MoMA is doing things first, as usual.
This month, the Museum of Modern Art, New York opens the first major museum exhibition to explore the early years of René Magritte’s unique brand of Surrealism. Salvador Dalí has also been granted his own one-man show at the Pompidou Center, Paris, opening in November. The institutional bustle makes it seem as though Surrealism’s stars are aligning.
“René Magritte 1926-1938” certainly reflects a wider trend in the art market. With a dwindling amount of high-quality Impressionist and Modern artworks up for sale, auction totals in these areas – at one point astronomical – are leveling off. Surrealism – the erotically charged, awkward step brother of Impressionism – is finally having its day as top collectors search for the next big thing.
Impressive records have been set in the past 18 months. Dalí’s 1929 portrait of Paul Eluard, which was bought for a one-time record $2.3 million in 1989 at Christie’s New York, sold last February at Sotheby’s London for £13.5 million ($21.7 million). That landmark price for a Surrealist work sold at auction was toppled at the same auction house in June 2012, when Miró’s Peinture (Etoile bleue), 1927, went for a cool £23.5 million ($36.9 million).
Impactful yet demure, the works of Magritte seem but distant cousins of Dalí’s super-erotic dreamscapes. The connection is the intersection between waking life and dreams that both artists explore, and the unsettling effect created thereby. Specifically rendered detail in these impossible images betrays a mutual desire to depict an imagined world with enough precision as to make it real.
Writing for Artinfo, Judd Tully queries, “Given the recent spike in prices for all these sometimes nightmarish explorations of the 20th-century psyche, one naturally wonders: What is it about Surrealism that speaks to today’s collectors?”
The allure is surely based in the opportunity to own a small part of the fantasies and dreams of a most eventful century. Seeing an artist from your collection awarded a major retrospective can’t hurt, either.