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Visit Mystic Detectives, a Surrealism Exhibit at the Samek Art Museum

An exhibition that explores the influences and echoes of surrealism in contemporary art.

Still from What Happened, 1991-1996. Elizabeth King. Stop-motion 35mm film animation. Samek Art Museum Collection, 2006.12.
Still from What Happened (1991-1996), Elizabeth King. Stop-motion 35mm film animation. Samek Art Museum Collection, 2006.12.

Mystic Detectives surveys the influences and echoes of Surrealism in contemporary art. Historical Surrealism is often remembered for outlandish images and visual puns, but it also attempted to levy a serious social critique. Melding the ideas of Marx and Freud, Surrealists saw reason and order as means of bourgeois social control that must be overthrown. They embraced the irrational and emotive as potential pathways to pure imagination and social liberation.

This exhibition presents contemporary artists who use Surrealist artistic strategies including automatic writing and games that introduce chance as ways to bypass rational control, or jarring and uncanny images that speak directly to the subconscious. These artists may practice under new collective umbrellas such as Afro- Surrealism or Pop Surrealism or work independently with Surrealist methods. Contemporary artists revive Surrealism’s original social critique or take up Surrealist strategies to address contemporary issues.

Mystic Detectives includes artists that are inspired by – and sometimes critical of – historical Surrealism including Nick Knight, Bill Domonkos, Gwenaël Rattke, Ken Goldberg, Shylah Pacheco Hamilton, Noriko Yamamoto, Kenrick McFarlane, Paolo del Toro, Elizabeth King, and Victor Castillo. These artists bring new histories and fresh political urgency to bear on Surrealism’s social critique. Like the original Surrealists, they often work in a psychological or aesthetic mode rather than openly political. In an interview, author Ishmael Reed was asked why his books were not more literal in their activism. His response, as quoted in the Afro-Surrealist manifesto, calls on artists to invade dominant culture through the back door of aesthetics.

“You let the social realists go after the flatfoots out there on the beat and we’ll go after the Pope and see which action causes a revolution. We are mystical detectives about to make an arrest.”

Mystic Detectives will be on view at the Samek Art Museum (Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA) through December 2. For more information, visit bucknell.edu/mystic-detectives.