MoCA Raises Dada

"Sweet Dreams and Nightmares: Dada and Surrealism From the Rosalind and Melvin Jacobs Collection" and "Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman" and "Matthew Ritchie: Incomplete Projects 01: The Fast Set"

Surrealism has wormed its way so deeply into the fabric of contemporary culture, especially pop culture, that it's easy to forget how dramatically it shook up the art world when it emerged in the mid-1920s. That's part of what gives the works in "Sweet Dreams and Nightmares: Dada and Surrealism From the Rosalind and Melvin Jacobs Collection" their collective kick.

The exhibition is one of three currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, and it's an always fascinating, occasionally exhilarating overview of what turned out to be one of the most pervasively influential art "movements" of the 20th Century. The 65 works included are a sort of synopsis of surrealism and its convulsive parent, Dada, which erupted in response to the trauma of World War I.

As the show's subtitle indicates, the pieces here are from a private collection. This wife and husband, however, considered themselves not so much collectors as patrons of artists whose work they supported both philosophically and financially. (The late Mel Jacobs was once chairman of Burdines.) Even so, what a collection it is -- one that demonstrates, again and again, how attuned Roz and Mel Jacobs were to the artists who attracted their attention and devotion.

Dorothea Tanning's 1955 Le Mal Oubliť was part of a movement that stirred the art world

Details

on display through May 28, and "Matthew Ritchie: Incomplete Projects 01: The Fast Set" continues through June 25
Museum of Contemporary Art, Joan Lehman Bldg., 770 NE 125th St., North Miami, 305-893-6211

Man Ray was chief among those artists, and the show includes more than two dozen pieces by this seminal surrealist. According to some of the background information posted on the walls -- as usual curator Bonnie Clearwater has done a fine job of giving the art a context -- Ray longed to be thought of as a painter. His few oils in the show are passable, but he was much more inventive when he experimented with the possibilities of less traditional media.

There are nearly a dozen examples of "rayographs," an art form Ray himself invented by bypassing the camera and placing objects directly onto photographic paper, then exposing the paper to light. Even though he worked with such everyday items as clothespins, light bulbs, and keys, the resulting images have a dreamy, otherworldly quality. And since there are rayographs here from the '20s through the '50s, it's clear that this quirky technique never lost its luster for the artist.

Ray also dabbled in collage, and there's a charmingly simple one here called Décollage II (originally made in 1917, then re-created in 1947), a pared-to-the-basics portrait of a woman created with a few pieces of thin paper, three bobby pins, thread, a bit of fabric, and a lock of blond hair. And with the "sculpture" Le Fer Rouge (1966), Ray makes a visual pun by taking an old-fashioned flatiron and painting its base bright red, thus turning it into a red-hot iron.

The show includes a handful of other big-name surrealists. Dali is represented by a pencil-on-paper drawing called The Bicyclists (1935), as well as a disturbing cast bronze and brass chess set, circa 1978, in which most of the pieces take their forms from disembodied human fingers. (At the other end of the museum, a much less menacing Man Ray chess set bookends the exhibition.) There's also one of Joseph Cornell's trademark boxes, an untitled construction from the late '40s that consists of a glass-and-wood box containing blue sand, a metal ring, ball bearings, and paper, and Francis Picabia contributes a stark ink drawing, Two Nudes (circa 1926), that was once detained in Customs because it depicts two androgynous figures locked in a suggestive embrace.

Jean Arp, one of the founders of Dada, weighs in with two pieces from late in his career: a fairly lackluster untitled oil painting from 1960, and one of his cutout sculptures, a simple wavy slice of bronze called Découpage #8 (1957), which is mounted a few inches from the wall so that it casts a shadow. Three small pieces by Max Ernst -- a collage, a pencil drawing, and a crayon drawing -- only hint at that artist's extensive contributions to Dada and surrealism.

The show does better by the great surrealist René Magritte, with whom Roz Jacobs was especially taken. The painting that launched the Jacobs collection is here, a 1948 gouache called L'Éloge de la Dialectique (In Praise of Dialectic), in which we can see through an open window of a house into a room where a miniature version of the same house sits.

And there are variations of pieces executed earlier or later in alternative media. La Chambre d'Écoute (The Listening Room) (1957), an image of a room-size apple that Magritte had earlier painted in oil, is seen here as an ink drawing. The quintessentially surreal Le Modèle Rouge (The Red Model), in which a pair of boots end in real toes, is a pencil rendering of a subject later done in oil, and Le Coeur du Monde (The Heart of the World) is a 1954 gouache version of a later oil, in which a tower forms the horn on a unicorn.

One of the finest paintings in the show is an untitled 1940 watercolor and gouache by Yves Tanguy, an artist Magritte once dismissed as someone who "always stuck to redoing the same painting." It's one of those light-drenched "landscapes" Tanguy specialized in -- if you can call an undifferentiated brown space dotted with ominous, unidentifiable shapes a landscape. Or maybe it's better described as a landscape of the mind, filled with items only a surrealist could have imagined.

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