“Monsters & Myths: Surrealism and War in the 1930s and 1940s” opens at Frist

Salvador Dalí. Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach, 1938. Oil on canvas, 45 x 56 5/8 in. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art: The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, 1938.269. © 2019 Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The Frist Art Museum presents Monsters & Myths: Surrealism and War in the 1930s and 1940s, an extraordinary new exhibition that explores the powerful and unsettling images created in response to the threat of war and fascist rule. Featuring works by Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Dorothea Tanning, and others, this must-see exhibition will be on display in the Frist’s Upper-Level Galleries from June 21 through September 29, 2019.

Through 78 objects, including paintings, drawings, film, and sculptures drawn primarily from the collections of The Baltimore Museum of Art and The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Monsters & Myths highlights the brilliance and fertility of this period, which arose in response to Hitler’s rise to power, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II—events that profoundly challenged the revolutionary hopes that had guided most Surrealist artists in the 1920s.

“In this exhibition, Surrealists’ portrayals of monsters, fragmented bodies, and other depictions of the grotesque are explored as metaphors for the threat of violence and fears and fantasies of unbridled power,” says Frist Art Museum chief curator Mark Scala.

Since 1924, artists and writers associated with the Surrealist movement had aimed to deconstruct the social order, particularly through targeting oppressive traditions by embracing the irrational and the marvelous in pursuit of psychic liberation.

“Seeking access to hidden truths, the artists in this show used their darkest imaginings to confront trauma,” says Scala. “They employed the language of dreams, free association, and Freudian psychoanalytic theory to help transform both themselves and a society that seemed inescapably bound for fascism and war.”

Through each artist, the psychological power of monstrosities appears in different guises in the exhibition.

The first section, titled “The Emergence of Monsters,” focuses on the symbolism of deformation, fragmentation, and hybridity to reflect the inhumanity of war as well as individual psychological torment. In this section, Picasso reintroduces the myth of the Minotaur, a symbol of the repressed forces of the unconscious. Hans Bellmer and André Masson merge violence and malevolent sexuality in images of dismemberment and mutilation. Headless bodies in works by Alberto Giacometti and Magritte symbolize the loss of reason.

The exhibition continues with the section titled “The Spanish Civil War,” which includes paintings and prints by Dalí, Miró, and Picasso, among others, capturing their despair at the brutality of the fascists in their war with the republican government.

The section “World War II” features works that portend the coming disasters and capture the emotional upheavals experienced by artists during the early years of the war. While these responses are marked by anxiety and distress, a surprising beauty can be seen in even the most horrific works, such as Wolfgang Paalen’s painting of colorful bird-like demons in The Battle of Saturnian Princes III (1939).

Pablo Picasso. Minotauromachy, 1935. Etching with foul biting, burnishing, and roulette, 22 1/2 x 30 1/2 in. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Israel and Selma Rosen, Baltimore, 1979.72. © 2019 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Gift of Israel and Selma Rosen, Baltimore

The section “Dislocation and Survival” features extraordinary paintings by Surrealists, including Dalí, Ernst, Masson, and Roberto Matta who fled the war, mostly for the United States. Ernst’s painting Europe After the Rain II (1940–42) spans the mutating structures and human wraiths of a post-apocalyptic Europe with the crystalline outcroppings of a desert landscape, inspired by Ernst’s experience as an exile visiting Arizona. Like the other works in this section, Europe After the Rain II underscores transitions between past and present, reality and dream, and reason and irrationality that were acutely felt by these expatriate artists.

The exhibition concludes with “Surrealism in the Americas,” showing the influence of exiled European artists like Masson and Ernst on Americans such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Dorothea Tanning. Highlights include Tanning’s phantasmagorical painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

Also included in the exhibition is the film Un Chien Andalou (1929) by Buñuel and Dalí, which contains a network of narratives relating to anticlericalism, unfulfilled desire, memory, and death.

Public Programs include: Thursday, July 11 at Noon, a Curator’s Tour: Monsters & Myths presented by Mark Scala, chief curator; and Thursday, August 29 at 6:30 p.m., a Gallery Talk: Surrealist Art Encounters Politics presented by Robin Adèle Greeley, associate professor of art history, University of Connecticut.

Gallery admission is free for visitors 18 and younger and for members; $15 for adults; $10 for seniors and college students with ID; and $8 for military. College students are admitted free w/ID Thursday and Friday evenings (with the exception of Frist Fridays), from 5:00–9:00 p.m. The galleries, café, and gift shop are open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00–5:30 p.m., with the café opening at noon. For additional information, call 615.244.3340 or visit FristArtMuseum.org.

Enjoy a free Family Festival Day at the Frist. Sunday, June 30, the Frist Art Museum will be open free of charge to the community in celebration of Frida, Diego, and Mexican art and culture. Bring the family to see all of the current exhibitions, open from 1:00 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. with special art-making activites, performances, and gallery experiences.

The Frist Art Museum is seeking volunteers in the Martin ArtQuest Gallery, Gift Shop and Visitor Services. In a typical year, nearly 400 volunteers provide more than 25,000 hours of service to the Frist Art Museum. Docents lead more than 15,000 visitors on tours, visitor services volunteers welcome over 200,000 visitors into exhibition galleries, and ArtQuest volunteers assist over 110,000 children and families in the Martin ArtQuest Gallery.

Contact their volunteer services department at volunteer@FristArtMuseum.org or call 615.744.3329. Summer Session New Volunteer Training is Saturday, July 27 from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Deadline for applications: Friday, July 19. Fall Session New Volunteer Training: Saturday, September 21 from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Deadline for applications: Friday, September 13.