New Way Of Looking At Surrealism Focuses On The Worldwide Sweep Of The Movement

Groundbreaking Exhibition Presented At The Met

November 19, 2021

Nearly from its inception, Surrealism has had an international scope, but understanding of the movement has come primarily through a Western European orientation. The major exhibition “Surrealism Beyond Borders” reconsiders the true “movement” of Surrealism beyond boundaries of geography and chronology, presenting it as networks that span Eastern Europe to the Caribbean, Asia to North Africa, and Australia to Latin America. With examples from almost eight decades, produced across 45 or more countries, the exhibition offers a fresh appraisal of some of the collective concerns and exchanges, as well as historical, national, and local distinctions, that will recast appreciation of this most revolutionary and globe-spanning movement. “Surrealism Beyond Borders” will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through Jan. 30, 2022.
The exhibition is made possible by the Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Placido Arango Fund, the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund, Alice Cary Brown and W.L. Lyons Brown, the John Pritzker Family Fund, and The International Council of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. It is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Tate Modern.
“Surrealism is an ‘ism’ of the art world that really went global, and its universal and complex artistic language has had a lasting effect on creative imagination and production. Even those who are familiar with Surrealism will find this show to be full of surprises and discoveries. Surrealism is often presented as a canonical, monolithic movement, but in this important exhibition we see it as something more dynamic and connected, something that has enabled artists to imagine the world beyond their own artistic, cultural, social, or political situation, and continues to do so today. This groundbreaking show not only opens up the field of Surrealist studies but generates broader questions about modernism itself,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French director of The Met.
“A radical idea that infiltrated culture in many global cities, Surrealism demonstrates how important deep research by scholars living within all regions of the world can circulate and gain currency. Rather than taking a universalist approach, this ambitious show offers a nuanced and expansive telling of the history of this art, which aligns with the core mission of the modern and contemporary art program at The Met. By reappraising old orthodoxies, this exhibition speaks to local terrains and their specific cultural, historical, and geopolitical conditions, while following the flow of crosscurrents of influence across the world, added ”Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder chairman of The Met’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.
A revolutionary idea sparked in Paris around 1924, Surrealism prioritized the unconscious and dreams over the familiar and everyday. While Surrealism has often generated poetic and even humorous works, such as Salvador Dalí’s telephone receiver that morphs into a lobster, or Renè Magritte’s miniature train that rushes from a fireplace, it has also been deployed by artists around the world as a serious weapon in the struggle for political, social, and personal freedom. The dynamic, transhistoric, and transnational paths presented in the exhibition acknowledge not only the shared and special interests of artists associated with Surrealism but also the conditions under which they lived and worked. The presentation includes paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photography, films, and radio plays, as well as examples of rare publications that animate the vibrancy of Surrealism. Organized into 14 galleries, the exhibition explores the collective interests shared by artists across regions and presents a selection of the points around the world where Surrealism’s convergence, relay, and exchange shine through. The exhibition also considers some of the events and conditions of the last hundred years that have impinged on Surrealism, including the pursuit of independence from colonialism and the experience of exile and displacement wrought by international conflict. Neither singular in narrative nor linear in chronology, the exhibition pushes beyond traditional borders and conventional narratives to draw a map of the world at the time of the Surrealists as an interrelated network, one that makes visible many lives, locations, and encounters linked through the freedom and possibility offered by Surrealism.
Eight galleries will reconsider familiar themes related to Surrealism and its exploration of the unconscious to overcome habit and convention, such as “The Uncanny” and “The Body of Desire,” but from a fresh, wide geographic and temporal perspective. In the gallery devoted to “The Work of Dreams,” for example, the familiar and iconic “Two Children Frightened by a Nightingale” (1924), by Max Ernst, will be seen alongside a less familiar work by Antonio Berni, “Landru in the Hotel, Paris” (1932), a painting that appeared in the first exhibition of Surrealism in Argentina. Visitors will also find Skunder Boghossian’s “Night Flight of Dread and Delight” (1964), painted by the artist following his experience of the work by Wifredo Lam and Roberto Matta, which offered him a way of merging his experience of the Black diaspora with Surrealism.
In addition to revising and expanding on familiar themes, “Surrealism Beyond Borders” also considers a number of places where artists have converged and, through coming together, relayed and exchanged ideas of Surrealism. Five focused galleries will highlight the variety of experiences of Surrealism in Paris, at the Bureau of Surrealist Research; in Cairo, with the al-Fann wa-l-Hurriya/Art et Liberté (Art and Liberty) group; in Haiti, Martinique, and Cuba, as multiple waves initiated by writers; in Mexico City, shaped by the creative bonds of women artists; and in Chicago, where it was deployed as a tool of radical politics. Along with these focused sections, special loans from a multitude of locations, including the photographs of Limb Eung-Sik and Jung Hae Chang from Korea and a film by Dušan Marek from Australia, will offer insight into the adoption and adaption of Surrealism around the world.
Artists associated with Surrealism have relied on exhibitions and journals to exchange ideas, extend networks across national boundaries, and unite diasporic communities (people of common origin or belief dispersed geographically). To animate some of these routes of communication, the exhibition will include many rare journals and manifestos, from “Yifeng” (Art Wind, Shanghai, 1935) to “A partir de cero” (Starting from Zero, Buenos Aires, 1952–56), and from “Tropiques” (Fort-de-France, 1941-44) to “Surrealist Insurrection” (Chicago, 1968–72). Film and radio, though each demanded financial and technological resources not available to all artists, also brought new adherents to Surrealism, and the presentation’s special selection of radio broadcasts and films will further bring Surrealism to life.
Following its debut at The Met, the exhibition will travel to the Tate Modern (Feb. 24 to Aug. 29, 2022).
To learn more, visit


More Articles