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It doesn’t get more ironic than this … René Magritte, “La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe)/(The Treachery of Images [This is Not a Pipe])” (1929), oil on canvas. 23 3/4 x 31 15/16 x 1 in. (60.33 x 81.12 x 2.54 cm). (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. © Charly Herscovici — ADAGP — ARS, 2013. Photograph: Digital Image © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA,Licensed by Art Resource, NY)

If there was a poll that attempted to plumb the depths of teenage angst and figure out which artist most typifies the intellectual anxiety of youth then my guess is that René Magritte (1898–1967) would place on top (followed closely by Salvador Dalí, of course). And now every teenager in the world (or adults with Magritte-riddled teenage years) will be able to see the originals that inspired these poster-friendly images the world over.

Before the deluge of images we are constantly faced with in our social media- and internet-obsessed world, Magritte was one of the most recognizable soldiers of Surrealism who inspired legions of fans (though most of us grew out of it) through his mis-naming of things — that’s not really a pipe, it’s a painting of a pipe, get it?).

What will this new retrospective at MoMA, which opens September 28 in New York, reveal about the work of the Belgian artist who loves the radical juxtaposition? My guess it will be hard to tell in the crowded galleries as this will be a blockbuster that draws in a record number of visitors.

The retrospective with bring together around 80 paintings, collages, and objects, along with a selection of photographs, periodicals, and early commercial work.

For those who won’t be able to make it to Manhattan for the show, you’ll be happy to know that the exhibition will travel to Houston and Chicago in 2014.

Here’s an interesting (and revealing) quote about Magritte’s childhood:

During my childhood, I liked to play with a little girl in the abandoned old cemetery of a country town … We used to lift up the iron gates and go down into the underground vaults. Once, on regaining the light of day, I noticed an artist painting in an avenue of the cemetery, which was very picturesque with its broken columns of stone and its heaped-up leaves. He had come from the capital; his art seemed to me to be magic, and he himself endowed with powers from above. Unfortunately, I learnt later that painting bears very little direct relation to life, and that every effort to free oneself has always been derided by the public. Millet’s “Angelus” was a scandal in his day, the painter being accused of insulting the peasants by portraying them in such a manner. People wanted to destroy Manet’s “Olympia,” and the critics charged the painter with showing women cut into pieces, because he had depicted only the upper part of the body of a woman standing behind the bar, the lower part being hidden by the bar itself. In Courbet’s day, it was generally agreed that he had very poor taste in so conspicuously displaying his false talent. I also saw that there were endless examples of this nature and that they extended over every area of thought. As regards the artists themselves, most of them gave up their freedom quite lightly, placing their art at the service of someone or something. As a rule, their concerns and their ambitions are those of any old careerist. I thus acquired a total distrust of art and artists, whether they were officially recognized or were endeavouring to become so, and I felt that I had nothing in common with this guild. I had a point of reference which held me elsewhere, namely that magic within art which I had encountered as a child.

René Magritte, “Les amants (The Lovers)” (1928), oil on canvas. 21 3/8 x 28 7/8″ (54 x 73.4 cm) (Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Richard S. Zeisler. © Charly Herscovici — ADAGP — ARS, 2013)

René Magritte, “La clef des songes (The Interpretation of Dreams)” (1935), oil on canvas. 16 1/8 x 10 5/8″ (41 x 27 cm) (collection of Jasper Johns. © Charly Herscovici -– ADAGP – ARS, 2013. Photograph: Jerry Thompson)

René Magritte, “L’assassin menacé (The Menaced Assassin)” (1927), oil on canvas. 59 1/4″ x 6′ 4 7/8″ (150.4 x 195.2 cm) (Museum of Modern Art. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP – ARS, 2013)

René Magritte, “Le faux miroir (The False Mirror)” (1928), oil on canvas.
21 1/4 x 31 7/8″ (54 x 80.9 cm) (The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase. © Charly Herscovici -– ADAGP – ARS, 2013)

