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Movements Surrealism

Surrealism

Started: 1924

Ended: 1966

Quotes

"Beloved imagination, what I most like in you is your unsparing quality."
André Breton
"Knowing how to look is a way of inventing."
Salvador Dalí
"Art is the fatal net which catches these strange moments on the wing like mysterious butterflies, fleeing the innocence and distraction of common men."
Giorgio de Chirico
"Collage is the noble conquest of the irrational, the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance, upon a plane which apparently does not suit them."
Max Ernst
"Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see."
Rene Magritte
"Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist."
Rene Magritte
"The works must be conceived with fire in the soul but executed with clinical coolness."
Joan Miró
"Nature does not create works of art. It is we, and the faculty of interpretation peculiar to the human mind, that see art."
Man Ray
"Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision."
Salvador Dalí
"Surrealism had a great effect on me because then I realized that the imagery in my mind wasn't insanity. Surrealism to me is reality."
John Lennon
"[the contribution was in their determination] to tap the creative and imaginative forces of the mind at their source in the unconscious and, through the increase in self-knowledge achieved by confronting people by their real nature, to change society."
Simon Wilson, from preface to Dalí exhibition at Tate Gallery, London, 1980
"Creativity is that marvelous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition."
Max Ernst
"Contrary to prevalent misdefinitions, surrealism is not an aesthetic doctrine, nor a philosophical system, nor a mere literary or artistic school. It is an unrelenting revolt against a civilization that reduces all human aspirations to market values, religious impostures, universal boredom and misery."
Franklin Rosemont, from André Breton and the First Principles of Surrealism
"Putting psychic life in the service of revolutionary politics, Surrealism publicly challenged vanguard modernism's insistence on 'art for art's sake.' But Surrealism also battled the social institutions - church, state, and family - that regulate the place of women within patriarchy. In offering some women their first locus for artistic and social resistance, it became the first modernist movement in which a group of women could explore female subjectivity and give form (however tentatively) to a feminine imaginary."
Whitney Chadwick, from Women, Surrealism, and Self-Representation

KEY ARTISTS

André BretonAndré Breton
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Hans ArpHans Arp
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Max ErnstMax Ernst
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Salvador DalíSalvador Dalí
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Alberto GiacomettiAlberto Giacometti
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Joan MiróJoan Miró
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Rene MagritteRene Magritte
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Man RayMan Ray
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Yves TanguyYves Tanguy
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Leonora CarringtonLeonora Carrington
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Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
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Meret OppenheimMeret Oppenheim
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Hans RichterHans Richter
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Hans BellmerHans Bellmer
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Luis BunuelLuis Bunuel
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Claude CahunClaude Cahun
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André MassonAndré Masson
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"Although the dream is a very strange phenomenon and an inexplicable mystery, far more inexplicable is the mystery and aspect our minds confer on certain objects and aspects of life."

Synopsis

The Surrealist artists sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Disdaining rationalism and literary realism, and powerfully influenced by psychoanalysis, the Surrealists believed the rational mind repressed the power of the imagination, weighting it down with taboos. Influenced also by Karl Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution. Their emphasis on the power of personal imagination puts them in the tradition of Romanticism, but unlike their forbears, they believed that revelations could be found on the street and in everyday life. The Surrealist impulse to tap the unconscious mind, and their interests in myth and primitivism, went on to shape many later movements, and the style remains influential to this today.

Key Ideas

André Breton defined Surrealism as "psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express - verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner - the actual functioning of thought." What Breton is proposing is that artists bypass reason and rationality by accessing their unconscious mind. In practice, these techniques became known as automatism or automatic writing, which allowed artists to forgo conscious thought and embrace chance when creating art.
The work of Sigmund Freud was profoundly influential for Surrealists, particularly his book, The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). Freud legitimized the importance of dreams and the unconscious as valid revelations of human emotion and desires; his exposure of the complex and repressed inner worlds of sexuality, desire, and violence provided a theoretical basis for much of Surrealism.
Surrealist imagery is probably the most recognizable element of the movement, yet it is also the most elusive to categorize and define. Each artist relied on their own recurring motifs arisen through their dreams or/and unconscious mind. At its basic, the imagery is outlandish, perplexing, and even uncanny, as it is meant to jolt the viewer out of their comforting assumptions. Nature, however, is the most frequent imagery: Max Ernst was obsessed with birds and had a bird alter ego, Salvador Dalí's works often include ants or eggs, and Joan Miró relied strongly on vague biomorphic imagery.

