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"The Dream of Utopia/Utopia of the Dream"
2000-03-16 until 2000-08-22
Museum of Modern Art
New York, NY, USA United States of America

In the wake of World War I, many European artists felt an impulse to sweep away the past in search of new ideals that gave rise to a number of utopian movements. The Dream of Utopia/Utopia of the Dream, organized by Robert Storr, Senior Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, explores two divergent aesthetics that both tried to re-imagine or remake the world in a period of intense political and cultural crisis. Rather than a comprehensive survey, this exhibition reflects a distillation of two artistic concepts of utopia––one rational, one antirational––by presenting some 100 paintings, drawings, photographs and prints, primarily from the 1920s and 1930s, created by artists from various schools of thought. The Dream of Utopia/Utopia of the Dream is on view from March 16 through August 22 as part of Making Choices, the second cycle of MoMA2000.

One extreme was defined by the pure abstractions of painters such as Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, who sought the systematic restructuring of reality through emphasis on the logic of form. For example, the spare black and white composition of Mondrian’s Painting 1 (1926) embodies visions of perfect serenity, and Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: Red Square and Black Square (1915) represents machine age transcendentalism. Photographs by Aleksandr Rodchenko show both the exhilaration of revolution and its harsh reality, as do graphic works by Gustav Klucis and other Soviet designers. Similarly, artists and designers of the de Stijl group in the Netherlands, Constructivist and Suprematist artists in Russia, and members of the German Bauhaus also believed in a transformation of human consciousness through reconsideration––and reorganization––of the visual universe.

Overlapping with these predominantly abstract tendencies, the Surrealist movement defined an opposing extreme whose appeal to the irrational was equally absolute. Under the leadership of the poet and critic André Breton, artists such as Max Ernst, Man Ray, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dali challenged the concept of the normal in an effort to clear the way for the inspiration offered by dreams. René Magritte’s The Menaced Assassin (L’Assassin menacé) (1926), Alberto Giacometti’s The Palace at 4 a.m. (1932–33), and Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined teacup, saucer, and spoon, Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure) (1936), demonstrate this idea’s range of expression. Surrealist art was also typified by disconcerting pictorial oddities and formal distortions of great beauty, such as Dali’s Retrospective Bust of a Woman (1933), which is inexplicably adorned with bread, corn, feathers, beads, two pens, and an ink stand with figurines that refer to Jean-François Millet’s famous religious painting The Angelus (1857–59).

As profound as its impact on the visual arts and on literature was, Breton’s utopia of the dream was powerless to effect larger political realities. Many of it’s exponents took refuge from World War I in America, where their contact with artists such as Arshile Gorky and Joseph Cornell extended Surrealism’s reach and contributed enormously to the American art from the mid-1940s through the 1950s.


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