‘Surreal’ is frequently used at the moment to describe the strange situation we are living in. But what exactly is Surrealism? How did this movement come about and what ideas did the original Surrealists want to express? These questions are answered in the exhibition ‘This is Surrealism!’ with almost forty masterpieces and various rare books and magazines from the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, arranged in nine thematic clusters.
The French critic and poet Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term ‘surrealism’ in 1917 to describe something that exists beyond reality. Not much later, the term was adopted by André Breton, who launched the Surrealist movement with a manifesto in 1924. In the years that followed, Surrealism underwent various changes: it was initially a literary movement, but soon visual artists began experimenting with Surrealist techniques such as automatic writing and the use of chance. Ten years after the founding of Surrealism, Breton gave a lecture about this transition entitled ‘What is Surrealism?’, which was published as a pamphlet that same year.
Breton’s question inspired the team of the Cobra Museum of Modern Art and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen to organise a major survey of Surrealism under the title ‘This is Surrealism!’.
Due to the measures surrounding COVID-19, the exhibition’s design has been adapted and the exhibition contains fewer works. But it remains a unique opportunity to see the Surrealist masterpieces from the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, which is closed for renovation for several years.
The forty most important and most representative works from the original list of exhibits have been chosen to tell the story of Surrealism. In addition, the ground floor of the museum features a presentation of work by Cobra artists. The two exhibitions bridge the collection areas for which the two museums are known: Surrealism and Cobra. These movements not only followed each other chronologically, but also shared similar ideas and ideals. Both the Surrealists and the artists associated with Cobra hoped to bring about permanent social change through their art. Their critical attitude is reflected in the current era in which many people believe that we should organise society differently.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s Surrealist Collection
All the works in the exhibition come from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s world-famous collection of Surrealist art. Collected from the 1960s onwards, it features more than 150 works by artists such as Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Man Ray and Max Ernst plus many rare books and magazines. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen organised a major retrospective exhibition of Salvador Dalí’s work in 1970. During the preparations, curator Renilde Hammacher-Van den Brande was introduced to the wealthy British poet and collector Edward James, who was Dalí’s main collector and patron in the 1930s. When James heard that Hammacher wanted to organise Dalí’s first European retrospective, he decided to loan countless works from his collection to the museum. After the exhibition, which had been extremely successful, James and the board of his foundation decided to give several works to the museum on permanent loan. When the foundation was in need of money not much later, the museum had the opportunity to buy as many as fourteen important paintings and gouaches by Dalí and Magritte from James.
These works now form the heart of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s unique Surrealist collection, which is regularly enriched with new acquisitions. The museum has recently acquired several paintings and works of art on paper by Leonora Carrington, Eileen Agar and Joseph Cornell, some of which are being exhibited for the first time in ‘This is Surrealism!’.
Want to discover more Surrealist artworks?
Has seeing ‘This is Surrealism!’ made you curious about the artworks that cannot be displayed because of the coronavirus measures? View the Surrealism collection online or buy the lavishly illustrated catalogue 'A Dream Collection: Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen' in the web shop (only available in Dutch).
Exhibiton on location
This exhibition can be seen at the Cobra Museum Amstelveen, Sandbergplein 1, 1181 ZX Amstelveen. It is only possible to visit the museum with an online ticket. For information about openings hours, admission prizes, etc.:VIsit website