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Science in Surrealism


Artwork is never created in a vacuum. Artists are influenced by their surroundings, and their work often reflects their impressions of the seminal ideas, debates, and discussions of their time. Throughout the 20th century, innovative advances and ideas in science rippled through the humanities, philosophy, and of course the artists’ studios. For example, as the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Eric Kandel pointed out in his book The Age of Insight, the ideas presented by Sigmund Freud influenced the work of artists and writers including Arthur Schnitzler, Gustav Klimt, and Oskar Kokoschka as they began to explore ideas of the emotions and the unconscious in their work. Also, historian and scholar Linda Dalrymple Henderson has written extensively on the influence of new ideas in physics and advancing technologies on the work of Marcel Duchamp.

In this spirit, the exhibit Science in Surrealism uses Gavin Parkinson’s book Surrealism, Art and Modern Science as a guide to explore the exchange of ideas between scientists and Surrealists of the early 20th century. Investigation of “the new physics,” as it was referred to at the time, was led by scientists such as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Max Planck. Its impact is reflected throughout the work of many Surrealist artists and writers in abstracted yet definitive ways. Roberto Matta’s paintings evoke the random scatter of subatomic particles; Max Ernst drew analogies between the Eros of psychoanalysis and electromagnetic attraction/repulsion; Gordon Onslow Ford was known to have engaged in research on the links between art and metaphysics throughout his practice; František Janoušek’s drawings feature symbolic objects with explicit anthropomorphic associations; Wolfgang Paalen titled his paintings with reference to science, using names such as Between Matter and Light Unbound and Space Unbound; and Yves Tanguy incorporated into his canvases geological imagery sourced from his travels through Africa.

The exhibition runs from May 16 through August 1, 2015 at Gallery Wendi Norris in San Francisco.

—JD Talasek

Images courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris.

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Cite this Article

"Science in Surrealism." Issues in Science and Technology 31, no. 4 (Summer 2015).

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