Violators of Nouns; Butterflies with Nets

Feet and shadows. Pieces of light through the windows of a moving train.
People, intensely curious as to what those around them are up to, strain to observe the business of strangers.

I took the trip out to the Victoria & Albert museum to see the Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design exhibit, as well as the Eugéne Atget: Unintentional Surrealist? exhibition.
The V&A was an impressive space and the first former exhibition was great; with an emphasis on the object, Ghislaine Wood curated a show that demonstrated the Surrealist engagement with everything from ballet to interior design to fashion. Works from artists like Dalí, Schiaparelli, Magritte, Ernst, Cornell, de Chirico, and Bellmer danced playfully around the three-room exhibition. I couldn’t help but understand and relate to some visceral obsession with collecting, displaying, categorizing, while at the same time breaking down supposition. The exhibition held to the Freudian underpinnings of the Surrealist movement, showing eroticism and submission through the devices of photography and objectivity- while simultaneously venerating woman as both myth and muse.

Next to the exhibition was the V&A’s hall of photography. The walls were lined with the silver-halide likes of Robert Frank, Calahan, Brandt, Winogrand, Burtynsky, Meatyard, Edgerton, Eggleston, Becher, Rineke Dijkstra, and Wolfgang Tillmans. At the end of the hall sits a small and unimpressive gallery holding the contents of the Eugéne Atget: Unintentional Surrealist? exhibition. In the words of Walter Benjamin, Atget’s images “operate beyond ostensible purpose, appearing unintentional, but uncannily like the scene of a crime.” It was Berenice Abbot’s purchase and promotion of Atget’s archives (and Abbot’s own appreciation for the Surrealist ideals) that helped to give Atget a name and an “Unintentional” place on the early fringe of what would become the Surrealist movement.

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One Response to “Violators of Nouns; Butterflies with Nets”

  1. Liam Says:

    There’s a huge Wolfgang Tilmans show at the Hirshhorn. I’ve been back there a few times and I’m still not sure what I think about it.

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