Surreal Encounters: Collecting the Marvellous
4 June – 11 September 2016
Surrealist works from four legendary private collections; those of Edward James, Roland Penrose, Gabrielle Keiller and Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch.
Championship-winning golfer, wartime ambulance driver and keen gardener, Gabrielle Keiller made for an unlikely art collector. Art was a passion, rather than an investment – Keiller made a point of only buying items that she had space to hang in her modestly sized cottage – and yet, the collection she amassed is considered among the most significant holding of surrealist art in the world.
It wasn't until the 1930s, following the sale of her share in a Texas ranch left to her by her grandmother, that Keiller had the funds to begin collecting art. Originally she sought Old Master paintings, furniture, silver and porcelain, but after meeting Peggy Guggenheim in Venice in the 1960s and seeing her collection of Dada and Surrealist works, Keiller changed focus. Over the following decades she acquired pieces by Max Ernst, René Magritte, Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters, Duchamp and Alberto Giacometti.
Keiller's collection is on display here, shown alongside those of British poet Edward James – close friend and early supporter of the Surrealists – artist and ICA co-founder Roland Penrose, and wealthy power couple Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch. The exhibition delves into the different impulses that informed these collections and, by presenting them together, presents a comprehensive account of the surrealist movement as a whole.
James was particularly close to René Magritte, from whom he commissioned a painting for the ballroom of his London home (where Magritte was a regular guest). The picture, Not to be Reproduced, is now one of the artist's most famous works, and features James staring into a mirror only to be presented with the back of his own head. It is one of the highlights of this show.