Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926 - 1938

Feb 14 – Jun 1, 2014
Main Building

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 is the first major museum exhibition to focus exclusively on the breakthrough Surrealist years of the Belgian artist René Magritte, creator of some of the 20th century’s most extraordinary images. It traces significant strategies and themes from a seminal period in the artist’s career, particularly those of displacement, transformation, metamorphosis, and the “misnaming” of objects, as well as the representation of visions seen in half-waking states.

The exhibition also considers some of the material issues of Magritte’s art and the relationship of his paintings to his work in other media, based upon first-hand examination by the exhibition’s curators of all included works. The show opens with a series of paintings and works on paper made in Brussels in 1926 and 1927, marking the onset of Magritte’s heightened engagement with the creation of painted images that could, in his words, “challenge the real world.”

Following Magritte to Paris, where he met Surrealists like André Breton, Paul Eluard, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí, and in 1930 going back to Brussels, where he continued to paint hallucinatory pictures of exceptionally realistic detail, the exhibition will conclude at a historically and biographically significant moment. In the year 1938, just before the outbreak of World War II, Magritte delivered his most revealing account of the experience of life and art that made him a Surrealist painter.

The exhibition includes some 80 paintings, collages, and objects, along with a selection of periodicals, photographs, and rare documents. A richly illustrated, scholarly catalogue published in conjunction with the exhibition is available in the Menil Bookstore.

The largest privately assembled collection of Magritte works in the world, the Menil Collection is pleased to co-organize Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 with two outstanding partner venues—the Museum of Modem Art, New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition is co-curated by Anne Umland, The Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modem Art, New York; Stephanie D'Alessandro, the Gary C. and Frances Comer Curator of Modern Art at the Art Institute of Chicago; and Menil Director Josef Helfenstein.

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 is organized by The Menil Collection, Houston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and The Art Institute of Chicago

Menil exhibition curated by Josef Helfenstein with Clare Elliott

Bank of America is the National Sponsor of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938

The presentation in Houston is generously supported by Fayez Sarofim; National Endowment for the Arts; The Eleanor and Frank Freed Foundation; Debra and Dan Friedkin; The Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation; Bérengère Primat; David and Anne Kirkland; Janie C. Lee and David B. Warren; The Linbeck Family Charitable Trust; Susanne and Bill Pritchard; The John P. McGovern Foundation; Taub Foundation: Marcy Taub Wessel, Henry J.N. Taub II, and H. Ben Taub; Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Dedalus Foundation; Louisa Stude Sarofim; Baker Botts L.L.P.; Global Geophysical Services; Paul and Janet Hobby; Henrietta K. Alexander; Diane and Mike Cannon; Ann and Mathew Wolf; and the City of Houston. United Airlines is the Preferred Airline of the Menil Collection

Photos: Paul Hester

Sarah Whitfield, a London-based independent art historian, writer, and curator, is co-author of the Magritte catalogue raisonné and editor of René Magritte: Newly Discovered Works. She was the curator of the 1992 Magritte retrospective and author of its catalogue. The second in an annual series named in honor of the late Menil trustee Marion Barthelme Fort, each year this Lecture Series invites a distinguished speaker to discuss an artist in the museum’s collection. Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 [February 14–June 1, 2014]