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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Exhibitions - René Magritte - The Pleasure Principle - Tate Liverpool

Star rating – 8/10

This fascinating exhibition of the work of Belgian Surrealist painter René Magritte at Tate Liverpool includes some really brilliant paintings, and helps to reveal a much more interesting side to the artist himself than I imagined.

His 1928 depiction of a man and woman kissing, whilst their heads are shrouded in white material, ‘The Lovers’, is beautiful and haunting as it shows how such an intimate experience can also be so remote and isolating. There are lots of pictures of faceless dummies seemingly coming to life like something out of Doctor Who. Magritte was also a commercial wallpaper designer and designed theatre sets, both of which disciplines shine through in some of his work.

He liked to depict abstract shapes in strange settings, and philosophised about the nature of representation in painting. One piece, shown here only in replica rather than the original, is a glass dome with a painting of a piece of cheese inside, entitled, ‘This is a Piece of Cheese’. Magritte obviously played with the titles of his pieces as much as the images he created themselves. His picture defiantly entitled ‘Ceci n’est pas une pomme’ of an obvious bright green apple is another case in point.

Magritte used visual elements of his pictures to conceal other images lying behind them, like his 1926 ‘Panorama for the Populace’ showing some homes, with a cut away forest above them, with a cut away beach above that. His 1933 ‘The Human Condition’ shows a picture on an easel, which almost seamlessly blends in with the sky behind the picture itself. This is very visually interesting and causes the viewer to ponder for a while on the multiple realities they are being asked to view.

His many images of men in bowler hats were really self portraits, as he wanted to present an anonymous image of himself to the world. His famous 1953 ‘Golconda’ shows a multitude of bowler hatter city gents set against houses and a blue sky. This was apparently his attempt to emphasise the ordinariness of everyday life, although I’m not sure why you would want to be reminded of such banality in a picture but there you go.

Apart from ‘The Lovers’, the other stand out painting in this collection for me is ‘Time Transfixed’, which was commissioned by an English aristocrat, Edward James, and shows a steam engine coming out of a fireplace. It was hung in James’ London house above the actual fireplace depicted by Magritte, and so must have been very visually arresting in its unique setting.

This is a great exhibition that proves that there is much more to Magritte’s work than the cartoonish depictions of apples; pipes; clouds; and bowler hats, which he is sometimes reduced to in order to sell commercial products.

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