Magritte, the great illusionist

September 12, 2021 by archyde

He insisted that a pipe is not a pipe. And he convinced us all of it. Created a Fantastic world –With its own stamp and clearly identifiable by the general public– where men with bowlers that levitate they have apples for faces, where it is night and day at the same time, and in which there are birds and people with sky ‘skin’, that hypnotic Magritte sky of deep blue, covered with clouds, which has become his hallmark. As with any good magician worth his salt, nothing is what it seems, and the tricks of this great illusionist are hidden from the viewer. Magritte brings out bold and magnetic compositions capable of

to question reality.

‘High society’ (1965-1966). Telefónica Collection – © RENÉ MAGRITTE, VEGAP, MADRID, 2021

The original and highly personal universe of René Magritte (1898-1967) it is full of images as beautiful and suggestive as they are strange. He liked riddles that couldn’t be solved, inexplicable mysteries. “There are no answers in my paintings,” he said, “only questions.” Ninety-five questions (corresponding to as many of his works, donated by museums, galleries and private collections around the world) to unravel in the exhibition with which the season opens the Thyssen Museum. It is the first retrospective in Madrid dedicated to the great Belgian artist, one of the great names of surrealism, from which the Juan March Foundation held in 1989.

Curated by Guillermo Solana, artistic director of the Thyssen Museum, the exhibition began to be conceived back in 2015. It should have opened in autumn 2020, but was delayed by the pandemic, what has caused dances on loans. “When we had everything insured, in June of last year the loans began to be canceled one by one. In America everything was closed, private collectors did not want to know anything … We had to postpone it for a year and start over from scratch. There have been loans that have failed, but also previously denied paintings that have been lent now, “explains the commissioner. Although the insurance for most of the works exhibited is covered by the State guarantee, he has noticed a considerable increase in the price of transport: “It will cost us more to do the exhibitions.”

Magritte, the great illusionist

‘La firma en blanco’ (1965). The National Gallery of Art, Washington – © RENÉ MAGRITTE, VEGAP, MADRID, 2021

Organized by Thyssen together with the ‘la Caixa’ Foundation, it has the support of the Magritte Foundation and the collaboration of the Community of Madrid. It can be visited at the Thyssen September 14 to January 30, 2022 and then it will travel to the CaixaForum Barcelona, ​​with some changes. “They will have two works that I envy: ‘The sense of realities’, from the Miyazaki Art Museum, and ‘The violation’, from the Pompidou, which has not been able to travel to Madrid because it coincides with another exhibition in Paris”. The title of the exhibition, ‘La Magritte Machine’, «Wants to point out the character, not systematic, but methodical, of the Belgian painter’s work. The numerous replicas and variants in Magritte’s work they were not only a commercial resource, but, as he said, a way of ‘clarifying the mystery better, of owning it better,’ “says Solana. Brand of the house, the themes return obsessively in his always magnetic production. Thinking canvases that they could have come out of that universal painting machine dreamed of by the Belgian surrealists in ‘La Manufacture de Poésie’.

Magritte defined his painting as “an art of thinking.” «All his work is a reflection on painting», Says Guillermo Solana. Heir to the old masters of the trompe l’oeil, «Uses it with a conceptual, intellectual purpose, to reflect on what painting is. We tend to credit images. He makes us doubt what we see, makes us aware of the lie of the images, of the lie of art».

Magritte, the great illusionist

‘Sheherezade’ (1950). Private collection. Courtesy Vedovi Gallery, Brussels – © RENÉ MAGRITTE, VEGAP, MADRID, 2021

For this use Magic Tricks: the painting within the painting, the window, the mirror, the figure from behind …, which will be paraded through the seven sections into which the exhibition is divided. Start the tour with ‘The powers of the magician’, which brings together three of the four known self-portraits of Magritte, in which he adopts an ironic attitude towards the myths related to the creative genius. «The idea of ​​the artist as a magician is very frequented by surrealism, but the surrealists of Paris took it literally, they thought that the artist had clairvoyant gifts. Magritte, on the other hand, has a sense of humor, from irony, which those did not have. He sees himself more like an illusionist than a magician capable of doing wonders, ”says Guillermo Solana. His self-portraits are analyzed, “not as an autobiographical expression, but as an exploration of the figure of the artist and the superpowers attributed to him.” In ‘Tentative of the impossible’ (1928), Magritte paints a naked woman, a product of his imagination: «It is a version of the Pygmalion myth, of artistic creation identified with desire, of the power of imagination to produce reality ». In ‘The Philosophical Lamp’ (1936) the artist is portrayed with two of his fetish elements, symbols with clear sexual connotations: nose and pipe.

We left Magritte seen by Magritte, and went through the mirror, which Alice in Wonderland (the painter was a great admirer of Lewis Carroll), to discover a dream world, in which Magritte mixes images and words, as Cubists, Futurists, Dadaists and other Surrealists have already done.

Another of the most recognizable aspects of Magrittian production are collages and silhouettes, which look like cut out papers; as well as the investment of figures and funds, and the subject of the box within the box. All his work is also plagued with back figures, as did another famous surrealist, Giorgio de Chirico, or figures from the front but who hide their faces with a white cloth. There are those who see behind it a tragic episode that Magritte experienced in his adolescence. At 14 years, his mother committed suicide. He jumped into the river Sambre and they found his body with his head covered by his own nightgown. That image obsessed him and he captured it in works such as “The Lovers.”

Magritte, the great illusionist

‘Tentative of the impossible’ (1928). Toyota Municipal Museum of Art – © RENÉ MAGRITTE, VEGAP, MADRID, 2021

Finally, the exhibition addresses two forms of metamorphosis present in Magritte’s work: mimicry (objects and bodies that are masked in their environment) and megalomania (scale changes that remove these objects and bodies from their usual environment). This is the case of ‘Delusions of grandeur’: a female sculptural torso divided into three hollow parts. Solana explains that for this series Magritte was inspired by Carroll’s Alice: «When it increases in size, Alicia says: ‘I would like to become a telescope so that I can extend myself’. Magritte paints the shapes of a spyglass. The body can change the scale voluntarily.

«Dalí and Magritte They are closely related, they influenced each other, they shared many things. Like his adherence to figurative language. But they also have big differences. Dalí was a fan of Freud and psychoanalysis, while Magritte was not interested in all of this, ”says the curator. In its first stage, with words and biomorphic forms, it has a great influence of I look –With whom she had a great contact in Paris– but in this case not recognized.

The exhibition is completed with an installation, on the first floor of the museum, of fOtographies and home movies made by the artist. He never considered himself a photographer, but he felt a great attraction for film and photography. This treasure was discovered in the 70s.

The exhibition does not try to dismantle the clichés and clichés about Magritte: «He tries to show how your imaginary works. Behind the apparent absurdity of the Magrittian imaginary there is sustained logic and method. There is a component of mystery and enigma that should not be eliminated, but I hope that the viewer leaves the exhibition understanding much more of a coherent artist, with a certain methodical and logical sense ”.

Magritte’s works are as recognizable and popular as Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, or Munch’s ‘The Scream’. Magritte, Solana warns, «is a great producer of icons. But that success has a risk: you run the risk that it will all boil down to those anecdotal motives. His work goes much further. People reduce Magritte to the pipe, the bowler hat, the apple and the sky. And this is not Magritte. But this is indeed a Magritte exhibition, although he would surely deny it.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my