MoMA – Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938

Based on museum audio guide. The number of each painting corresponds to the actual item number in the museum.

651. The Lost Jockery

René Magritte. Le Jockery perdu (The Lost Jockery). Brussels, 1926

The black curtains on the sides of the canvas remind us what we see behind is actually something not real (even surreal?). In the center of the “stage”, we have Magritte (should be himself, right?) riding a horse, seems running very fast but looks like not going anywhere. The standing “trunks” is actually bilboquets – a French toy and Magritte repeatedly used this form in his early works.

652. Portrait of Paul Nouge

René Magritte. Portrait of Paul Nouge. 1927

Paul Nouge was a Belgian composer and he was a close friend of Magritte. In this painting Magritte challenged the convention view that portrait should be singular. The two Pauls look almost identical but with tiny differences – the shades of foreheads, one’s hand was cropped out of the canvas, etc. We believe from Magritte’s view, neither of them is Paul Nouge and both are representations.

653. The Secret Player

René Magritte. Le Joueur secret (The Secret Player). Brussels, 1927

Again, we see the curtain and bilboquets. But here in front of us is an even weird and surreal world, with two players and a woman in a closet whose size is smaller than usual. What is interesting about this work is – it seems there are two sources of light. Obviously one is coming from left to the right (you can tell from the reflection of the bilboquets) and the other one, which sheds light on the woman’s face, is less to be aware of. This is a painting without a narrative and we can only explore the meaning and the truth simply by looking at it.

655. The Titanic Days

René Magritte. Les Jours gigantesques (The Titanic Days). Paris, 1928

This one is disturbing – not only because it shows a man fighting with a woman but more than that we see the two bodies are forced to be in one plane. The three-dimension conventional pictorial space is destroyed.

656. Attempting the Impossible

René Magritte. Tentative de I’impossible (Attempting the Impossible). Paris, 1928

Magritte and his wife. This can be regarded as the most literal interpretation of what a painter does – just apply paints – there is nothing more mystical, mysterious, and metaphysical about it. This also reflects the Surrealists’ attack on painting as a medium itself at the very beginning and what Magritte was trying to bring us here is the initial state of painting, without being commercialized, related to religion or something else, just paint. On another perspective, this painting also reminds us of Pygmalion, the Greek mythological character that brings his beloved sculpture to life.

657. The False Mirror

René Magritte. The False Mirror (Le Perreux-sur-Marne), 1928

Unfortunately this is the only one painting that I knew before I came to this exhibition (but not knowing it is from Magritte). The caption of this work makes us to think about, and problematize that optical vision is limited. What you see is not necessarily reality – inner vision, hallucination, and dream may provide us as real as what we see in external phenomena – this plays an important role in Surrealism and the relationships between dream and reality, vision and illusion, what we see and what we do not see, are among the central issues that the Surrealist painters wanted to address.

658. The Eternally Obvious

René Magritte. L’Evidence eternelle (The Eternally Obvious). Paris, 1930

Personally I think this is the most “magical” work in this exhibition and what you actually see is definitely beyond the five pieces of female torso. It simply ignites your imagination and brings about the inner desire to connect these disjoint pieces and even to create . Each individual piece may also represent a radical and violent act in terms of creation – the cropped and closeup view of a particular part of a female’s body – to some sense it looks like a photograph rather than a painting. It interestingly illustrates the relationship between these two and somewhat the fear that photography as mechanical reproduction is threatening the role of painting.

660. Elective Affinities

René Magritte. Les Affinites electives (Elective Affinities). Brussels, 1932

One of the several works that I cannot understand well. Magritte are trying to depict some form of illusion here because the positions of the edges of the cage are self-contradictory.

661. The Light of Coincidence

René Magritte. La Lumière des coincidences (The Light of Coincidence). Brussels, 1933

This one is my favorite since there are so many interpretations of its meaning, and the line between truth and illusion so blurred here. One cannot really tell if we are seeing a painted female torso in the frame, or instead a sculpture which is illuminated by the candle. The vivid light and shades of the torso is driving us to discover the truth and puzzling us at the same time, with the help the candle, which then represents illumination. Human is illuminated by arts, just like the torso is illuminated by the candle. This simple and complex work illustrates how paintings are created and how arts tell or do not tell stories and communicating ideas.

662. The Interpretation of Dreams

René Magritte. La Clef des songes (The Interpretation of Dreams), 1935

One interesting thing about this work is the English rather than French words under each of the objects (thought only the bottom right is correct). The mismatch between the objects and the meanings of the words reveals the complexity how we as a view gather information from a painting.

663. Clairvoyance

René Magritte. La Clairvoyance (Clairvoyance). Brussels, 1936

Magritte himself is present in this painting, illustrating what his daily work looks like and what he thinks about his work and art itself. Painting is about reproduction – it tells us the truth but also suggests multiplicity. There is no relationship between the egg and the bird and it is something else which is beyond the simply realistic and mechanical reproduction that connects this two objects together.

664. Not to Be Reproduced

René Magritte. La Reproduction interdite (Not to Be Reproduced). Brussels, 1937

The caption of this work is interesting – not to be reproduced. Perhaps this is why the figure behind the mirror refused to turn around his face to us? This hence poses the question on the role of painting as means of reproduction. The figure behind the mirror represents the hidden potential behind our everyday life. More often than not, life and truth is not about what we see but what it is concealed.

665. On the Threshold of Liberty

René Magritte. Au seuil de la liberte (On the Threshold of Liberty). London, 1937

It is hard to imagine what you will really feel if you walk into a room like this. This painting plays with our expectations. One thing to note is that the texture in each plane (for example, the female torso and the wood next to it) and Magritte has applied quite different techniques to achieve that.

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