Saturday, October 30, 2010

Surrealism and Later Picasso

Giorgio De Chirico, Mystery and Melancholy of a Street

Giorgio DeChirico, The Disquieting Muses

Max Ernst, Two Children Frightened by a Nightingale

Max Ernst, plate from Un Semaine de Bonte (A Week of Plenty)

Man Ray, Gift, surrealist object

Meret Oppenheim, Lucheon in Fur, surrealist object

Hans Bellmer, hand tinted photograph from The Doll

Joseph Cornell, Medici Slot Machine

Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory, Surrealism

Salvador Dali, Lugubrious Game, Surrealism

Rene Magritte, The Treason of Images, Surrealism

Rene Magritte, The Red Model, Surrealism

Rene Magritte, The Rape, Surrealism

Joan Miro, Harlequin's Carnival, Surrealism

Joan Miro, The Beginning of the World, Surrealism

Pablo Picasso, The Pipes of Pan

Pablo Picasso, Woman in an Armchair

Pablo Picasso, Girl Before A Mirror

Pablo Picasso, Seated Bather

Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman

Pablo Picasso, Guernica


Andre Breton
Sigmund Freud
Giorgio De Chirico
--metaphysical painting
Max Ernst
The Surrealist Object
--Man Ray
--Meret Oppenheim
--Hans Bellmer
--Joseph Cornell
Salvador Dali
--Luis Bunuel
Rene Magritte
Joan Miro

--Marie Therese Walter
--Dora Maar
--Spanish Civil War 1936 - 1939

Surrealism and the Movies: Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali

A still from L'Age d'Or (The Age of Gold)

Salvador Dali's collaboration with Luis Bunuel on Un Chien Andalou launched the careers of both artists.
When their much longer and more ambitious movie L'Age d'Or (The Age of Gold) opened in Paris in 1930, the audience rioted and right wing militant groups attacked the theater destroying paintings by Dali and Miro, among others, on display in the lobby. The critics savaged the movie, and right wing political papers denounced it as shockingly decadent.
Bunuel and Dali succeeded in creating the provocation they so longed for in their first movie.

L'Age d'Or was the very first sound movie in French. It is, like Un Chien Andalou, a largely plotless series of striking vignettes. What story there is involves a couple passionately in love who are trying hard to get together, and are always prevented by something absurd, or by social convention. Even more than Un Chien Andalou, L'Age d'Or is a very aggressive attack on all those forces that Bunuel and Dali say police and repress imagination and desire, especially the Roman Catholic Church.

Dead bishops on the beach, a scene from Dali and Bunuel's L'Age D'Or

Here is the full movie on YouTube (at least until the copyright lawyers pull it down).  The concluding scenes of this movie shocked and offended audiences the most of all.  It shows a scene based on the Marquis de Sade's 100 Days of Sodom together with a very blasphemous depiction of Christ.  The final scene in the movie shows women's scalps nailed to a cross.

The Surrealist artist Max Ernst appears in this movie as the leader of the men in the run-down cottage toward the beginning.

Here is the whole movie.  We'll see how long the copyright lawyers let this stay up on YouTube.

Both Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali continued to work separately in film after their first collaborations.  Bunuel went on to a long and distinguished career as a movie director.  Dali worked with a number of directors.  Here is the dream sequence Dali designed for Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound.

It's a beautiful and compelling sequence, but it doesn't have the edge of his earlier work with Bunuel, in my opinion.

Surrealism and the Movies: Jean Cocteau

The leader of the Surrealist movement Andre Breton hated Jean Cocteau. He saw Cocteau as a poser, a parvenu, and publicity seeker who attached himself onto whatever modern movement had the public's attention at the moment. Most of all, the very homophobic Breton hated Cocteau for being openly and unapologetically gay. The great prophet of the liberated unconscious had surprisingly prudish views about sex, and those views could not abide homosexuality. He purged members of the Surrealist group even suspected of homosexuality. As others (notably Salvador Dali) pointed out to Breton, an edited subconscious is no subconscious at all.
Cocteau was a mediocre poet, a mediocre dancer, and a mediocre artist, but he was a brilliant film director. He used a lot of Surrealist ideas and aesthetic to his own purposes, to the intense irritation of Breton. Cocteau made his film making debut with the remarkable movie The Blood of the Poet. Here is a scene of the poet finding himself trapped inside his own room instructed how to escape by a statue come to life, played by the photographer Lee Miller. He passes through the mirror through a series of dream visions.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Blue Rider & Abstraction

Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space

Frantisek Kupka, The Disks of Newton

Mikhail Larionov, Rayonist Composition

Wassily Kandinsky, The Blue Rider, Blue Rider Group

Wassily Kandinsky, The First Abstraction, watercolor, Blue Rider Group, 1910

Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation III (Concert), Blue Rider Group

Wassily Kandinsky, Little Pleasures, Blue Rider Group

Franz Marc, Large Blue Horses, Blue Rider Group

Franz Marc, The Fate of the Animals, Blue Rider Group

Ludwig Meidner, Apocalyptic City


Constantin Brancusi
Frantisek Kupka
Mikhail Larionov


Wassily Kandinsky
Franz Marc

Read Chapter 6 in the textbook.