About this painting, Magritte said: “I decided to paint the image of a locomotive (…) in order for its mystery to be evoked, another immediately familiar image without mystery — the image of a dining room fireplace — was joined.” René Magritte, “La durée poignardée (Time Transfixed)” (1938), oil on canvas. 57 7/8 x 39″ (147 x 99 cm) (The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. Joseph Winterbotham Collection. © Charly Herscovici — ADAGP — ARS, 2013)

René Magritte, “La reproduction interdite (Not to be Reproduced)” (1937), oil on canvas. 31 7/8 x 25 9/16 in. (81 x 65 cm) (Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam. © Charly Herscovici — ADAGP — ARS, 2013. Photograph: Studio Tromp, Rotterdam)

René Magritte, “Le Palais de rideaux, III (The Palace of Curtains, III)” (1928–29), oil on canvas. 32 x 45 7/8″ (81.2 x 116.4 cm) (Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. © Charly Herscovici — ADAGP — ARS, 2013)

René Magritte, “Le portrait (The Portrait)” (1935), oil on canvas. 28 7/8 x 19 7/8″ (73.3 x 50.2 cm) (Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Kay Sage Tanguy. © Charly Herscovici — ADAGP — ARS, 2013)

Speaking about this painting, Magritte said, “In front of a window seen from inside a room, I placed a painting representing exactly that portion of the landscape covered by the painting. Thus, the tree in the picture hid the tree behind it, outside the room. For the spectator, it was both inside the room within the painting and outside in the real landscape.” René Magritte, “La condition humaine (The Human Condition)” (1933), oil on canvas. 100 x 81 x 1.6 cm (39 3/8 x 31 7/8 x 5/8 in.) (National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collector’s Committee. © Charly Herscovici — ADAGP — ARS, 2013)

René Magritte, “La clairvoyance (Clairvoyance)” (1936), oil on canvas, 21 1/4 x 25 9/16″ (54 x 65 cm) (Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Ross. © Charly Herscovici — ADAGP — ARS, 2013)

Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

13 replies on “Artist Who Embodies Teenage Intellectual Angst Is Getting a MoMA Retrospective”

  1. Why are you classifying him as the doyenne of teen-age angst? It’s human angst…

    1. I agree. Does the author suggest that as adults, our maturity makes these images irrelevant??? While I would admit that ‘This is Not a Pipe’ is not a particularly strong painting, or concept (didactic for sure), many of Magritte’s images immediately represent the anxiety and uncertainty we often feel toward our own condition, and our role among our peers. Am I immature for having never learned to ignore those concerns?? Still wish I could see Magritte at MOMA…

      1. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to see this show, but I think Magritte really embodies that particular kind of teenage angst that younger people wallow in.

        1. I suppose its true that ‘teenage intellectual angst’ is a specific mindset and these images do lend themselves to expressions of that. I guess I just have a gut reaction against these images being pigeon-holed as such. It got me thinking though- Is surrealism the angst y teenage phase of modernism?? Maybe? haha! Thanks for your essays, Mr. Vartanian. I definitely enjoy your contributions to this blog 🙂

        2. The teenage angst that younger people wallow in today? Or are you referring to how they acted back in Magritte’s era? I think it’s important to acknowledge and take into account that the cultural context in which Magritte was working in the early 20th century was very different than what we experience now.

  2. For a moment I thought maybe MoMa was giving Edward Gorey a retrospective, which would not be that shocking considering some of their more recent crowd pleasers.

    1. A Gorey monograph at MoMA? Hahahaha. They’ll have an entire videogames department before they give an illustrator the sixth floor.

        1. There was a reason I wrote “videogames.” I find it amusing that they have been filed away as design. Everything must submit to the MoMA hierarchy of media.

        1. That Tim Burton show was a joke, and he’s not exactly known for his illustration. I’ll believe MoMA takes illustration and the allied arts seriously when they put on a retrospective for Maurice Sendak, Jean Giraud, Tove Jansson, or the like.

  3. I’ve never associated angst, teenage or otherwise, with Margritte’s work. Clever, funny, witty, surprising, humorous, meticulously crafted, but angst? Not so much. Proves the adage,”It’s all in the eye of the beholder.”

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