Illusionist and disturbing: the great exhibition on Magritte takes the Thyssen

This is not a fall 2020 show. This is from September 2021 and it was almost gone. ‘The Magritte machine’, 95 canvases from different institutions, galleries and private collections that can be seen in the Thyssen Museum in Madrid (and later in the Caixaforum in Barcelona), could have been another victim of the second wave of the pandemic, when a year ago the world gave another bolt. Loans stopped, insecurity increased – there were no physical couriers: those who control the transfer of paintings – and what was to be last fall disappeared. But as with illusionism, what is not can be if you look at it differently. And it happened: Magritte finally arrived in Madrid to stay for a while. Until January 30.

This sample could have been another victim of the second wave of the pandemic, when a year ago the world gave another bolt

“It has been a very complicated project also because Magritte is complicated. When you think you have caught it, it has escaped you ”, he acknowledged this morning Guillermo Solana, artistic director of the Thyssen, during the presentation (curiously virtual) of the exhibition for which the Magritte Foundation was assisted. For six years, when he drew up the idea together with the curator Paula Luengo, there was a lot of desire for this Belgian painter, champion of surrealism and that he defined his painting as the art of thinking. Hence, like Dalí, he fiddles with paradoxical images where everyday life meets estrangement. The mask with reality. What is with what goes unnoticed by the human eye. And hence, “like Dalí, today he is considered one of the three or four most coveted painters of the 20th century. Each museum has to be ripped off its Magritte ”, added Solana. They have finally achieved the largest exhibition in Spain since the March Foundation held back in 1989.

“It has been a very complicated project also because Magritte is complicated. When you think you have caught it, it has escaped you “

The title is not trivial. The brushes of the creator of ‘This is not a pipe’, who began painting in the 1920s, are owned by el absurdo beckettiano -Perhaps we should think if in these twenties of our era we are not going towards a certain absurdity-, but as Solana explained, “it was very rigorous and methodical. There was a procedure ”. There is no chaos in Magritte. On the contrary, as Polonio said in ‘Hamlet’: “If it is madness, there is a method.” This is very well observed in the variations of the different paintings. “There are images that win with variations. We wanted the viewer to see their creation process and how the mind continued to function after having the idea. He was very obsessive”, Pointed out the artistic director.

‘The Philosophical Lamp’ and ‘The Magician’

The image lies to you

The entire sample is organized by theme, although you can also see a certain evolution over time. The author of ‘The Threatened Assassin’ was interested in showing that images are always suspiciousThat the idea that an image is worth a thousand words is false, and that manipulation is almost part of its essence. And he did it a hundred years before Instagram filters, profile photos and selfies from hyper-searched frames. The lie and the betrayal of the image, To the order of the day. Over time, such an explanation would go from the most abstract to the figurative, also one of the keys to making it accessible today to the great mass that visit museums.

‘This is still not a pipe’

The first room reveals the self-portraits of this painter magician in which, explained from the museum, underlies “an ironic attitude towards the myth of the creative genius “. Magritte laughs at canvases such as ‘The Philosophical Lamp’ (1936), in which he produces the encounter between two fetish elements of the painter, both endowed with ssexual imbolism: the nose and the pipe. In ‘Tentative of the impossible’ (1928), he is painting a naked woman; he is real and she is just a figment of his imagination, suspended between existence and nothingness. It is a version of the Pygmalion myth, of artistic creation identified with desire, of the power of the imagination to produce reality, says the museum note. In ‘The Magician’ (1951) the painter appears using his superpowers to feed himself.

In turn, he abounds in the question of the image-trap with variations such as ‘This is still not a pipe’ (1952). It is precisely this irony that most distances him from the group of surrealists, since he preferred to investigate this question of the false (which is much more postmodern than surreal) instead of the dreamlike and obsessive. And, hence also, that it turned out so attractive to philosophers like Foucault.

In the foreground, ‘The difficult journey’

In the part dedicated to the figure and background, the influence that collage had is explained, although he did not use it too much either. More interesting is how he began to turn solid bodies into holes through which another landscape can be seen. This is the case in paintings like ‘The Annunciation’. In this search highlights the theme of the painting and the window. Or what is the same, the painting within another painting to investigate the perspective as the Renaissance did for the first time. But he reduces it to the absurd with paintings such as ‘The difficult journey (1926),’ Euclides ‘walks’ (1955) or the fabulous ‘The key to the fields’ (1936).

One of the most famous paintings is ‘The Rape’, although it is not present in this exhibition. It is representative of what he did with the human figure: cover it up, turn it into something else (a naked body) or place an object on it, as happens with the apple from ‘The Son of Man’. Yes you can see ‘Spiritual Exercises’ (1936), the naked body of a woman whose head is a ball (as if it were an empty emoticon). Or ‘The enchanted area’, with apples with masks (like the figure of the Max theater awards).

‘The enchanted realm’

In addition to covering faces, the Belgian liked disturb the viewer by changing objects from their natural context to another in which they had nothing to do. One of the most obvious is ‘Personal Values’ (1952), with that giant comb, that small bed, that huge shaving brush and that glass as the main protagonist. As if at some point they were going to talk to each other (that could happen in a Disney movie).

‘Personal values’

Magritte lived part of his life in Paris, where he related to the surrealists, but from 1930 he would go to Brussels, city in which he settled forever. His fame would grow and already in the thirties he would exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. It almost always revolved around a series of obsessions (the pipe, the woman’s naked body, the rocks, the holes). “Since my first exhibition, in 1926, (…) I have painted a thousand pictures, but I have not conceived more than a hundred of those images we are talking about. This thousand paintings is the result of frequently painting variants of my images: it is my way of clarifying the mystery better, of owning it better ”, said the painter himself.

The exhibition collects these obsessions and also offers photographs and films made by himself in which everyday images and friends appear. It was about to not be held, but it is one of the exhibitions of the year.

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