The Color of Dreams
By Carol Berens
posted: 06-21-11
Claude Cahun Self portrait [as weight trainer] 1927, printed 2011 inkjet print Jersey Heritage Collection
Image Source

There is something about surrealism that inspires people to cast off their inhibitions, act out their dreams and fantasies, play with words, and invent bad puns. That is exactly what the organizers of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s major summer show, The Colour of My Dreams: The Surrealist Revolution in Art, were counting on.


On certain Fridays, the Vancouver Art Gallery hosts live performances—FUSE events—and its June 17th evening of dance, cabaret, and visual art cheekily entitled L.H.O.O.Q (after Marcel Duchamp’s infamous punning title for moustache Mona Lisa) was modeled after the surrealists’ sense of play. Performers, including MOVE, House of La Douche, The Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret and many more, transformed the gallery space with their own works inspired by the Surrealists, either by re-interpreting historical works or inventing new ones. To be sure, gender politics and psychoanalysis were explored and exploited. Sections of Surrealist texts were projected, an early modernist opera performed in drag and historic manifestoes presented along with contemporary speeches.


The massive exhibition itself showcases 350 works by André Breton, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Cornell and René Magritte among others—the most comprehensive Surrealism retrospective ever mounted in Canada. The opening gala event was a Surrealist Dinner entitled “Revolution by Night.” It kicked off with a “Prelude to a Dream” (a surreal salad), then segued to “The Illusion” (French onion soup soufflé). The palate cleanser of liquid nitrogen, or Dragon’s Breath, made way for the main dish, which was, of course, entitled The Revolution. A “Cumulus Conclusion” or meringue cloud topped off the meal.


Meanwhile, the paintings, sculpture and drawing were supplemented with a film program highlighting early works by Charlie Chaplin, F.W. Murnau and Luis Buñel and tracking surrealism’s influence on the contemporary cinema of David Lynch and Terrence Malick.   Bringing the work closer to home, the curator, Dawn Ades, delved into the connection between the mostly European Surrealists and indigenous British Columbia and Alaskan art—presenting actual pieces collected by Andre Breton and Enrico Donati and acquired during pilgrimages made by Kurt Seligmann and Wolfgang Paalens (members of the Surrealist circle from Switzerland and Austria, respectively). Native masks and headpieces from their collections are shown side-by-side with works of Max Ernst and De Chirico. Were the surrealists aesthetically intrigued with these pieces? Did they feel that artists of these cultures were better able to access and authentically interpret their unconscious than Europeans? The exhibition leaves these questions up for speculation.


Regardless, this summer’s the time to head to Vancouver to reacquaint yourself with some old art friends and make some new ones: Colour of My Dreams will not be traveling after its closing on September 25th. Don’t forget to bring your unconscious along—it will have more fun than you.

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