Bizarre objects created from paradoxical juxtapositions of made and found components subvert the rational and reveal the unconscious. Cubist and Dada assemblages and photomontages incorporate anti-artistic and ephemeral material. Surrealist objects made from the early 1930s―and displayed as curios in cabinets alongside items from nature and ‘primitive’ cultures―are also worlds apart from traditional fine art and aesthetics. They confound, amuse, shock and annoy. A sewing machine is redundant in a felt straitjacket, a tactile foam breast becomes the cover of a book, and a life-size female figurine is subjected to extreme acts of fetishism and mutilation.
Meret Oppenheim‘s Squirrel elicits an equivocal response. Feminine, masculine, puzzling, amusing, seductive, frustrating, macabre and kinky, Squirrel entices and repels. Lured by initial connotations of the all-too-familiar beer stein and fluffy tail, the viewer is inevitably prevented from a tangible experience of the original. We cannot enjoy the ‘amber liquid’ because of the stein’s altered function. The squirrel’s pelt brings pleasure to the skin but not to the tongue, while the mock liquid is stoppered by a hardened foaming head. With this object and many others like it, Oppenheim has succeeded in realising the Surrealist demand ‘to hound the mad beast of function’.
Niki van den Heuvel, Exhibition Assistant, International Art, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
‘Landscape at Large’ is one of a group of landscape collages made by Paul Nash in 1936-8 in which real objects were used pictorially. The Tate Gallery also has ‘Swanage’ (made from photographs of objects and watercolour) and ‘In the Marshes’ (made from bark and sticks). From the title it is evident that this one was seen by Nash as an abstract landscape, with the shape of the bark suggesting perspective, and the texture and patterns of the materials making the features. The ‘at large’, although not explained by the artist, probably has its usual meaning of either ‘at liberty’ or ‘there in complete detail’, implying that the objects are standing in for themselves.
Text from Tate
By Paul Eluard
I speak to you across cities
I speak to you across plains
My mouth is upon your pillow
Both faces of the walls come meeting
My voice discovering you
I speak to you of eternity
O cities memories of cities
Cities wrapped in our desires
Cities come early cities come lately
Cities strong and cities secret
Plundered of their master’s builders
All their thinkers all their ghosts
Fields pattern of emerald
Bright living surviving
The harvest of the sky over our earth
Feeds my voice I dream and weep
I laugh and dream among the flames
Among the clusters of the sun
And over my body your body spreads
The sheet of it’s bright mirror.
In this painting, as well as others, Frida’s preoccupation with death is revealed. In real life Frida did have a papier-mâché skeleton (Juda) on the canopy of her bed. Diego called it “Frida’s lover” but Frida said it was just an amusing reminder of mortality. Frida and the skeleton both lie on their side with two pillows under their head. While Frida sleeps the skeleton is awake and watching. The bed appears to ascend into the clouds and the embroidered vines on her bedspread seem to come to life and begin to entwine with her body. The roots at the foot of the bed appear to have been pulled out of the ground. The skeleton’s body is entwined with wires and explosives that at any moment could go off… making Frida’s dream of death a stark reality. In this painting and in others, Frida uses the “Life/Death” theme…the plants representing the rebirth of life and the skeleton representing death.
Text from FridaKahloFans
By Paul Eluard
I have not always had this certainty, this pessimism which reassures the best among us. There was
a time when my friends laughed at me. I was not the master of my words. A certain indifference, I
have not always known well what I wanted to say, but most often it was because I had nothing to
say. The necessity of speaking and the desire not to be heard. My life hanging only by a thread.
There was a time when I seemed to understand nothing. My chains floated on the water.
All my desires are born of my dreams. And I have proven my love with words. To what fantastic
creatures have I entrusted myself, in what dolorous and ravishing world has my imagination
enclosed me? I am sure of having been loved in the most mysterious of domains, my own. The
language of my love does not belong to human language, my human body does not touch the flesh
of my love. My amorous imagination has always been constant and high enough so that nothing
could attempt to convince me of error.