By Mark Guiducci, November 3, 2015
Thanks to The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dalí’s 1931 masterpiece, the melting stopwatch is arguably the foremost icon of the Surrealist movement. Most people, however, don’t think about that droopy gadget in the context of a landscape picture—specifically, a scorched desert vista with a cliff and a beach in the background—and in fact an overwhelming proportion of Surrealist pictures are rooted in the landscape tradition, executed on canvases both big and small. (The Persistence of Memory, for instance, is only 9.5 inches on one side. Like dreams themselves, even the smallest Surrealist pictures can make an impact.)
“Fields of Dream: The Surrealist Landscape” is a jewel box of a show at the Di Donna gallery that examines this tendency across the history of the movement. On view now after a celebratory opening dinner at Le Bilboquet, the exhibition is comprised of about 70 works, hung salon-style, as if it were someone’s own extraordinary collection rather than a gallery project. “It’s a collage,” Emmanuel Di Donna says of his arrangement. And while it couldn’t have been assembled any other way in his space on the second floor of The Carlyle hotel, the presentation allows the viewer to better see the thematic connections. (One wall, for instance, features pictures that all depict something on fire.) And according to Di Donna, there has never been a show explicitly dedicated to the theme of Surrealist landscapes. In an ambitious essay in the show’s catalog, NYU’s Ara H. Merjian traces the idea from a 17th-century German picture all the way to a 1982 work by Marcel Jean. “It’s not an easy theme to treat, and I couldn’t have done it with any fewer paintings,” Di Donna says.
Di Donna’s show resonates not only because of its particular historical point of view, but also because of the unexpected relevance of Surrealism in more recent eras, including the one we’re in now. A Max Ernst painting on corrugated cardboard from the mid-1950s, for instance, clearly prefigures Op Art. The examples of grottage, frottage, and decalcomania immediately recall the kinds of process-based works that painters are making now. And Di Donna himself hints that a future juxtaposition of Surrealist and contemporary art might be on the horizon. For now, however, “Fields of Dream” shows us how the innovations of Surrealism got us to where we are today.