“Surrealism in Paris”

I wouldn’t call myself a Neanderthal. I wouldn’t call myself a Renaissance Woman either. I classify myself somewhere between the scruffy scientist bound to the unromantic world of Laws and Equations; and the refined ballroom dancer who laahves the theatre, dahling.

I like Art. I like Culture. I am happy to spend a couple of hours wandering around a museum, even on a sunny day. If somebody invites me to a concert or theatre show I’m unlikely to decline on the basis of “It’s not my thing.” (However, it isn’t something I do regularly, or on my own initiative.)

Therefore, when I was invited by the Basel Area Social & Sports Meetup Club to go to the Surrealism in Paris exhibition at the Fondation Beyler, I thought…yeah, why not?

The Fondation Beyler is located in Riehen, Switzerland: an unassuming village set a couple of kilometres north of Basel, right on the Swiss-German border. It took me about 30 min to walk from my house. Despite it’s out-of-the-way setting, the Foundation has an impressive worldwide reputation thanks to its stellar collection of modernist art. Despite it being Sunday afternoon in chilly November, the Surrealism in Paris exhibit was crowded. Several of the people I attended the exhibit with had already been and decided that it warranted a second visit to try and take it all in.

Like I said, I’m not an art hound. I frequently worry about not “getting” a piece of art. Well, I guess I’ve never been trained in the matter. Going on a guided tour (English) at the start of my visit to the Fondation helped me a lot: the guide contextualised the Surrealism movement (from it’s origins in Dadaism and spread across Europe), the artists themselves and talked to us about some of the most significant paintings. After the guided tour when we were left to explore the art works further, I felt in a far better frame of mind to do so.

For instance – if you are told that the painting below is entitled “A Moment of Calm” and was created in 1939 by Max Ernst, you can begin to understand what it might be about, can’t you?

"A Moment of Calm" Max Ernst

Dictionary: Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.” Andre Breton, one of the founders of the Surrealism Movement. 

The Surrealism art is very dream-like. Inspired by Freud’s ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ the movement sought to express themselves in a way that mirrored the subconscious. The movement existed during a turbulent time in European history: founded after the First World War, and continuing well into the 1950s. Surrealism has its roots in rebellion against the status quo and can be seen as a voice of protest.

"The Dominion of Light" Rene Magritte

My favourite piece of artwork in the whole exhibit has to be “The Dominion of Light” by Rene Magritte. Magritte’s paintings are more naturalistic than the abstract works of Dali and many of the other Surrealists: however, they are also some of the most provocative. They are great juxtapositions in his pieces, often between the picture and its’ title. I must admit, it took me several seconds of looking at this picture before I worked out what was “wrong” with it. Kudos to Magritte.


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