Most Important Art

The Accommodations of Desire (1929)
Artist: Salvador Dalí
Painted in the summer of 1929 just after Dalí went to Paris for his first Surrealist exhibition, The Accommodations of Desire is a prime example of Dalí's ability to render his vivid and bizarre dreams with seemingly journalistic accuracy. He developed the paranoid-critical method, which involved systematic irrational thought and self-induced paranoia as a way to access his unconscious. He referred to the resulting works as "hand-painted dream photographs" because of their realism coupled with their eerie dream quality. The narrative of this work stems from Dalí's anxieties over his affair with Gala Eluard, wife of artist Paul Eluard. The lumpish white "pebbles" depict his insecurities about his future with Gala, circling around the concepts of terror and decay. While The Accommodations of Desire is an exposé of Dalí's deepest fears, it combines his typical hyper-realistic painting style with more experimental collage techniques. The lion heads are glued onto the canvas, and are believed to have been cut from a children's book.
Oil and cut-and-pasted printed paper on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
More Art Works


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Beginnings

Surrealism grew out of the Dada movement, which was also in rebellion against middle-class complacency. Artistic influences, however, came from many different sources. The most immediate influence for several of the Surrealists was Giorgio de Chirico, their contemporary who, like them, used bizarre imagery with unsettling juxtapositions. They were also drawn to artists from the recent past who were interested in primitivism, the naive, or fantastical imagery, such as Gustave Moreau, Arnold Bocklin, Odilon Redon, and Henri Rousseau. Even artists from as far back as the Renaissance, such as Giuseppe Arcimboldo and Hieronymous Bosch, provided inspiration in so far as these artists were not overly concerned with aesthetic issues involving line and color, but instead felt compelled to create what Surrealists thought of as the "real."

The Surrealist movement began as a literary group strongly allied to Dada, emerging in the wake of the collapse of Dada in Paris, when André Breton's eagerness to bring purpose to Dada clashed with Tristan Tzara's anti-authoritarianism. Breton, who is occasionally described as the 'Pope' of Surrealism, officially founded the movement in 1924 when he wrote "The Surrealist Manifesto." However, the term "surrealism," was first coined in 1917 by Guillaume Apollinaire when he used it in program notes for the ballet Parade, written by Pablo Picasso, Leonide Massine, Jean Cocteau, and Erik Satie.

1930 - from the top left: Paul Eluard, Jean Arp, Yves Tanguy, Rene ClevelBottom Left: Tristan Tzara, Andre Breton, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Man Ray

Around the same time that Breton published his inaugural manifesto, the group began publishing the journal La Révolution surréaliste, which was largely focused on writing, but also included art reproductions by artists such as de Chirico, Ernst, André Masson, and Man Ray. Publication continued until 1929.

The Bureau for Surrealist Research or Centrale Surréaliste was also established in Paris in 1924. This was a loosely affiliated group of writers and artists who met and conducted interviews to "gather all the information possible related to forms that might express the unconscious activity of the mind." Headed by Breton, the Bureau created a dual archive: one that collected dream imagery and one that collected material related to social life. At least two people manned the office each day - one to greet visitors and the other to write down the observations and comments of the visitors that then became part of the archive. In January of 1925, the Bureau officially published its revolutionary intent that was signed by 27 people, including Breton, Ernst, and Masson.

Concepts and Styles

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Surrealism shared much of the anti-rationalism of Dada, the movement out of which it grew. The original Parisian Surrealists used art as a reprieve from violent political situations and to address the unease they felt about the world's uncertainties. By employing fantasy and dream imagery, artists generated creative works in a variety of media that exposed their inner minds in eccentric, symbolic ways, uncovering anxieties and treating them analytically through visual means.

Surrealist Paintings

There were two styles or methods that distinguished Surrealist painting. Artists such as Dalí, Tanguy, and Magritte painted in a hyper-realistic style in which objects were depicted in crisp detail and with the illusion of three-dimensionality, emphasizing their dream-like quality. The color in these works was often either saturated (Dalí) or monochromatic (Tanguy), both choices conveying a dream state.

