The Surreal Encounters: Collecting the Marvellous exhibition is this summer’s blockbuster at The Scottish National Gallery’s Modern One. It’s deserving of this epithet, as it’s spread over numerous rooms, and even the front lawn… Yes, there’s a purpose-built playground. Which obviously we couldn’t help but try out, for the sake of this review. It was the professional thing to do.
We had way too much fun. Honestly though, what a clever way of introducing a bit of surrealism into a family day out. We headed in after getting funny looks from parents of actual children enjoying the playground and purchased our tickets. They were £10 full price, but I think this is more than worth it given the size of this exhibition, as well as the quality of the contents. The exhibition itself is made up of works from the collections of five extraordinary collectors of surrealist art, all of whom then gifted these to the National Galleries of Scotland. There’s also a gorgeous exhibition catalogue, much thicker than usual NGS publications, full of images of the art as well as information on the wonderfully eccentric collectors who gifted these works to the nation. The exhibition has been open for a few weeks, and closes on September 11th, so you’ve got plenty of time to visit and enjoy both the art and if you so desire, the playground.
We recommend giving yourself 3-4 hours for a visit, and take someone with you who makes you laugh. I’m all for a respectful hush in an art gallery, and we did maintain decorum whilst enjoying this exhibition, but part of the joy in this kind of art is the instant response you have to it. Surrealism is weird and funny and sexy and dark, and experiencing the works on display with someone you don’t mind sharing your immediate responses with will make this exhibition all the more memorable.
The exhibition was organised in galleries by collector, and short films as well as interpretation boards introduced us to these interesting individuals. The golfing superstar and modern art collector Gabrielle Keiller bequeathed a vast library of over 50,000 items as well as her collection of Surrealist and Dadaist works, and I appreciated being given the chance to get to know the woman behind such an important collection. Especially when they look so glam playing golf. Another intriguing figure was the excellently named Valentine Penrose, wife of Roland Penrose and surrealist poet and artist, and as a result of this exhibition I will be seeking out more information on this pair of striking individuals, who were both collectors and artists themselves. I bet they threw a good party.
Now before I discuss our highlights, I have to address our two small complaints. One, that it was oddly hot in the gallery, and two, that the lighting produced a bit of a glare on some of the works. However, these small issues did not mean that we enjoyed the exhibition any less. I think we were both surprised by how much some pieces made us laugh, although plenty made us intensely uncomfortable. The Spirit of Comedy by Rene Magritte made Karen say ‘Nope’ in a big way. ‘That’s going to kill you in your sleep after it climbs out the painting.’ I can’t help but agree that it’s hideously ominous.
I particularly enjoyed the work of Leonor Fini on display, I was unfamiliar with her art before visiting this exhibition, and I’m thrilled to have found her. I think for us that was the real USP of this exhibition, the sense that we were discovering something new. We both loved the more unexpected inclusions, such as a cabinet of curiosities and the outrageously kitsch collages produced by Roland Penrose. It made us want to give it a go ourselves, all you need is some suitably garish postcards and a bit of imagination. It’s not often I’m actually inspired by an art exhibition to create art, especially given my limited talents in that department, but that’s part of the magic of surrealism, it’s a weird and ridiculous party that everyone is invited to.