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Art Alert—AGO Enters the Surreal World

<i>Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach</i>, Salvador Dalí, 1938-39<br>(© Salvador Dalí Fundacio, Gala-Salvador Dalí/SODRAC 2009)This weekend marks the opening of a major Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition that puts a fresh spin on one of the early 20th century’s most analyzed artistic movements—surrealism.

On now through August 30, “Surreal Things” assembles 180 works from surrealism’s classic period (typically said to fall between World Wars I and II) and examines how the form, originally founded on the avant-garde and socialist leanings of its principals, came to be adopted and influenced by commercial fields such as design, advertising and fashion.

While it is by no means a generic survey, the exhibition nonetheless proceeds somewhat chronologically from surrealism’s early connection to design (by way of artists Max Ernst and Joan Miró and their collaboration with the Ballets Russes) to its shift toward constructed objects produced by the likes of Salvador Dalí, Meret Oppenheim and Léonor Fini, and then onto the intermingling of surrealist art with advertising and other commercial industries.

Other thematically intriguing points of entry: A section dedicated to domestic environments seen through a Freudian lens in such works as René Magritte’s The Anniversary and The Tempest; fashion pieces by Elsa Schiaperelli, which make explicit the sexual and psychological associations of clothing as part of surrealism’s broader scrutiny of the human body; and many examples of the movement’s fascination with both the symbolism of nature and “biomorphism”—the aesthetic application of organic forms, as demonstrated by the sculptural oeuvre of Isamu Noguchi and others.

The AGO is currently the sole North American venue for this touring exhibition organized by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (it has previously drawn large crowds in Rotterdam and Bilbao), and offers some 40 works that were not part of the show’s European incarnation.

(Click any image to open a slideshow of works from the Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibition, Surreal Things.)

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