ELECTRIC FIELDS: Surrealism and Beyond – La Collection du Centre Pompidou

Curator Didier OTTINGER

The exhibition is in six parts:


In 1919, Andre Breton and Philippe Souhault worked together on the surrealist hallmark work ‘Magnetic Fields’. The work was a collage of the two artists' work, freely and intuitively spliced together. In 1924 when surrealism was still in its infancy, followers were fascinated by ‘exquisite corpse’ games. This sketch work allowed ‘players’ unaware of the intention of the other to work in concert with each other with the combined result of their efforts as the finished piece. In 1930 Louis Aragon's La Peinture au Défi exhibition provided a theoretical collage of surrealism. He believed that collage was a solution to Comte de Lautreamont's artistic ideal of ‘shared creation’. The images of popular culture were a statement against the 'genius' social structure that placed itself above them. The 'poverty' of collage releases art from material desire and from the arena of capitalist hype.


Early Surrealist 'pamphlet': "If you love being in love, you will love Surrealism." Andre Breton's praise for love never ceased. Love takes us out of ourselves and liberates us through a spiritual journey and unity with our lover. Love and desire are inseparable. Surrealists claim desire is a special way of loosening moral restrictions, while moralists calmly use those morals as a tool of political control. After the close of the Second World War, utopian Charles Fourier's vision of a society in which everyone had the freedom to express themselves and realize their desires became the bedrock of the surrealist movement.


Automatism was the result of the Surrealist movement's quest to overturn rationality. Thought and behavior unshackled from reason quickly coupled with the unconscious. Andre Breton believed that the awakening of automatism, in every form, was the sole hope of resolving every paradox. Unlike the economy, these existed before the formation of the current social system, and were unlikely to disappear with its demise. Paradoxes were present in being awake and asleep (reality and dreams), rationality and insanity, the objective and the subjective, experience and memory, past and present, collective consciousness and love, and life and death itself.


Surrealism followed in the footsteps of German romanticism in its praise of the night. The night invites us to observe its wonders. Under the veil of night, the mind is freed from the shackles of reason and takes flight on the wings of dreams. The night gives the city a mirror image of itself. Its dark shadow hangs loftily over the city, transforming it into a huge maze, while the Fantomas of popular novels and films passes silently overhead.

Phenomenon of Poetry

In 1929 the second Surrealist Manifesto proclaimed the switch of the political movement towards "serving the revolution". The concord with communism caused Breton to redefine his relationship with reality. Having lauded the escape of fantasy and the unconscious from reality, it afforded ‘poetry the form of phenomenon’, while objects rose to meet the pressing needs of realism. Alberto Giacometti created the first "symbolic object" (suspended ball), blending the fantastical and the concrete. In 1965 at his last Surrealist exhibition "Absolute Difference", artwork embodying the imagination of the movement and consumer products that can be mass-produced form a comparative juxtaposition. This critique of modern consumerism was soon appropriated by neo-realists.


Surrealism was begun by poets who believed their writing was the pinnacle of artistic expression. Pierre Naville, a loyal follower of this movement, even wrote in 1924 that he was unaware of the existence of surrealist drawing. From 1913, Duchamp and his 'finished works' began a new style combining images and text that would eventually go far (bringing poetic sentences and concrete objects together). In Surrealism's early days, Joan Miro added text to his drawings. In 1929 Rene Magritte penned "Text and Image" in the Surrealist magazine "Surrealism Serves the Revolution", elucidating the different relationships between text and image. The fusion of text and image produced more "Poetry-Object" works, as Andre Breton said: "It aimed to bring together poetry and plastic art, and we can almost see the way the two interplay to improve the aesthetics of the whole piece.” Mexican poet Octavio Paz added in the vein: "'Poetry-Object' is a sort of amphibious creature that lives between two elements: Symbols and images, visual and textual art."


Exhibition Archives

Industrial Strength Sleep,1989,Peinture acrylique et vernis sur toile,150×369.5 cm,Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

Madonna I,2001,275×200×5 cm,Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

Querelle des Universaux,1928,53.5 x 72.5 cm,painting,Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

Untitled (Reagan Lays a Golden Egg!),1991,55.7 x 44.4 cm,Encre de Chine, lavis et encre rouge sur papier gris,Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

Ohne Titel,1992,180 x 150 cm,Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

a mère chante joyeux anniversaire,1974,98×68 cm,色粉笔在照片上提亮,黑卡纸上白色水粉标题,Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

For Pol Pot (Tuol Sleng S.21),1993,300×600 cm,Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

Mona-Vinci,1986 - 1987,general appearance of a picture:165×126 cm,light box:33×28×13 cm,Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

La douche,1961,70.2×96.8×18.5 cm,Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

Polombe,1994,335×960×8.2 cm,Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

In Bed,1971,128×292 cm,Dépôt de la Centre Pompidou Foundation, 2006. Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.

Installation View