Surrealism: the conjured life at the MCA of Chicago

Surrealism: the conjured life at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago is an exhibition running from Nov 21, 2015–Jun 5, 2016. The exhibition includes surrealist who participated in Breton’s original surrealist movement, as well as its influence in successive generations of artists (especially Chicago based artists.) These artists include Imagist Ed PaschkeGertrude AbercrombieH.C. Westermann, and Gladys Nilsson.

Surrealism: The Conjured Life presents more than 100 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs that demonstrate the deep currents that Surrealism sent through the international art world—and especially through Chicago—since its emergence in the first half of the twentieth century. A global movement that encompassed a wide number of art forms, including film, theater, poetry, and literature, Surrealism came of age with poet André Breton’s formal declaration in 1924. This deeply emotional and psychological art form flourished in the 1930s and 1940s—turbulent times of economic instability, rapidly changing social mores, and war.

The exhibition is built on a spiral inner wall of influential surrealists and expands outward to the artists they influenced, including Chicago artists from the so-called “Monster Roster” of the 1950s and ’60s as well as the Chicago Imagists.

Surrealism found fertile ground in Chicago, I think in part because the art history of this town was always looking at the figure and representational imagery. There were some abstract artists here of course, but the overriding style was representational, and surrealism is a representational art form which followed on the heels of a very abstract time for art in Europe. I think that was one of the reasons there was this convergence between what the surrealists were doing in Europe and then the sort of tastes or interests of the Chicago collectors and Chicago audiences.




Surrealist art brings dreams and reality closer together–sometimes uncomfortably so. The movement started in Paris in the 1920s and influenced generations of Chicago and other American artists. Its echoes are heard loud and clear today.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago dug deep into its holdings and brought forth a trove of surrealist art that is both foreign and familiar in the exhibition “Surrealism: The Conjured Life.”

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