René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle
24 June – 16 October 2011
Comprising some 100 works, many never before seen in the UK, René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle offers a thematic tour through the work of the great Belgian Surrealist.
Comprising some 100 works, many never before seen in the UK, René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle offers a thematic tour through the work of the great Belgian Surrealist. His well-known image-text paintings, men in bowler hats and double portraits are just the beginning of an exhibition that encompasses his erotic works and commercial designs. Also included are rarely-seen paintings from Magritte's provocative 'vache' period, in which he flirted with crude, 'bad' technique, scandalising the Paris art world. Both photography and rare home movie footage will help place these works in context, fleshing out Magritte's relationships with his fellow Surrealists.Magritte famously claimed that 'there is very little difference between seeing a work in reproduction and looking at the real thing'. It was an attitude that informed not only his art, but his commercial work, and the relationship between these two worlds is developed in the broad scope of this exhibition. Magritte's early experience as a designer of wallpaper and fashion advertisements, can be seen in his graphic style and tendency to appropriate pre-existing images into his work.Magritte's deliberate ignoring of the divide between commercial and artistic forms is symptomatic of the wilfulness of his art. It was his refusal to accept the boundaries between illusion and reality that transformed a talented draughtsman and advertising designer into the master Surrealist 'creator of images' we celebrate today.
The Human Condition (1933) showcases Magritte's playful, philosophical humour. One of a series of painting-within-a-painting works, the composition places the viewer by the open window of a room looking out onto what appears to be a landscape, but is revealed on closer inspection to be a painting on an easel. This visual sleight of hand has the effect of complicating and reframing the reality of the piece. As Magritte himself described it: 'For the spectator, [the tree] is both inside the room within the painting and outside in the real landscape.'Based on an illustration from a popular health manual, Magritte's Man with a Newspaper takes an everyday scene and imbues it with a sense of the uncanny. Repeated across four panels, the painting's sections are identical save for the presence in the top left of a man reading a newspaper. The effect is of a distorted comic strip, subverting the idea of coherent or explicable narrative, a distortion that is further aided by a slight change in the perspective in two of the frames.Related storiesAdrian Searle's article from the Guardian about Magritte's darker side and how familiarity has dulled our experience of his art.News story from the Telegraph about the Magritte family selling its unparalleled collection of the artist's work.Photo story from the Guardian about the reopening of the Magritte Museum in Brussels.David Wheatley's dramatised documentary about Magritte in 3 parts. In English but with Danish introductionTom Lubbock's Great Art series in the Independent: Magritte's An Attempt at the Impossible