Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of going to see “Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938” at the NY’s Museum of Modern Art. It was a pleasure. There were many familiar “faces” and many new ones. Many paintings are from private collections and small European museums that I’ve never heard of. The exhibition is coming to Chicago in June 2014 so it’s worth checking out.

In the exhibition, the most interesting painting, “The Phantom Landscape” (1928) was a portrait of a woman with the word “Montagne” or “Mountain” written across her face. As I mentioned previously, Magritte is playing with the relationship between words, pictures, and reality. He questions whether the words we use to describe things are the best to do so. Maybe mountain is a better word for woman than woman? Or perhaps, he is referring to the contours of a woman’s face. The nose could be a mountain from the point of view of the eyelash or pore.

In one wall description, it talks about how Magritte was also playing with the notion of recognition and words. This was most evident in a painting, “The Palace with Curtains III” (1929) with two irregular frames. One had blue and white in it while the other had just the word “ciel” or “sky.” Because of this word, you can identify the white and blue painting as a depiction of sky. He has several paintings where he misnames items (ie. the Mountain and Lady). But the concept is reinforced by the exhibition itself.. After all, I am reading his titles and curator descriptions to understand what he was going for.

Another painting, “The Empty Mask” (1928) that I adored was a painting of what appeared to be the back of a painting with four words sectioned off: Sky, curtain, human body or forest, and facade of a home. This assemblage reminds me of traditional scenes in 17th-18th centuries: a scene of the garden/forest and home together. In Magritte’s painting, he’s asking you to assemble the image in your mind; instead of relying  on the artist to do it for you.

In addition to these paintings, there are many others that touch on various themes that Magritte worked on through 1926-1938. I highly recommend the exhibition when it comes here to Chicago. That’s all for now.


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