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Even more unsettling, in its own way, is a medium-size oil by the Chilean artist Matta, a 1952 painting called Being Beauteous (a.k.a. The Appletilists). It appears to be some sort of gruesome dinner-table scene, with two bizarre creatures -- extraterrestrials? -- devouring large green apples with their spiky claws and teeth. It's a raw, inexplicably compelling image that's straight from the unconscious, which is what surrealism is supposed to be all about anyway.
For me the centerpiece of "Sweet Dreams and Nightmares" is La Boîte en Valise -- Series C (Box in a Valise) (1958), a display case holding a set of miniatures that encapsulate the career of Marcel Duchamp, perhaps the greatest Dada-surrealist of them all. In the 1930s Duchamp made the first of his "Box in a Valise" series, and this is one of a later edition of 30. In effect they're tiny museums of his works displayed from an open suitcase.
The version here includes small-scale reproductions of Duchamp's key works, including the notorious cubist painting Nude Descending a Staircase, the enigmatic Tu M', the "readymade" Fountain (a urinal), and the scandalous L.H.O.O.Q. (a print of the Mona Lisa onto which Duchamp penciled a mustache and goatee.
There's even a miniature reproduction of Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors,Even (Large Glass), a mixed-media piece that's arguably one of the most dissected works in modern art, complete with the dust that settled on it and was permanently incorporated into the piece by spray fixative and the cracks that spread through the two glass panels during a shipping accident. If we can't have the original Large Glass, which has long been deemed too fragile to move again (it's in the Philadelphia Museum of Art), at least "Sweet Dreams and Nightmares" gives us an authorized facsimile of it.
After the bravura flourishes of "Sweet Dreams and Nightmares," it's perhaps inevitable that the adjacent exhibition, "Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman,"comes across as less than thrilling. Not that it's a bad show.
The theme is in essence feminist-tinged self-portraiture. The first section of the show includes 47 black-and-white photographs by Claude Cahun, who was born Lucy Schwob in 1894 but adopted her pseudonym in 1917. She was a lesbian who specialized in small-scale portraits of herself in various disguises (including, in one especially nifty image, Buddha), many of them gender-bending.
Section two is devoted to the Ukrainian-born Maya Deren (who was also born with another name: Eleanora Derenkowsky), best known as a filmmaker but also an accomplished photographer. Included here is a series of black-and-white photos Deren took to document the vodou religion when she visited Haiti on a Guggenheim grant in 1947; a series of portraits of Deren by her second husband, Alexander Hammid; and three sets of stills from her most famous films (in which she and her friends performed): Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land,and Ritual in Transfigured Time, all of which screen on a continuous loop in a little makeshift theater at the museum.
The final section features eight large color photographs and a dozen much smaller black-and-white ones by self-portraitist Cindy Sherman, known for her series of photos in which she re-creates herself as figures from history, fairy tales, and the movies. A pair of installations displays props used in some of her shoots. Sherman has long been a darling in certain art-world circles, and some of her photographic reinventions of herself have the bite of social satire. None of the photos here fits that bill.
MoCA's third show of the moment is the room-size installation "Matthew Ritchie: Incomplete Projects 01: The Fast Set," which takes up the museum's Pavilion Gallery across from the entrance to the main galleries. It's a set of playful assemblages of brightly colored shapes, mostly abstract, some of which spill from one wall and onto the floor, with snaky black and gray lines that make their way over to and up another wall. This is the sort of cutting-edge stuff we've come to expect from MoCA, although there's a whiff of self-indulgence that might be off-putting except for one thing: The installation is quite a bit of fun.
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