Friday, November 21, 2008

Magritte's Birthday

Today is Belgian Surrealist painter René Magritte's birthday (thank you, Google). Most famous for his painting Son of Man, seen above (but unfortunately not located at the Met), Magritte joined contemporaries like Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Max Ernst and Man Ray in depicting the subconcious and other psychopoetic subject matter. Surrealism first emerged as an intellectual and political movement influenced by the breakthrough ideas of the time; namely, psychological theories and dream studies of Sigmund Freud and the political ideas of Karl Marx.

I decided to celebrate by visiting The Eternally Obvious, the only Magritte painting currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It hangs in a room with colorful, surrealist paintings by Miró, Dalí, Braque and Picasso, and it stands out because of its more "realistic" style. The figure is painted accurately, segmented in gold frames and arranged on what would approximately be the correct place on the body. Not only does it stand out in with its style, but also because it is perhaps one of the most provocative works in the Modern Art collection (a tall order). I overheard two girls say, "That's interesting/That's disgusting! That's not even...," her voice trailing off. Perhaps it was the pubic hair placed at eye level that repulsed her. Anyway, it was then that I decided to sit and observe other people looking at it. In the fifteen or so minutes I sat there, the painting caught several people's attention, provoking smiles from some, scoffs from others. Some didn't want to look but I caught them do a double-take, while others stopped to read the caption. A school group came through and two boys about eight years old giggled as they looked up at it and said, "Is that hair? Oh my god!" Below is a slideshow of a few observers.


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