This exhibition presents the wide reach of the surreal imagination in modern and contemporary photography. Anchored in historical Surrealism, it explores photography’s central tension between documentation and invention, a generative force for artists connected to that movement. These artists produced images that teeter between truth and suggestion, reality and its invented double. Drawn from the Menil’s holdings and Houston collections, the exhibition demonstrates how this vision of photography continues to hold sway and how artists have used the camera to reshape, question, and disturb the way we see the world.
The presentation begins with an examination of the transformation of the everyday through the lens in a tradition that recasts the world as an enigmatic theater, from Eugène Atget’s shots of Old Paris to Allison Janae Hamilton’s haunted folklore of the American South. Photographs in the exhibition also foreground the exploration of the body, including Hans Bellmer’s images of deconstructed dolls and Cindy Sherman’s cinematographic self-staging, among other depictions of costumed, distorted, fragmented figures. Lastly, the show considers the manipulation of the image. It highlights artists from Man Ray to Lorna Simpson, all of whom turned the photographic surface into collision of pictorial fragments that questions the nature of representation.
Photography and the Surreal Imagination is curated by Natalie Dupêcher, Assistant Curator of Modern Art, and will coincide with the FotoFest Biennial 2020. It will be installed adjacent to the Menil’s Surrealism galleries.
This exhibition is generously supported by the City of Houston.