In 1999 the Menil Collection opened Witnesses to a Surrealist Vision, an exhibition conceived by anthropologist Edmund Carpenter (1922–2011) as a tribute to museum founder Dominique de Menil. Secreted behind a theatrical curtain in the Menil’s Surrealism gallery, the exhibition emulates displays in the studios and homes of Surrealist artists, as well as the “cabinets of curiosities” or Wunderkammern in early natural history museums. It is a packed display with over 300 works: paintings, prints, tourist curios, 19th-century European imaging devices, and ritual and everyday objects—primarily from the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Islands and the Americas. More than two decades later, Witnesses remains a favorite of visitors to the Menil.
In recognition of Carpenter’s centenary in 2022, Sean Mooney, Chief Curator of the Rock Foundation, will join Menil curators Paul R. Davis and Natalie Dupêcher for a conversation about the history of the exhibition, its references to Surrealism, and new perspectives of the works on view.