Several Surrealists also relied heavily on automatism or automatic writing as a way to tap into the unconscious mind. Artists such as Miró and Ernst used various techniques to create unlikely and often outlandish imagery including collage, doodling, frottage, decalcomania, and grattage. Artists such as Arp also created collages as stand-alone works.

Hyperrealism and automatism were not mutually exclusive. Miro, for example, often used both methods in one work. In either case, however the subject matter was arrived at or depicted, it was always bizarre - meant to disturb and baffle.

Surrealist Objects and Sculptures

Breton felt that the object had been in state of crisis since the early nineteenth century and thought this impasse could be overcome if the object in all its strangeness could be seen as if for the first time. The strategy was not to make Surreal objects for the sake of shocking the middle class a la Dada but to make objects "surreal" by what he called dépayesment or estrangement. The goal was the displacement of the object, removing it from its expected context, "defamilarizing" it. Once the object was removed from its normal circumstances, it could be seen without the mask of its cultural context. These incongruous combinations of objects were also thought to reveal the fraught sexual and psychological forces hidden beneath the surface of reality.

A limited number of Surrealists are known for their three-dimensional work. Arp, who began as part of the Dada movement, was known for his biomorphic objects. Oppenheim's pieces were bizarre combinations that removed familiar objects from their everyday context, while Giacometti's were more traditional sculptural forms, many of which were human-insect hybrid figures. Dalí, less known for his 3D work, did produce some interesting installations, particularly, Rainy Taxi (1938), which was an automobile with mannequins and a series of pipes that created "rain" in the car's interior.

Surrealist Photography

Photography, because of the ease with which it allowed artists to produce uncanny imagery, occupied a central role in Surrealism. Artists such as Man Ray and Maurice Tabard used the medium to explore automatic writing, using techniques such as double exposure, combination printing, montage, and solarization, the latter of which eschewed the camera altogether. Other photographers used rotation or distortion to render bizarre images.

The Surrealists also appreciated the prosaic photograph removed from its mundane context and seen through the lens of Surrealist sensibility. Vernacular snapshots, police photographs, movie stills, and documentary photographs all were published in Surrealist journals like La Révolution surréaliste and Minotaure, totally disconnected from their original purposes. The Surrealists, for example, were enthusiastic about Eugene Atget's photographs of Paris. Published in 1926 in La Révolution surréaliste at the prompting of his neighbor, Man Ray, Atget's imagery of a quickly vanishing Paris was understood as impulsive visions. Atget's photographs of empty streets and shop windows recalled the Surrealist's own vision of Paris as a "dream capital."

Surrealist Film

Surrealism was the first artistic movement to experiment with cinema in part because it offered more opportunity than theatre to create the bizarre or the unreal. The first film characterized as Surrealist was the 1924 Entr'acte, a 22-minute, silent film, written by Rene Clair and Francis Picabia, and directed by Clair. But, the most famous Surrealist filmmaker was of course Luis Bunuel. Working with Dalí, Bunuel made the classic films Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L'Age d'Or (1930), both of which were characterized by narrative disjunction and their peculiar, sometimes disturbing imagery. In the 1930s Joseph Cornell produced surrealist films in the United States, such as Rose Hobart (1936). Salvador Dalí designed a dream sequence for Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945).

Rise and Decline of Surrealism

Surrealist Artist Photo from 'Artists in Exile' Show in 1942 - from the top left: Stanley William Hayter, Leonora Carrington, Frederick Kiesler, Kurt Seligmann; second row: Max Ernst, Amédée Ozenfant, André Breton, Fernand Leger, Berenice Abbott; third row: Jimmy Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, John Ferren, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian

Though Surrealism originated in France, strains of it can be identified in art throughout the world. Particularly in the 1930s and 1940s, many artists were swept into its orbit as increasing political upheaval and a second global war encouraged fears that human civilization was in a state of crisis and collapse. The emigration of many Surrealists to the Americas during WWII spread their ideas further. Following the war, however, the group's ideas were challenged by the rise of Existentialism, which, while also celebrating individualism, was more rationally based than Surrealism. In the arts, the Abstract Expressionists incorporated Surrealist ideas and usurped their dominance by pioneering new techniques for representing the unconscious. Breton became increasingly interested in revolutionary political activism as the movement's primary goal. The result was the dispersal of the original movement into smaller factions of artists. The Bretonians, such as Roberto Matta, believed that art was inherently political. Others, like Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, and Dorothea Tanning, remained in America to separate from Breton. Salvador Dalí, likewise, retreated to Spain, believing in the centrality of the individual in art.

