MoMA explores Magritte’s Surrealist Years

Menaced Assassin surrealist painting by Rene Magritte at NYC's MoMA.

French artist Rene Magritte didn't exactly look the part of a surrealist icon, a man who would blow a million minds with his bizarre juxtapositions, his impossible realities, his… I don't know… his eyeball in the middle of a stack of pancakes. Because unlike, for example, his contemporary Salvador Dali, who caroused about in a flamboyantly oddball style, Magritte presented himself more like a banker, in dark, conservative suits, and often painted at his decidedly routine dining room table. But it was all a disguise of sorts, and Magritte once described himself as a “secret agent” in the battle against bourgeois values. “Too often by a twist of thought, we tend to reduce what is strange to what is familiar," Magritte said. "I intend to restore the familiar to the strange.’’


This is Not a Pipe - surreal painting by Rene Magritte at MoMA exhibit.

MoMA presents 'Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary'

And so he does, some eight decades after his most influential and productive surrealist period, with this excellent new major exhibition at MoMA, Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary. Here are more 80 paintings, collages, and objects–though it's mostly paintings, with very little filler–from Magritte's "breakthrough Surrealist years" between 1926 and 1938, when the artist consciously set out to "challenge the real world". Which he proceeded to do inspades, producing a body of work, including many of his iconic images, in which everyday objects and ordinary-looking people were misnamed with authority, or placed in seemingly random and/or bizarre situations, or pictured in the process of of some sort unlikely transformation.

Rene Magritte's The False Mirror painting at the MoMA art exhibition.

Surrealistic Artist Blends Familiar with the Strange

I expected to enjoy MoMA's Magritte exhibition (who wouldn't?), but I was surprised at how consistently engaging and even fresh it all seemed. Sure, there are several paintings here–"This Is Not a Pipe"; the portrait of the woman whose face is a naked woman's torso; the one where the train comes chugging out of the fireplace–that are familiar to the point of cliche, but what a pleasure it is to see them live, in their original size, with the actual colors intact. And most of these works, including several of my favorites, I don't think I had ever seen before, especially Magritte's earliest surreal pieces such as the collages in the exhibition's first gallery. But mostly I just loved the flatness, of light, color, and perspective, to these works, and the benign expressions–slight smiles or blank looks–on the faces of his subjects, even as they were contending with freakish circumstances. As the first of the big fall shows at NYC museums, MoMA's Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary starts the crowd-pleasing season off right.

Surreal paiting at the MoMA's Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary art exhibit.

About Magritte and MoMA

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary will be at MoMA from September 28 to January 12. MoMA is open everyday from 10:30 until 5:30, except on Fridays, when it stays open until 8:00 p.m. The museum is free on Fridays as well, from 4:00 until 8:00. Click to find our more info about MoMA and Magritte.

French artist Rene Magritte's The Mystery of the Ordinary exhibition at MoMA in NYC.

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