Friday, April 06, 2007

Surrealists at the V & A

Kristen has inquired whether I saw the Surreal Things show at the V&A.
Well, as a matter of fact, I did! I might have missed it had it not been for one or two posters in the Tube, since (as I went to the V&A in September) I hadn't planned on visiting the V&A on this trip.
The show focused, allegedly, on surrealist objects, but it had quite a few paintings as well; these were all supposed to tie in with the object theme in one way or another. Rather than get involved in a critique of the exhibition, which would involve more thought than I am prepared to give tonight, I think it is probably enough to say that the show was fairly large and had lots of interesting stuff to look at. I definitely enjoyed having the chance to see things like ballet costumes designed by surrealists (I was surprised to discover that leotards were once woollen; they must have been extremely hot to wear under stage lights). Objects from specific surrealist exhibitions were on display, so that included a couple of illustrated wardrobes made by Leonor Fini. There was also a considerable amount of surrealist-inspired fashion design, mostly by Schiaparelli. In fact, a 1945 Schiaparelli dress evidently inspired one of Toyen's paintings (unfortunately, the dress isn't in the catalog and I can't find it online).
The Schiaparelli-inspired painting (right) wasn't in the show, nor mentioned in any way, but a more interesting Toyen work was. Well... I don't mean to suggest I don't like the Schiaparelli-esque painting, because it's quite agreeably spooky unto itself, but I've always been intrigued by the painting Loi naturelle, which is never satisfactorily reproduced. It always ends up too small to really see the details.
Loi naturelle proves to be about five or six feet tall. It's a combination of painting and collage, and is fascinating to look at in real life, although I would have preferred the V&A to have hung it a little lower on the wall so that less of it was way above my head. Now that I've seen it for myself, I can say that the bottom floor is home to a red inner tube (from which issues a mysterious substance), the next floor has a table with an oil lamp that attracts moths, the following floor offers a doorway to an ornately furnished room, above that we have a bat and a garment in a room with file cabinets, next a room with some umbrellas huddled on the floor (warding off light or mist), then there's a seated woman, after which is a woman climbing the stairs, and then a room with hanging clothes and a set of file cabinets from which issue smoke or vapor. On the top there are two crawling men, but they're discernable even in quite small reproductions.
This is a work I would really like to to have at home, but of course it belongs to someone else. It simply can't be fully appreciated in a book-sized reproduction, or even fully seen. Consequently, I spent quite awhile looking at it.
There were also paintings by Dorothea Tanning and Leonora Carrington that I quite enjoyed seeing in real life, but they are not so hard to appreciate in reproduction.



Blogger Kristen said...

I'm glad you got a chance to see the show! I'm sure it was set up in part to be a blockbuster-type exhibition, but I'm happy to hear you found some merit in it.

April 07, 2007 6:26 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Judging by the quantity of stuff in the shop, I'd say blockbuster-minded. There were some promising titles there, but given the exchange rate, I figured I had better stick to only getting the catalog.

April 08, 2007 8:49 PM  
Blogger Al said...

Do you know if you there is a print of Loi Naturelle available. It's amazing.

May 21, 2007 4:08 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

Hi Al,

I wish I knew. I want one too! My guess is that there probably is not one as it's privately owned, but I could be wrong. The closest I've seen to a poster or framable print of any works by Toyen was a calendar I found a few years ago.

May 21, 2007 5:48 PM  

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