In a dreamy gallery environment turned upside down, carpeted with a blue sky dotted by puffy clouds and decked with freeway intersections on the ceiling, Belgian surrealist Ren? Magritte’s work is playfully featured in a current exhibit that looks at the pop-culture icon’s impact on American and European post-war artists.
As visitors enter the exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, they are greeted by security guards wearing black bowler hats and proceed to walk through a tall ghostly silhouette cutout in the doorway leading into the gallery. The show’s interior, a playful mix of Magritte-like dreamscape and post-modern art installation, was designed by Los Angeles-based artist John Baldessari, who also has two works featured in the show.
“Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images” includes 68 works by Magritte and an equal number of works by 31 contemporary artists, cleverly juxtaposed against Magritte to illuminate lines of influence.
The exhibit is not intended to be a Magritte retrospective, which there have been numerous examples of, but instead a fresh look at Magritte’s work in conjunction with contemporary artists who were inspired by him, according to Stephanie Barron, senior curator at LACMA. Barron created the show together with Michel Draguet, director of the Mus?es Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Belgium, in cooperation with the Magritte Foundation.
The unique exhibit, which does not travel, takes a first look at the artist’s influence on a diverse group of contemporary artists from pop artists Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha to avant-garde artist Jeff Koons and neo-Dadaist Jasper Johns.
“I tried to think as Magritte might,” said Baldessari, a conceptual artist who teaches at UCLA and was chosen to design the exhibit because of his combined playfulness and seriousness. “I think this is something (Magritte) would have done, or agreed with.”
The exhibition was named after Magritte’s most famous work, which is also the centerpiece in the show. In the famous 1929 painting of a pipe accompanied by “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” a phrase in French meaning “This is not a pipe,” Magritte showed the inherent fallacy of assigning names to objects. Combining random words with images was a common theme in Magritte’s work. He created conscious contradictions to question the pre-assumption that words which are used to name things actually correspond with the object itself.
“I can never decide what is more important, a word or an image,” said Baldessari, who said that designing the show was a challenge, because he wanted to emphasize the work of the Magritte without taking center stage himself.
“Artists have some of the greatest insights into art,” said Michael Govan, director and CEO of LACMA.
Magritte, who died in 1968, was one of the most memorable members of the surrealist movement during and beyond the Interwar period and his easily recognizable style has permeated such pop culture domains as music, advertising, cartoons and film.
The surrealist qualities in Magritte’s work derive from his warping of scale, time and space. While painting in a convincing style, Magritte lends imagery from the unconscious, an apparent influence of psychoanalysis, and from his own bourgeois society. Magritte was known as a businessman who always wore a three-piece suit and approached painting like a business operation.
“Magritte was a total bourgeois on the outside,” Draguet said. “(But) he was a total anarchist on the inside.”
The show, which opened Nov. 19, will be up through March 4, 2007 and is specially ticketed. Weekday tickets are $17 for adults and $14 for students and seniors. On weekends, tickets are $20 for adults and $17 for seniors and students. Admission is free for children 17 and under. For an extra $4-7, visitors can take a headset audio tour narrated by Pierce Brosnan, featuring interviews with some of the artists.