Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mae West: Toronto

A new exhibition in Canada will feature artwork inspired by MAE WEST.
• • "The Surrealists were the sly, decadent, mocking enemies of everything in modern culture that encouraged simplicity," writes Robert Fulford — — unintentionally (perhaps) conjuring up the Empress of Sex who was a sly, mocking pooh-pooher of everything in American culture that encouraged old-fashioned simplicity for women.
• • Until the end of August 2009, Mae and artistic mayhem are on display at the show "Surreal Things" — — Art Gallery of Ontario [Musée des beaux-arts de l’Ontario], 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 1G4. Toll free: 1-877-225-4246.
• • Fulford's article in Canada's National Post comes billboarded with a large, luscious photograph of the Mae West Lips Sofa. Here's a bite-size portion of his frisky essay.
• • Robert Fulford writes: It's a surprise to glimpse the worried faces of Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck flickering across a wall in the midst of an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. But Surreal Things (to August 30) is a surprising show. It's an engrossing, revealing essay in what we can call Applied Surrealism, the process by which avant-garde European artists started out as revolutionaries and ended up as fashion designers, advertising artists, and all-purpose idea mongers.
• • An enemy of Surrealism could say that this far-ranging collection of outlandish objects proves that the Surrealists became handmaidens of consumerism by turning art into a comic turn. An admirer, on the other hand, could argue that they simply made themselves useful according to the standards of their (and our) time. Either way, they stretched their influence far beyond the Parisian art world where their ideas were first cobbled together.
• • In Spellbound — — Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 thriller — — Bergman and Peck play a psychiatrist and her amnesia-victim patient. Scenes from that film appear at the AGO because Hitchcock hired Salvador Dalí to design the Peck character's dreams. Dalí of course turned out Dalí-esque nightmares that Bergman decoded, saving her patient and solving a murder.
• • Dalí was the man for that job. He loved to blur the borders of art and show business and loved to play with Freud-inflected images. He emerges as the undoubted star of Surreal Things — — and deserves to, no matter what we think of his art. A large constituency has always restrained its enthusiasm for his painting. Even in his best days, each Dalí picture would begin as a sensation, develop into a curiosity, and then calcify into a bore.
• • His pictures are slick, superficial and forgettable
— — less interesting by far than Max Ernst's paintings, less memorable than René Magritte's, less piquant than Man Ray's.
• • Even so, Dalí emerges as a titan in any account of how the Surrealists infiltrated the fashionable imagination. When artists rushed to the marketplace like 21st-century geeks auctioning their great ideas for computer games, Dalí led the pack. In the mid-1920s he was a newly-minted Spanish Surrealist, alive with what looked like inflammatory desires. By the mid-1930s, in New York, he was designing windows for Bonwit Teller, a high-end dress shop on Fifth Avenue. Using Surrealism as a marketing tool, he titled his first window, "She was a Surrealist Woman. She was like a Figure in a Dream."
• • Mae West's Lips • •
• • The most numerous and memorable of the things in Surreal Things are Dalí products, like the loveseat that reproduces Mae West's lips, the telephone with its receiver shaped like a lobster, and a brooch in the shape of a mouth with lips of ruby, teeth of pearls. Dalí illustrates the thesis of Ghislaine Wood, the curator who put the show together for the Victoria and Alberta Museum in London two years ago: The very themes of Surrealism lent themselves to commercialization. (The AGO gift shop gets right into the spirit by offering "Parfums Salvador Dalí.")
• • Ghislaine Wood took the show to Rotterdam and Bilbao with great success and presents it here in a somewhat altered version, with some 40 pieces from the AGO's own collection and several other North American museums, most notably the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn., which became, in the 1930s, the first North American museum to take Surrealism seriously.
• • "Surréalisme," coined by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1917 to describe his own writing, was later confiscated by André Breton for his plans to free humanity from the twin curses of capitalism and sexual repression. Ideally, Surrealism would create a culture of unfettered dreams. Humanity, granted this intellectual and spiritual liberation, would build a revolutionary society. . . .
• • Article continues at the National Post site — — and go see the Mae West Lips photo.
— — Excerpt: — —
• • Article: "You’ll want to dilly Dalí"
• • Byline: By Robert Fulford
• • Published in: Canada's National Post — —
• • Published on: 11 May 2009

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