Surrealism Beyond Borders ★★★★

By Jessica Pretorius

Tate Modern’s Surrealism Beyond Borders is a jam-packed, whistle-stop-tour of Surrealism. The exhibition is certainly interesting, sometimes overwhelming, and definitely worth going to see.

Surrealism started in Europe in the post-war 1920s. It was an art movement, and later on a more general cultural thought movement, that aimed to explore dreamworlds, find beauty in the unexpected and unite the conscious and unconscious mind. Yet, when one thinks of Surrealism, it is difficult not to picture the big artists whose pieces and thought largely defined the movement; Salvador Dali, André Breton and René Magritte amongst others. 

This is exactly why Tate Modern’s Surrealism Beyond Borders is so brilliant. The exhibition includes sculptures, short films, paintings and photography, and showcases more than 150 artists from across the world and spanning over a 50-year period. It truly shows the global influence of Surrealism and the way the movement developed independently outside of Europe: there are pieces from Buenos Aires, Cairo, Lisbon, Mexico City, Prague, Seoul, and Tokyo.

You will find everything from intricate sketches to paintings of castles and eyeballs to a huge wooden sculpture. There’s even a lobster telephone. A personal standout is Ted Joan’s 9-metre-long collaborative drawing, that was passed on from person to person and added to for over 30 years, even outliving the original artist by two years. 

Another interesting element is the focus on Surrealism as revolution, and many areas of the exhibition are centred around how Surrealism, in art but also as a thought process, aimed to subvert oppressive regimes such as imperialism, racism, fascism and capitalism. In Martinique, for example, Surrealism was a critical tool to confront French colonialism and reaffirm ideas of black identity and Négritude. It was used by students, civil rights movements, and anti-war protests across the globe. 

Because of the sheer number of pieces exhibited, Surrealism Beyond Borders felt a bit messy at times. But, for the most part, the exhibition is well curated, and it certainly must’ve been a mammoth task to compile such a huge range of art and artists. The rooms that are centred around locations are the most coherent, but some pieces, that are grouped together by a general theme, feel a bit random. Again, the volume of art on display means one would have to dedicate serious time to explore everything in detail, but the exhibition certainly completes its task of truly representing Surrealism across the globe.

Overall, Surrealism Beyond Borders gives a very good understanding of the movement and is a useful reminder that traditional perceptions of ‘European’ art often obscures many relevant global figures. It’s a diverse exhibition that’ll offer something for everyone; many of the pieces were not necessarily beautiful, in fact, some made me feel a bit sick, but it was undoubtedly thought-provoking.

Surrealism beyond Borders is showing in Tate modern until the 29th of August 2022. 

My name is Jessica and I’m in my second year studying International Relations with Spanish. In my spare time you’ll find me reading my book, reading the news, going to galleries or going to gigs. If you have any thoughts/ questions/ suggestions about my piece please get in touch via email ( j.pretorius@lse.ac.uk) or instagram (@jessprett)! 

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