Later Developments

Abstract Expressionism

In 1936, the Museum of Modern Art in New York staged an exhibition entitled Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, and many American artists were powerfully impressed by it. Some, such as Jackson Pollock, began to experiment with automatism, and with imagery that seemed to derive from the unconscious - experiments which would later lead to his "drip" paintings. Robert Motherwell, similarly, is said to have been "stuck between the two worlds" of abstraction and automatism.

Largely because of political upheaval in Europe, New York rather than Paris became the emergent center of a new vanguard, one that favored tapping the unconscious through abstraction as opposed to the "hand-painted dreams" of Salvador Dalí. Peggy Guggenheim's 1942 exhibition of Surrealist-influenced artists (Rothko, Gottlieb, Motherwell, Baziotes, Hoffman, Still, and Pollock) alongside European artists Miró, Klee, and Masson, underscores the speed with which Surrealist concepts spread through the New York art community.

Feminism and Women Surrealists

The Surrealists have often been depicted as a tightly knit group of men, and their art often envisioned women as wild "others" to the cultured, rational world. Work by feminist art historians has since corrected this impression, not only highlighting the number of women Surrealists who were active in the group, particularly in the 1930s, but also analyzing the gender stereotypes at work in much Surrealist art. Feminist art critics, such as Dawn Ades, Mary Ann Caws, and Whitney Chadwick, have devoted several books and exhibitions to this subject.

While most of the male Surrealists, especially Man Ray, Magritte, and Dalí, repeatedly focused on and/or distorted the female form and depicted women as muses, much in the way that male artists had for centuries, female Surrealists such as Claude Cahun, UnicaZurn, Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington, and Dorothea Tanning, sought to address the problematic adoption of Freudian psychoanalysis that often cast women as monstrous and lesser. Thus, many female Surrealists experimented with cross-dressing and depicted themselves as animals or mythic creatures.


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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Useful Resources on Surrealism

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The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Surrealism: Desire Unbound

By Vincent Gille

Surrealism: Themes and Movements

By Mary Ann Caws

Surrealist Art (World of Art)

By Sarane Alexandrian

Dada and Surrealism (Art + Ideas)

By Matthew Gale

From Dada to Surrealism - Review

By Phillippe Dagen
The Guardian
July 19, 2011

Surrealist America

By Lewis Kachur
Artnet Magazine
July 21, 2005

ART REVIEW; In Old Age, Surrealism Still Charms

By William Zimmer
The New York Times
February 4, 2004

Surrealism For Sale, Straight From The Source; André Breton's Collection Is Readied for Auction

