Dreamland: Explorations Into American Surrealism, 2007

Dreamland Catalog 2007After a while, the word “surreal” didn’t seem to mean anything at all. Many took it to mean “weird,” but it also stood in rather marvelously on those occasions when no other word quite seemed to fit the situation.

The surrealists couldn’t agree on the definition either. There were those who approached surrealist art from a highly intellectual position. These artists concerned themselves with metaphysical truth and conveying their understanding of Freud’s theory of the unconscious. Other artists were pushing the Dadaist assault on rationality. Still others used the term to decribe the visionary quality of their imagery.

If the debate among artists was serious, the art itself was more often playful. Visual and verbal puns, absurd juxtapositions, radical changes in scale, and soaring flights of fancy were employed to produce wildly disparate works. In Herbert Bayer’s imagination, hard rock could curl like fabric, while for Man Ray, bananas connoted planes. In Howard Warshaw’s world, a radish could be a fish, an eyeball, or just a radish.

Even for artists who were to make their careers in other styles, Surrealism proved important to their development. In the wider world of American art, the intuitive working method known as “automatism” [painting without thinking] led directly to the development of Abstract Expressionism.

The “American Dream” lies here exposed. It is richer, wilder, more raw, and more mysterious than I imagined.

- Jeremy Tessmer