brassaï and Alexander Calder.
The exhibition provides insight into Dada and Surrealism as the universal intellectual and ideological movements that broke boundaries and redefined existence and ways of attitude. Representatives of these movements challenged tradition, introducing innovative materials and approaches that would change the very language of art. Unexpected juxtapositions of images, development of automatism, metamorphosis and fantastic landscapes are the key components of the movements demonstrated at the exhibition.
Dadaism began in Zurich in 1916 fostered by the tragedy of World War I, shortly thereafter spreading to Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York and Paris. From the point of view of the Dadaists, the war finally confirmed the failure of rationalism and bourgeois culture of the late XIX century. The movement was started by the anti-war speeches in “Cabaret Voltaire” in Zurich. In the Dada manifesto of 1918 written by Tristan Tzara, the Romanian poet, it is stated that the word “Dada” being childish yet making one think (dada in French means “hobbyhorse”), randomly taken from the French-German dictionary, in reality does not mean anything. Intending to break the generally accepted principles and to destroy the traditional vocabulary of art, the Dadaists turned to radical ideas and methods of artistic expression. Collage, assemblage, montage, ready-mades, films and performances of Dadaists were regarded as nihilistic anti-art.
Surrealism, originating in Paris from the Dada “fermentation” after 1919, was the incarnation of the revolution of spirit and the search for a new reality. Guided by observations of Sigmund Freud regarding the Unconscious, in the manifesto of 1924 surrealism gave voice to irrational and creative forces hidden in the human nature.
Chance automatism, biomorphic forms, dreams and manipulations with everyday objects are the hallmark of such different artists as André Breton, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí and many others.
Although decades have passed since the introduction of these fundamental movements, creativity, criticism and irony inherent in Dada and Surrealism are still able to take on new forms, to shock and provoke the audience. When creating the Dadaist and Surrealist collages and objects, the use of findings of various kinds and ready-mades destroyed the boundaries between art and life. Familiar things presented in unexpected juxtapositions intrigue and disorient the audience. This allows liberation of e the poetic potential of objects, resulting in an object of dreams “extracted from the unknown depths of the subconscious”.
Dadism used the rapid development of radio, cinematography, industrial production and illustrated print. Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Höch, Max Ernst, Marcel Janco, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp can be called members of the international Dada group, and some of them later became surrealists. Their methods included acquisition, editing and layout of ready-made objects, texts and printed images. Chance and irony became their main weapon.
The ready-mades challenged the works of art created by artists in the classical style, as well as the concept of self-expression. Aesthetization of ordinary things (combs, dryers for bottles, hangers) exhibited as unchanged, questioned the transformation of an object when exposed in museums and galleries. Henceforward, the idea behind the exhibit became an act of creation that anticipated the conceptual art of the late XX century. Dadaists deliberately minimized the value of the original work of art, as well as the value of labor and skill of the artists.
Radical creations of Duchamp appeared before the war regardless of Dada. André Breton called his ready-mades predecessors of the surrealist object. They became visual analogues of powerful poetic metaphors found in the key texts of surrealism.
Later, collages and objects inspired artists (such as Joseph Cornell) and turned into the main form of modern art becoming a source for the development of installations, design of a specific location and advertising.
Biomorphism in art is a tendency to depict strange organic shapes causing vague associations with natural objects. Anatomy, fauna, bodies of water and astronomy inspired artists to create paintings, reliefs and sculptures. Jean (Hans) Arp, Yves Tanguy and Raoul Ubac, each working in a distinctive style on the border between figurative and abstract art, developed their own language of “biomorphs”.
Surrealists glorified magic and the transformation process of metamorphosis and hybridization. Metamorphosis in the works of Picasso influenced the surrealists of the 1920’s. It became both a subject matter and a procedure in the figurative paintings of Leonora Carrington and in the more abstract automatic works of André Masson. Metamorphosis confirmed the ability of the human imagination to go beyond reality, rationality and towards the incomprehensible. Culture and mythology of American Indians and the inhabitants of Oceania have served for the Surrealists as models of uncensored expression and sources of images of human-plant metamorphosis. Max Ernst, showing interest in exotic cultures, alchemy and supernatural phenomena, believed that the artist must return to the spiritual harmony with nature inherent in the mythological consciousness , which has been lost with the spread of Christianity, Western rationalism and technology development.
Curators of the exhibition “Dada and Surrealism from the Collection of the Israel Museum”:
Dr. Adina Kamien-Kazhdan, David Rockefeller Curator, Stella Fischbach Department of Modern Art (XX century), Israel Museum, Jerusalem, M.O. Dedinkin, Deputy Head of the Department of Western European Art of the State Hermitage.
A fully illustrated catalog was published for the exhibition (State Hermitage Publishing House, 2014), including opening remarks by M.B. Piotrovsky, CEO of the State Hermitage Museum, James S. Snyder, Director of the Israel Museum, and Amir G. Kaibiri, President of the Hermitage Foundation in Israel. Authors of the Articles: Dr. Adina Kamien-Kazhdan, Dr. Werner Spies, Dr. Dawn Ades, Israel Museum.
The Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is the largest cultural institution of the State of Israel and one of the leading museums of archeology and art in the world. Founded in 1965, the museum has an encyclopedic collection, including works dating from prehistoric times to the modern art. This versatile collection is represented by Bezalel Art Wing, Bronfman Archaeology Wing, Wing for Jewish Art and Life and Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education. Thanks to the help and support of sponsors all over the world in just forty years of its existence, the museum became the owner of about 500,000 artifacts and turned into an internationally recognized and inexhaustible source of cultural values for Israel, the Middle East and around the world.