5 Surrealist Works of Art and Where to Find Them

What is surrealism? The movement that began in the early 1920’s was artistic, literary and intellectual. Artists who identified with the movement sought to channel the unconscious, to denature rational thought and ultimately unleash the full potential of their imagination in order to highlight the “superior reality” of the subconscious mind.  

Andre Breton, the founder of surrealism, described the surrealist movement as “a violent reaction against the impoverishment and sterility of thought processes that resulted from centuries of rationalism.”

Here are our favorite works of surrealist art and where to find them.

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René Magritte

“The False Mirror.” 1928. Oil on canvas. © 2017 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. 

On view at The Museum of Modern Art.

To René Magritte, what was concealed within a painting was far more important than what was explicit. He demonstrated a consistent surrealist style throughout his career; the use of inanimate objects within a human form and creating a painting within a painting were reoccurring themes within his work.

The False Mirror invites the viewer to experience the world differently. Magritte presents the eye as the main object, removed from the face. This removal allows the viewer to experience the eye in a new context and draw their own unusual conclusions to what Magritte is putting on display. Is he asking the viewer to reconsider the concept of objective/subjective sight? Is he asking the viewer to look within themselves? Or is this painting a simple reflection of  the sky and the sight of the subject?

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Salvador Dalí

“Madonna.” 1958. Oil on canvas. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

On view in the online collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Exposed to Surrealism on a trip to Paris, Salvador Dalí went from an experimenter to becoming an iconic figure within the movement- he was expelled from the movement in the years following by André Breton himself. Frequent themes in his art include decay,eroticism and death; psychoanalytical theories, such as the Freudian theory, played a large role in the representation of  Dalí’s work. Religious imagery , animal imagery and fetishes are also abundant in his work- reflecting on his own memories and state of mind.  

This piece was created at end of the surrealist movement. Following his forced separation with the movement Dalí continued to harness the portrayal of the subconscious  in art by use of mysticism. Madonna demonstrates this in the form of an optical illusion. 

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Méret Oppenheim

“Object.” 1936. Fur-covered cup, saucer and spoon. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Pro Litteris, Zurich

On view in the online collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Méret Oppenheim rejected the typical “place” for a women in surrealism. She was not the subject or the muse for the male surrealists. She was, instead, one of  the central artists of the surrealist movement. Oppenheim produced some of the movement’s  most influential pieces.  

Viewed by many as the definitive surrealist art piece, Object provokes a discussion about what is and can be considered civilized. In society Tea and Fur are separately regarded as products of the civilized world. Although they are both civilized products, why is the marriage of the two regarded as unsightly and uncivilized? Oppenheim’s work asks the viewer to reconsider the concept of “civilized” and regard the social construction of these objects. 

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Yves Tanguy

“There, Motion Has Not Yet Ceased.” 1945. Oil on canvas. © 2016 Estate of Yves Tanguy/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

On view in the online collection of the Guggenheim.

Yves Tanguy  was, stylistically, the ideal surrealist- his style was pure, raw and fluid in form. The self-taught painter created works that were solemn and barren  apart from scattered with geological formations. Tanguy  presents his audience with murky dreamscapes that are, at once, otherworldly and familiar. 

There, Motion Has Not Yet Ceased (Là ne finit pas encore le mouvement) presents the viewer with a dreamscape reminiscent of  war- death and destruction.  The viewer is presented with a confrontation between human-like figures outfitted in military gear and a rectangular structure that appears to be the prison for structures similar to organs. The prison is crowded and full with odd shaped figures. Outside of those confines, the air is foggy and grey, the setting is barren. This work can be read as a timely commentary on the gas chambers during the holocaust. 

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André Breton

“Untitled.” 1935. Decalcomania (ink transfer) on paper.© 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

On view in the online collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Last, but certainly not least, the founder of surrealism André Breton. Breton wrote the “the Manifeste du surréalisme” (Surrealism Manifesto) in 1924 and defined defined pure psychic automatism.  Pure psychic automatism- as described by Brenton reflects the actual functioning of thought through the rejection of control exercised by reason.  In both his written work and art Breton practiced automatism, allowing his unconscious drive the creative process. 

The medium for Untitled is Decalcomania (ink transfer) on paper. The process of this employing this medium, becomes the art. The process of Decalcomania requires the artist to spread paint on a canvas and cover it with supplemental material while it’s still wet. Before the paint dries the material is removed. The resulting pattern then becomes the finished piece. The finished piece is a reflection of the artist’s unconscious- what the audience can read into based on the piece will differ. 

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