The Rite of Spring

Nikolai Roerich, study for scenery design for The Rite of Spring ballet.

On May 29, 1913, a ballet by the bright new star composer Igor Stravinsksy opened at the brand new Theatre Champs Elysee in Paris.  Stravinsky and the Ballets Russe had a spectacularly successful debut with The Firebird in 1910, a huge hit with both critics and the public.  Audiences eagerly bought tickets to Stravinsky's new ballet The Rite of Spring.  The ballet, conceived by Nikolai Roerich who also designed the sets and costumes, and choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky was an evocation of ancient pre-Christian Russia.  It was supposed to be an imaginary recreation of a ritual of human sacrifice to welcome the spring.  A woman chosen for the sacrifice dances herself to death.
This is what the audience saw after the curtain went up:

Here is the Joffrey Ballet's 1987 reconstruction of the original 1913 premier performance of The Rite of Spring.

Audiences used to Giselle and Swan Lake were horrified.  Instead of music with the fluid easy transitions that they expected, Stravinsky confronted them with shrieking dissonances and pounding driving repetitive rhythms.  Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography likewise disposed of the grace and fluidity of 19th century ballet for violent jerking motions and for clapping and stomping.  The sets and costumes by Nikolai Roerich were definitely not the taffeta confections audiences were used to.  Roerich intended them to be reconstructions (not evocations) of pre-Christian ancient Russia.
Some in the audience began loudly booing and shouting catcalls and insults.  Others who wanted to see the ballet began shouting back at the hecklers.  Rioting broke out in the audience complete with fist fights.  Supposedly, the noise was so loud that the dancers could not hear the orchestra and Nijinsky had to shout rhythm counts and cues to his dancers from backstage.  The critics in the newspapers pounced and public morality scolds editorialized about license and decadence.

The impressario of the Ballets Russe, Segei Diaghilev, was delighted.  There's nothing like scandal to drive ticket sales and to establish a reputation for avant-garde bravery.  The ballet continued for 5 more performances in Paris before moving on to London and the Drury Lane Theater.

Dancers from the original 1913 Paris production of The Rite of Spring wearing costumes designed by Nikolai Roerich

Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky in 1911

As abstract art made its public debut around the year 1913, so The Rite of Spring was a major break with the conventional aesthetics of music and ballet that opened up new possibilities to other composers and choreographers.

Stravinsky never wrote anything quite like The Rite of Spring again.  He would go on to write music that was more formal and not quite so expressionistic.

The Rite of Spring began as a scandal.  People at the time found this ballet to be deeply shocking and offensive.  Today, it is a standard part of the classical repertoire and a classic.

It is hard to remember that so much of the work we look at in this class deeply shocked and offended many people when it first appeared.  So many of the artworks in museums and illustrated in textbooks on art in the 19th and 20th centuries were considered scandals by the people who first saw them.

Here is The Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa performing Igor Stravinsky's score for The Rite of Spring:

Friday, October 8, 2010


Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, Blue Period

Pablo Picasso, The Saltimbanques, Rose Period

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907

Pablo Picasso, Three Women

Pablo Picasso, Ma Jolie, Analytical Cubism

Pablo Picasso, A Bottle of Suze, collage, Synthetic Cubism

Pablo Picasso, Man Leaning on a Table, Synthetic Cubism

Pablo Picasso, Guitar, sculpture made from sheet metal

George Braque, Houses at L'Estaque

George Braque, The Portuguese

Fernand Leger, Nude Figures in the Forest

Robert Delaunay, Homage to Bleriot

Robert Dealaunay, Simultaneous Contrasts; The Sun and Moon

Sonia Delaunay, Patchwork Quilt, 1911


Pablo Picasso
--Blue Period
--Rose Period
----George Braque
----Analytical Cubism
----Synthetic Cubism

Other Cubists
--George Braque
--Fernand Leger
--Robert Delaunay
--Sonia Delaunay

Read Chapter 7 in the textbook

A Cubist Movie

In 1924, the artist Fernand Leger collaborated with the American composer George Antheil to make this film, Ballet Mecanique (Mechanical Ballet). It has no plot and no story line. It is a rhythmic collection of random objects and images.
Here is part of that movie.