The stuff of dreams: an exhibition of Surrealist art

MOST NIGHTS I HAVE several dreams, all very vivid and in technicolour, often with a soundtrack. However, when I awake, I might only remember the outlines of one of them, if any at all. Much Surrealist art, often paintings, drawings, photographic images, or cinematographic sequences, depicts dreams. Whether these are the dreams that an artist has actually experienced, or they are creations that attempt to recreate the often weird ‘atmospheres’ that are produced in dreamers’ brains during slumber, it matters not because many of the Surrealist artists produce works that have the distorted realism typical of many dreams, which most viewers will recognise.

By Salvador Dali

Until the 29th of August 2022, there is an excellent exhibition of works created by Surrealist artists. Called “Beyond Borders”, it does not confine itself to well-known western artists such as Salvador Dali, De Chirico, Dorothea Tanning, Leonora Carrington, and so on, it introduces the viewer to Surrealists from as far afield as Japan, Latin America, and Africa, as well some pieces by artists who are new to me (and I suspect to many other visitors to the Tate). Most of the exhibits were paintings, graphic and cinematographic art; there were relatively few sculptures.   Well-known artists’ works are displayed alongside those of artists who are not widely recognised in this country, but deserve to be. Some might question the way that the curator (s) chose to group the artworks, but not being an art historian, this did not disturb me in the slightest. One new thing I learned from glancing at the informative notices amongst the exhibits is that Surrealist images were occasionally used by artists to convey politically subversive messaging. This reminds me of some strange (not necessarily Surreal) films that were made in parts of Europe when they were behind the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’: their oddity was supposed to disguise criticisms of the regime in power by baffling the strict but unimaginative censors.   

Overall, the exhibition provides a richly varied series of visual experiences. Wandering through the exhibition was a delight for my wife and me, and we shall try to visit the show again before it closes.

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