Surrealism, the art movement once described as finding beauty in “the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an ironing board,” came of age in the 1920s, as photography was moving in new and artistic directions. Many proponents of surrealism embraced photography as an art form that could elevate and decontextualize the odd or mundane. An ambitious exhibition at the Cleveland Art Museum explores the connection between photography and the two principal art movements of the early 20th century, surrealism and modernism. “Forbidden Games: Surrealism and Modernism in Photography” presents 167 vintage photographs and illustrated books made between the 1920s and 1940s by photographers who embraced both surrealist and modernist impulses, and challenged notions about the photo as an unmediated record of reality.
The photographic works in the show come from a collection the Cleveland Museum of Art acquired in 2007 from filmmaker David Raymond, an avid collector of images representing what he called “the wild eye.” Raymond’s collection includes photomontages, photograms, collages and solarized prints. Though surrealism got its start in Paris, where it was championed by artists such as Man Ray, “Forbidden Games” is international in scope, featuring work by Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky from Russia, Horacio Coppola from Argentina, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy from Hungary and Emiel van Moerkerken from the Netherlands. Also included are artists typically known for their documentary work, such as Brassai and Lartigue, who are shown to have been influenced by new, modernist ideas. The show highlights the Cleveland
Museum’s large holdings of works by Dora Maar, whose creativity as a photographer, poet and painter was long overshadowed by her role as a muse and frequent subject of Pablo Picasso.
The catalogue for the show includes essays by scholars Tom E. Hinson, Ian Walker and Lisa Kurzner. — Holly Stuart Hughes
“Forbidden Games: Surrealist and Modernist Photography” runs through January 11, 2015 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. A book by the same name is also available.