Archive, Exhibitions

Exhibition exploring history of Surrealism launches at Atlas Gallery

Visit in Night, 1951 © Toshiko Okanoue. All images © the artist, courtesy Atlas Gallery

A new exhibitionwill explore how photographers responded to Surrealism over the course of over 50 years, including works by Man Ray, Andre Kertesz, Florence Henri and Bill Brandt to tell the history of the iconic avant-garde movement through photography.

Poet Andre Breton is credited with launching the Surrealist movement in Paris in 1924, when he and a group of avant-garde artists began to find ways of visualising the subconscious imagination.

Over time, the influence of the movement spread far and wide, as evidenced in the inclusion of collages by Japanese artist, Toshiko Okanoue from the 1950s in the exhibition at Atlas Gallery.

There are two broad types of surrealism – the oneiric, dream-like imagery evidenced in the work of Florence Henri, Roger Parry, Cesar Domela and later Bill Brandt.

And then there was automatism, a process of making which unleashed the unconscious by creating without conscious thought, as shown in some of the works by Man Ray.

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René Magritte at MOMA, 1965 © Steve Schapiro

The tropes and motifs of Surrealism – photomontage, solarisation, still life, nudes and the photograms – infiltrated the language of photography in the proceeding years.

This is demonstrated in the fashion photographs of Horst P. Horst, also included in the exhibition. Take, for example, Hosrt’s work Hands, Hands from 1941, a study of five disembodied hands.

The exhibition also includes photographers who documented surrealism and the figures associated with the medium, including Herbert List’s portrait of Jean Cocteau (1944) and Steve Schapiro’s portrait of Rene Margritte taken at MOMA, New York in 1965.

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Portrait Composition (E), 1937 © Florence Henri

The main focus of the exhibition is a selection of works by Man Ray, from well-known portraits of his one time lover and collaborator, Lee Miller, to his photograph Woman Smoking a Cigarette (1921), which demonstrates the Philadelphia-born photographs use of perspectives that, at the time, were unlike anything ever seen before.

Also featured is Man Ray’s fashion portrait incorporating his trademark solarisation, as well as a rare print of Untitled (Ostrich egg with stamp and sandpaper) from 1941.

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Ruths-Speicher, photomontage, 1928 © Cesar Domela

The exhibition also includes works by Florence Henri and Franz Roh whose work has rarely been seen in the UK.

Florence Henri (born New York, 1893), studied under László Moholy-Nagy before setting up her studio in Berlin, going on to become a central figure in the world of avant-garde photography in the 1920s.

The exhibition includes two works Composition Ombres, 1936 and Portrait Composition (E), 1937 – both remarkable for their experimental use of natural light and composition.

Two original photo collages and a vintage print are examples of ‘magic realism’ – a phrase coined by Roh, a historian, art critic and photographer, in 1925.

The Psychic Lens: Surrealism And The Camera exhibited at Paris Photo, Booth A9, Grand Palais, Paris. It’s on show from 24 November 2016 – 28 January 2017 at Atlas Gallery, London.

More information available here.