Disobedient , marvellous and degenerate: Surreal Encounters at the Edinburgh Art Festival

'The marvellous is always beautiful,' reads a sign on the wall of the Scottish National Museum of Modern Art.

This stirring slogan, by Andre Breton, from his Manifesto of Surrealism, sets the tone for this fascinating, mind expanding exhibition.

Who needs hallucinogens when you can share the hallucinations of artists like Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali?

Who needs hallucinogens when you can share the hallucinations of artists like Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali? Wandering around this show feels like sleepwalking through a strange, intoxicating dream.

Surreal Encounters – Collecting the Marvellous is a celebration of the artists whose hypnotic visions lit up the art world between the First and Second World Wars.

It's also a tribute to the art collectors who supported them.

A collaboration with the Hamburger Kunsthalle and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, it's built around four private, personal collections.

Brought together for the first time, at this handsome gallery on the green edge of Edinburgh, they add up to a cross-section of Surrealist art.

Surreal Encounters features some of Surrealism's most iconic artworks: Dali's Mae West Lips Sofa; Magritte's The Red Model; Man Ray's The Gift. All the leading players in Surrealism are here, from Joan Miro to Max Ernst, alongside the artists who inspired them, like de Chirico and Picasso.

'There's been a huge of growth of interest in Surrealism,' says Keith Hartley, the curator of this show. His exhibition demonstrates that Surrealism wasn't just a narrow clique, confined to the 1920s and 1930s.

It anticipated Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism. It resurfaces in the work of contemporary artists like Neo Rauch.

It's seeped into every avenue of popular culture, from movies to music videos, from album c overs to advertising. Its impact has been immense.

However what makes this exhibition more than just another Surrealist retrospective is that it focuses on the biographies of four major collectors of Surrealist art: Roland Penrose, Edward James, Gabrielle Keiller and husband and wife team Ulla & Heiner Pietzsch. Their colourful life stories shed fresh light on the Surrealist movement, and its enduring influence.

British art historian and curator Roland Penrose wasn't only a collector of Surrealist artworks. A close friend of Picasso, and an artist in his own right, he helped to shape the movement, and promoted Surrealism in Britain.

After he died, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art acquired a significant slice of his collection. It's thrilling to see a rich selection of it here.

English poet Edward James was an even more intriguing figure. He inherited a fortune from his father and spent a good deal of it on Surrealist art.

'They make the illogical logical and they make it more vivid than ordinary life,' he said, of his affinity with Surrealist artists. 'The world is not completely logical all of the time.'

James provided the inspiration for Dali's Lobster Telephone (included in this exhibition) and appeared in one of Magritte's most famous paintings, La Reproduction Interdite (Not To Be Reproduced, also on show here).


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