Forbidden Games: Surrealist photo exhibit wraps in Cleveland

One of the Surrealist portraits in the Cleveland Museum of Art's current exhibit.
One of the Surrealist portraits in the Cleveland Museum of Art's current exhibit. (Photo credit: Terry Ponick)

CLEVELAND, January 9, 2015 – Closing this weekend, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s “Forbidden Games”—an exhibit of Surrealist photographs and early associated films—is a remarkable tour de force. The exhibit highlights one of this museum’s unique collections while encouraging visitors old and new to visit massively expanded space on the city’s East Side University Circle area, also home to the renowned Cleveland Orchestra.

New Atrium, Cleveland Museum of Art.
New Atrium, Cleveland Museum of Art. (Via Wikipedia)

Despite the showy sex appeal of the city’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland is one of the world’s most important and impressive art museums, and this unusual exhibit is one of the reasons why. Ranging from the banal to the radically original, “Forbidden Games” highlights the interesting artistic, philosophical and political themes of post World War I surrealist and modernist era. Among other things, this was a time during which photography became increasingly regarded as a suitable medium for art—in this case, of the more radical kind.

The Museum’s website provides a clear sense of how this exhibit came to be, as well as what it’s all about:

“Beginning in the 1990s, art collector and filmmaker David Raymond judiciously sought out vintage prints from the 1920s through the 1940s that reflect the eye in its wild state (l’oeil a l’état sauvage), remaining true to the spirit of André Breton, a founder of surrealism. Raymond’s holdings of surrealist and modernist photography were distinguished by their quality, breadth, and rarity of subject matter. In 2007, the Cleveland Museum of Art made a major, transformative acquisition by procuring that collection, one of the most important holdings of twentieth-century surrealist photography that remained in private hands.

“Vertiginous camera angles, odd croppings, and exaggerated tones and perspectives are hallmarks of the two principal photographic movements of the period, surrealism and modernism. As with surrealist efforts in other media, artists making photographs also aimed to explore the irrational and the chance encounter—magic and the mundane—filtered through the unconscious defined by Sigmund Freud. Eventually, photography became a preeminent tool of surrealist visual culture.

“Artists from fourteen countries, representing diverse artistic pathways and divergent attitudes toward photography, come together in this collection. Many of the photographs reflect Parisian circles, with masterful works by Man Ray, Brassaï, Maurice Tabard, and Roger Parry. Soviet Russia is represented by Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky; Germany by László Moholy-Nagy and Erwin Blumenfeld, among others. In addition to these notable artists, the collection features many photographers whose work is not as well known in the United States, including Horacio Coppola of Argentina, Emiel van Moerkerken of Holland, and Marcel-G. Lefrancq of Belgium. A highlight of the collection is a grouping of 23 works by Dora Maar, a female photographer with a strong voice in surrealist Paris.”

The exhibit closes Sunday, January 11, 2015. If you’re in town for the weekend, or if you happen to live nearby and happen to be interested in the often bizarre and tortured art that represents one aspect of the post-WWI era, it’s still not too late to view this well-curated exhibit. Highly recommended.

The following short film issued by the Museum will give you the flavor of this exhibit.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., and Wednesdays and Fridays from 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.

Address: 11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio 44106, just behind Severance Hall in the University Circle area.

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