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Exhibition of Surrealist masterpieces opening at Te Papa in June

Te Papa Exhibition Designer Rosanne Kwan and Curator Modern Art Lizzie Bisley offer insights into the Surrealist Art exhibition that will open at in Toi Art in June.

In June of this year, a major exhibition of Surrealist art will open at Te Papa. Comprising 180 masterpieces from the collection of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the exhibition will showcase the work of leading Surrealists including Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Leonora Carrington, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, and Eileen Agar. 

Surrealism was born in Paris in 1924. Launched by manifesto, it quickly spread through Europe and around the world. Remarkable in its diversity, Surrealism is an art movement that touched on everything from painting and sculpture to film, fashion and interior design. Through the Boijmans’ outstanding collection, we are able to show this exciting variety of work. The exhibition brings together a wide array of artists, artworks and practices, encapsulating what the German writer Walter Benjamin described in 1928 as ‘an inspiring dream wave … the most integral, conclusive, absolute of movements.’

Work has been steaming ahead on the exhibition over the past few months, and we are extremely excited to now be able to share a first glimpse into its ambitious spatial design.

Architectural practice Warren and Mahoney have been the lead designers on the project, working in collaboration with the Te Papa design team. Surrealism set out to create a new reality – expanding human consciousness by bringing dreams, desires, imagination and the unconscious into ordinary life. We knew from the beginning that we wanted the exhibition design to evoke something of these ideas, giving visitors the sense of having stepped into another world. 

Visitors will be led through six highly distinct galleries, in which colour, lighting, materials and music create different moods and tempos. There is an all-encompassing journey from the first gallery – dark and atmospheric, with spotlit paintings such as Dali’s Couple with their Heads Full of Clouds – through to the exhibition’s final room. Awash in an envelope of colour, the walls of this last gallery are filled with paintings by Belgian artist René Magritte.

The Surrealists loved to play with exhibition design, as well as with their audiences’ expectations of a space or an artwork. In the design for Surrealist Art / He Toi Pohewa we have given these ideas a contemporary twist, creating a highly-unique environment which will bring the mystery of the dreaming mind into the reality of everyday life.

Image Credits:
1. Elsa Schiaparelli, Snuff, 1939, wood, cardboard, lithograph on paper, gilding, cellophane, glass, metal, plastic, and liquid. Courtesy Maison Schiaparelli. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Purchased with the support of the Mondriaan Fund. Photo: Tom Haartsen.

2. Jan Schlechter Duvall, Erotic, 1971, oil on wood. Courtesy of Laurens Vancrevel, assigned copyright manager of the Estate of Jan Schlechter Duvall. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Photo: Studio Tromp.

3. Unica Zürn, Composition, 1955, gouache on paper. © Verlag Brinkmann & Bose, Berlin, Germany. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Photo: Studio Tromp.

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