This is not the first retrospective in Madrid of the work of the artist René Magritte (Lessines, 1898 – Brussels, 1967), but it is the largest exhibition since in 1989 the Juan March Foundation hosted 63 oil paintings signed by the surrealist. On this occasion, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza exhibits 95 works and dozens of photographs that make up the retrospective The Magritte machine.
Carmen Cervera imposes her collection on the National Thyssen Museum
Magritte’s universe is characterized by the mimicry of its creations and the megalomania of its elements. The game of perception and proportion as a sign of identity. “I suspect that Magritte has the gift of making people believe that by looking at his paintings they become more intelligent,” says Amparo Serrano de Haro, professor of Art History at UNED. The self-portrait is another of the most characteristic aspects of the Belgian painter’s work as well as the disproportionality of the objects and the meta-painting as an oil window.
Guillermo Solana, artistic director of the Thyssen Museum, has been working on this exhibition since March 2015. He assures that he has asked museums and relevant collectors between 200 and 300 works to expose the almost one hundred pieces that make up the exhibition. “Magritte is an obsessively logical, obsessively methodical painter, with a maniacal rigor, at times. His procedure is the recycling of his motifs, the variation, the combination”, he values.
Solana has tried to give a didactic point of view to this retrospective. In the same room an early piece is shown as a motif and then it develops. In this way, the public can know how this creator who fed so much pop culture worked. “As a consequence of its popularity, it has been stereotyped a lot, as happens to all painters who become popular. We want to show that it has a very wide universe and, at the same time, show that it is not arbitrary, that there is a method” , Explain.
This is not a surreal inauguration
The Belgium of the 1920s where Magritte’s paintings began to become visible was still convalescing from the First World War. Art magazines began to appear in Brussels. In 1926, Magritte exhibited for the first time in his hometown, a show where, according to the Belgian painter, he was blamed for everything.
“I have painted a thousand paintings, but I have not conceived more than a hundred of those images that we are talking about. This thousand paintings is the result of frequently painting variants of my images: it is my way of clarifying the mystery better , of owning it better, “revealed Magritte.
What Magritte teaches, and that has enormous critical value, is that every image is suspect. Against more attractive, more suspicious
His magical realism takes a step forward in 1928 when he included the negation “Ceci n’est pas une pipe“(” This is not a pipe “) under the realistic image of a smoking pipe. Conceptual game that the philosopher Michael Foucault analyzed in depth in his essay entitled as the mythical enunciation of the surrealist painter. Foucault studied Magritte’s speech and made special emphasis on the designation of words and concepts through the power of illustration. “A game of transfers that run, proliferate, propagate, respond to each other in the plane of the painting without affirming or representing anything. Hence, in Magritte, those infinite games of purified similarity that never overflows out of the painting. They found metamorphosis “, Foucault analyzes in This is not a pipe. Essay on Magritte (Ed. Anagrama, 1981).
Magritte moved to the France that was the scene of the Surrealist movement. Works recognized as Lovers and The false mirror were gestated in his Parisian stage. In the 1930s he exhibited in important cities within the artistic circuit such as London and New York. He returned to Belgium while Europe was traversed by the Second World War. Thus the painter distanced himself from the orthodoxy of the surrealists who followed André Bretón.
“Our culture rests on images to the point that a photo photoshopped it can spark a revolution. We continue to profess a faith in the authority of images, we continue to identify images as revealed truth. What Magritte teaches, and that has enormous critical value, is that every image is suspect. The more attractive, the more suspicious “, assures the artistic director of Thyssen-Bornemisza.
The betrayal of images
Once again the city of Madrid hosts a large monographic exhibition on a surrealist creator. The exhibition of the works of Salvador Dalí inaugurated at the Reina Sofía Museum in 2013 was one of the most visited in the history of the Spanish State. However, authors also cataloged within surrealism have not yet had a great retrospective in the capital of their country of origin.
Proof of this lack of visibility is the work of the Catalan artist Remedio Varo (1908 – 1963). Varo went into exile in Mexico in 1941 and never returned to the Spanish state. The Museum of Modern Art (MAM) in Mexico City has part of his pictorial art. However, in 2020 the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA) held the largest exhibition of Varo’s art. 120 works that were exhibited for just one week due to the coronavirus pandemic that paralyzed the world. In 1988, 54 oil paintings signed by Varo were shown at the Banco Exterior in Madrid.
Professor Serrano de Haro, specialized in the surrealist movement with a gender perspective, believes that “for a long time there has been neither interest, nor above all, ‘respect’ for Varo’s art. Now she and other female artists are beginning to be appreciated as artists in their own right, but it has been a long process. ” Serrano de Haro believes that there are many creators of surrealism who should have a similar visibility to that given to other male figures pigeonholed in the same artistic movement. “Surrealism was an international movement, so throughout Europe and in the two Americas there are fascinating, almost unknown artists. And the most interesting thing is that when investigating to prepare these exhibitions, many other hidden, forgotten painters will be discovered,” says the writer and university teacher. In addition to Remedios Varo, Delhy Tejero, Piti Bartolozzi or Maruja Mallo are some of these national creators who were crossed by the surrealist gaze and who do not have special notoriety neither on the walls nor in the programming of Spanish museums.
The artistic director of the Thyssen Museum estimates that between 2024 and 2025 an exhibition on Remedios Varo will be inaugurated. “We decided that before Remedios Varo we wanted to do a more ambitious project called Ancient and modern teachers, which is a project of female painters, from the 16th century to the present day “, Guillemo Solana advances.” We are very committed to holding at least two exhibitions, sometimes three, of female artists every year, “he adds.
The Magritte machine It can be visited in Madrid from September 14 to January 30, 2022. From that date it will travel to the CaixaForum in Barcelona, where it will remain until the summer.