ST. PETERSBURG — Say the name Rene Magritte and the man in the bowler hat, face obscured, springs to mind. The artist’s series of paintings is that iconic.
And while the only bowler hats at the Dalí Museum are in the gift shop and an interactive digital “painting,” the “Magritte and Dalí” exhibit offers the opportunity to see the work of two surrealist powerhouses together.
The Magritte works on display were culled from the Magritte Museum, a constituent of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. They are works from Magritte’s surrealist period, paired with Dalí’s works from the permanent collection. It is the only exhibit to do so, and will travel to the Magritte Museum in Brussels in the fall.
The exhibition is particularly interesting because it spans the late 1920s to early 1940s, when both artists were making a name for themselves and showing together in exhibitions.
Hailing from Brussels, Magritte came to Paris in 1927, where he met surrealist movement leader Andre Breton and joined the group. When Salvador Dalí arrived in Paris in 1929, he met Magritte within a few weeks. That summer, Dalí invited Magritte to his home in Spain, the same fateful time when fellow surrealist Paul Eluard and his wife, Gala, came to visit. Gala never left Dalí.
Dalí and Magritte were working completely aware of one another, painting together that summer, so there are many times when their work is reflective of the other. They were also being influenced by the ideals of surrealism. The exhibit is organized to highlight these similarities while also showcasing the different approaches the artists took.
The installation for “Magritte and Dalí” is quite dramatic. Burgundy velvet curtains create intimate rooms with blood red walls and only a few pieces in each. The velvet curtains are inspired by Magritte, who would often include a curtain in his paintings, framing the scene like a stage.
One such work, The Secret Player (1927), is on display there. A turtle floats above a scene of men playing some sort of game among trees with bedposts for trunks. A bearded woman peers out from inside a small structure. A red curtain is parted in the foreground, but only on the right side. A perfect example of the surrealist way of obscuring the everyday and placing objects in unusual situations.
Magritte and Dalí explored the concept of looking into or through things. These images can contain niches or nooks and holes to look through. They both used elements of mystery. Magritte’s The Unexpected Answer (1933) depicts a door, presumably in a house, with a curvy shape cut out of the front. It’s dark in the space beyond. One wonders what came through that door, and from what direction.
With Weaning of Furniture — Nutrition (1934), Dalí uses the human body. A woman sits toward the shore, but a giant rectangle is cut through her back, letting us see the water and ground below. A crutch, a symbol Dalí uses often, is wedged in the hole. Nearby, a small night table appears to have a shape cut from the front of its door, but then you notice a smaller stand and a bottle next to it, making the exact shape of the hole. Is it a hole or a reflection?
Dalí’s obsession with his wife, Gala, is legendary and he painted her often. Magritte also painted his wife, Georgette, often. Photographs of each artist with his wife are blown up on the wall. Georgette’s head partially covers Magritte’s face, reminiscent of his tendency to obscure faces in his work.
A standout is Magritte’s Black Magic (1945), in which Georgette is painted as a classic nude, except she’s blue from the top of her head to her mid-torso as if she were transparent and the sky was showing through her.
The theme of classic nudes, particularly the statue of the Venus de Milo from antiquity, was a favorite among the surrealists. Dalí’s made compartments in the classic statue with his whimsical Venus de Milo With Drawers (1936), which also features fuzzy pom-poms. It’s displayed with Black Magic, as well as a small bronze statue Magritte did of Venus called The Copper Hand Cuffs (1931).
The artists also explore the concept of double image. Magritte’s Treasure Island (1942) sees a cluster of leaves transforming into birds. With Dalí’s Old Age, Adolescence, Infancy (The Three Ages) (1940), figures become part of faces, engaging one to study it, like one of those tricks in the back of a magazine.
Magritte is also famous for his cloud paintings, particularly ones with sky birds, where clouds make up the bird’s body. Sky Bird (1967) is on display, on loan from a private collector. This body of work was from a later time period, but it’s a welcome addition.
The exhibition ends with a bit of fun technology and selfie opportunities, the latter an element that seems all too important these days. From the red rooms, you step into a room of digital clouds, like when Dorothy steps into Oz. The environment created by Pixel Rain combines images of real clouds mixed with ones from Dalí and Magritte’s paintings on screens. The clouds move and change, and there are wind sounds.
Viewers can go into a painting from each artist using augmented reality technology. It’s a mind trip that leaves you questioning where you are and what you see. And those surrealists would approve.
Contact Maggie Duffy at [email protected] Follow @maggiedalexis.
If you go
Magritte and Dalí
The show remains on display through May 19. Thursday, a documentary about Rene Magritte will be shown as part of the museum’s Artflix series. It’s free to attend from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Will Raymund Theater. On Jan. 9, join Dr. William Jeffett for a Coffee with a Curator talk about the exhibition from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the Raymond James Community Room; it is free to attend. Neither event includes museum admission: $24, $22 seniors/military/police/firefighters/educators, $17 students (any age), $10 children 6-12, free for children 5 and younger; $10 Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and until 8 p.m. Thursdays. 1 Dalí Blvd., St. Petersburg. (727) 823-3767. thedali.org.