By Alan Riding
The New York Times
December 7, 2002

web resources
Manifesto of Surrealism

By André Breton
1924

Documents of Dada and Surrealism

Information on Mary Reynolds Collection
Art Institute of Chicago

Contemporary Surrealist Movement Information Site

The Exquisite Corpse

Game and Surrealist technique exploring the chance and the subconcious

Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Marx was a German philosopher, historian, economist, and revolutionary who along with Frederick Engels founded modern Communism. Although Marx's belief that socialism would one day replace capitalism did not come true, he is considered one of the modern era's most influential thinkers.
Karl Marx
Romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism was a nineteenth-century movement that celebrated the powers of emotion and intuition over rational analysis or classical ideals. Romantic artists emphasized awe, beauty, and the sublime in their works, which frequently charted the darker or chaotic sides of human life.
Romanticism
André Breton
André Breton
André Breton
André Breton, author of the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, was an influential theorizer of both Dada and Surrealism. Born in France, he emigrated to New York during World War II, where he greatly influenced the Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: André Breton
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist who in the early twentieth century founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. His theories on the human unconscious, arhcetypal forms and free association were very influential on many forms of modern art, including Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.
Sigmund Freud
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst was a German Dadaist and Surrealist whose paintings and collages combine dream-like realism, automatic techniques, and eerie subject matter.
ArtStory: Max Ernst
Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí was a Spanish Surrealist painter who combined a hyperrealist style with dream-like, sexualized subject matter. His collaborations with Hollywood and commercial ventures, alongside his notoriously dramatic personality, earned him scorn from some Surrealist colleagues.
ArtStory: Salvador Dalí
Joan Miró
Joan Miró
Joan Miró
Active in Paris from the 1920s onward, and influenced by Surrealism, Miró developed a style of biomorphic abstraction which blended abstract figurative motifs, large fields of color, and primitivist symbols. This style would be an important inspiration for many Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: Joan Miró
Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau was a French Symbolist painter who depicted narrative moments and figures from classical mythology and biblical history.
Gustave Moreau
Arnold Bocklin
Arnold Bocklin
Arnold Bocklin
Arnold Bocklin was a symbolist Swiss painter. Influenced by Romanticism, his paintings overlapped with the Pre-Raphaelites. His pictures portray mythological, fantastical figures set in classical constructions. His paintings often reveal an obsession with death.
Arnold Bocklin
Odilon Redon
Odilon Redon
Odilon Redon
Odilon Redon was a French Symbolist artist whose paintings, prints, and pastel works frequently include elements like cyclopses, centaurs, and abstract floral designs in atmospheric settings.
Odilon Redon
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau was a French self-taught painter. His most famous works, done in his characteristic flat figurative style, show surreal and dream-like scenes in primitive or natural settings.
ArtStory: Henri Rousseau
Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
ArtStory: Dada
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso
Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist, and filmmaker. Along with other avant-garde artists of his generation Cocteau grappled to define the paradox of classical avant-garde. His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Pablo Picasso, Jean Hugo, and Coco Chanel.
Jean Cocteau
Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia was a French artist who worked in Dada, Surrealist, and abstract modes, often employing language and mechanical imagery. He published the Dada journal 391 in Barcelona and America.
ArtStory: Francis Picabia
Luis Bunuel
Luis Bunuel
Luis Bunuel
Luis Bunuel Portoles was a Spanish-born Mexican filmmaker and avant-garde auteur. Heavily influenced by Surrealism, Dada and religious lore, Bunuel's films were famous for their disturbing imagery and dreamlike sensibility. In addition to his adopted Mexico, he filmed in France and the United States.
ArtStory: Luis Bunuel
Joseph Cornell
Joseph Cornell
Joseph Cornell
Joseph Cornell was an American artist, best known for his collage work and "shadow boxes," which were highly complex diorama-like constructions. Cornell incorporated found objects, old photos, newspaper clippings and other objects into these boxes, resulting in uniquely surreal, three-dimensional worlds. Cornell was one of the few American artists associated with Surrealism.
ArtStory: Joseph Cornell
Existentialism
Existentialism
Existentialism
Existentialism is a system of philosophical thought founded in the nineteenth century and championed by such figures as Friedrich Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard, and later by twentieth-century literary figures like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism deals largely with the complexities of individual human emotions, thoughts and responsibilities. Existentialist philosophy was widely used by various artist in the arena of modern art.
ArtStory: Existentialism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism
Roberto Matta
Roberto Matta
Roberto Matta
Roberto Matta was a Chilean-born artist who lived and worked in New York in the 1940s. His interest in automatism and painterly effects helped forge a crucial link between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.
ArtStory: Roberto Matta
Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum has become the home for some of the greatest works of avant-garde painting, sculpture, film and multi-media art in the world. While MoMA remains true to its roots as a place where new styles of art can circulate, its permanent collection is widely considered the most impressive and diverse assortment of Modern art to ever exist, ranging from late-nineteenth-century van Goghs, Monets and Gauguins to works produced in the present day.
ArtStory: Museum of Modern Art
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell was a first-generation Abstract Expressionist whose paintings use hulking shapes, large-scale strokes and calligraphy, and wide expanses of muted color. Eloquent and well-educated, he wrote extensively on theories of art.
ArtStory: Robert Motherwell