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Surrealism more political in Belgium than in France
le-surrealisme-plus-politique-en-belgique-quen-france - ARTACTIF
April 2024 | Reading time: 23 Min | 0 Comment(s)

About the centenary of Belgian surrealism celebrated in his country throughout 2024.

In 2024, a passage through the Flat Country is essential. Belgium is indeed celebrating the centenary of Belgian surrealism this year with enthusiasm and passion, highlighting its unique artistic heritage and its lasting influence on art and culture. Through retrospective exhibitions, special events, limited editions and international collaborations, this anniversary marks an unforgettable celebration of the creative genius of Belgian surrealist artists and their exceptional contribution to art history. Brussels museums in particular are pulling out all the stops, with “Imagine!” » at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts until July 21, and “History of Not Laughing” at the Bozar until June 16. This will do some good, and set some records straight! Because the Belgian surrealists should not be confused with their French counterparts. Certainly, surrealism was born at the beginning of the 20th century, and has transcended borders to become a dynamic force in art and literature around the world. But among the different branches of surrealism, Belgian surrealism occupies a unique place. And precious. With artists such as René Magritte, Paul Delvaux and Marcel Mariën at its head, Belgian surrealism was not content to conquer minds with a captivating mixture of realism, reverie and mystery. He had no use for automatic writing. He did not entrust all the work to the unconscious. No, he consciously wanted to change the world. Be subversive. Ensuring that art has a concrete impact on society. Yes, the charge of Belgian surrealism is political. It’s a shame that over time, we’ve often kept only the seductive humor.

So it's not too late to catch up. As much as the European country of Belgium is small in size, the role it played in the development of surrealism is immense. Following the First World War, Belgian society was marked by profound disillusionment and a questioning of traditional values. It is in this context that surrealism took root. Its emergence was facilitated by the presence of visionary artists such as René Magritte. His iconic paintings, such as The Treachery of Images with its legendary inscription “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” exemplify the distinct aesthetic of Belgian surrealism. Magritte, with his refined style and subtle plays on the representation of reality, captivated the world with his exploration of the contradictions and ambiguities of human perception. To the point of having become "the tree that hides the forest", as confirmed by Xavier Canonne, director of the Museum of Photography in Charleroi, in his interview with Isabelle Manca-Kunert, journalist for the art magazine L'Oeil . “He has an international reputation, and his work can be read and appreciated in all cultures. While the other major personalities of this movement are essentially writers and poets, whose production is therefore less easy to understand and show. »

Indeed, it was by creating the magazine Correspondance in 1924, with Marcel Lecomte and Camille Goemans, that the writer Paul Nougé finally found himself, against his will, designating himself as leader and theorist of what is not not an artistic movement but a current of thought, a state of mind. These men of letters will soon be joined by colleagues like Louis Scutenaire, E.L.T. Mesens and the composer André Souris. Because music will play a considerable role in the beginnings of the movement. But unlike the French, who were never stingy about flattering their egos, the Belgian surrealists took a vow of anonymity. Marcel Mariën, writer and multidisciplinary artist who contributed to the Belgian surrealist movement with his collages and his provocative writings, did not hesitate to make a scathing joke about Magritte in the 1960s when his name was on everyone's lips and the he artist at the height of his glory will sink into the expectations of the art market, not hesitating to throw aside the ideals of the group to produce works of art to sell with all his might. Mariën, whose work embodies the subversive spirit of surrealism questioning social norms and established artistic conventions, has retained an uncompromising radicalism and wants to remind his comrade of one of the foundations of their profession of faith: the refusal of the cult of personality.


“His traveling companion therefore sent him a caustic reminder to order in the form of a leaflet, the preferred support of the Brussels group,” says the journalist from L’Oeil. “Entitled Grande Baise and falsely attributed to Magritte, it displays a photomontage created by Leo Dohmen, representing the painter's head on a hundred franc note. Below, the text says in substance: I have had enough of my works being used for speculation, so I have decided to sell my paintings at the prices below... The deception works beyond expectations, it is taken up by all the press. Magritte is warmly congratulated by his peers who salute his audacity, André Breton praises this action in the pages of his magazine Combat. As you can imagine, the scathing joke does not make either the main person concerned, nor the dealers of his works of art for sale laugh. » End of a friendship.

Belgian surrealism shares many themes with its French and international counterparts, but it approaches them with its own sensitivity. Paul Delvaux, another major figure of Belgian surrealism, is known for his depictions of nude women in surreal environments, often train stations or eerie nightscapes. His use of light and shadow creates an ethereal atmosphere, where the viewer is immersed in a world that is both familiar and strange. Belgian surrealism has left an indelible mark on modern art, influencing generations of artists across the world. His exploration of the unconscious and his questioning of artistic conventions opened new avenues for creative expression.

Magritte's legacy, in particular, is felt in many contemporary art movements, from pop art to conceptual art. Its ability to challenge expectations and provoke reflection in the viewer continues to inspire artists today, exploring new territories of imagination and creativity.

Just as the disturbing aesthetic of Delvaux and the radicalism of Mariën have left their mark on the contemporary artistic landscape, Belgian surrealism has too often been neglected in favor of its French counterparts: it well deserved renewed recognition for its contribution to 'modern Art. In 2024, the centenary of the official birth of Belgian surrealism if we look at the creation of the magazine Correspondance, which was not, however, a birth certificate like Breton's famous Manifesto, Belgium is therefore celebrating Belgian surrealism with brilliance, paying tribute to its visionary artists and their invaluable contribution to art and culture. A unique opportunity to commemorate and celebrate this exceptional artistic heritage. Across the country, museums, art galleries and cultural institutions are organizing retrospective exhibitions highlighting the iconic works of Belgian surrealist artists. From the paintings of René Magritte to the captivating landscapes of Paul Delvaux, including the provocative collages of Marcel Mariën, these exhibitions offer visitors a captivating dive into the dreamlike world of Belgian surrealism.

Lectures, film screenings, artistic performances and creative workshops allow the public to immerse themselves in the aesthetics and ideas of Belgian surrealism. Meetings with experts and contemporary artists also offer new perspectives on this innovative artistic movement. And finally, to mark this special year, numerous limited editions of Belgian surrealist works are published, offering collectors and enthusiasts the opportunity to acquire unique pieces by their favorite artist. Commemorative postage stamps, coins and collectibles are also available, testifying to the importance of Belgian surrealism in the national culture. Great, plus I'll be able to bring back gifts from Belgium to my philatelist father and my numismatist uncle.


Valibri en RoulotteArticle written by Valibri in Roulotte

Illustration: copyright: Salvador Dalí – “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of the Civil War)” (1936) | © Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Louise and Walter Arensberg collection © Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres / Sabam Belgium, 2024

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