Ha, Magritte… My favourite artist. I was very happy to hear that the brand Opening Ceremony is now using his work as its muse, even if the simplicity of the collection is a bit disappointing. But Magritte’s paintings are so powerful and iconic that they’re self-sufficient. Since there isn’t much to say about the way Humberto Leon and Carole Lim appropriated the work of the Belgian artist, I’ll just tell you a bit more about… Magritte! Have I told you that he is my favourite artist?
Magritte was part of the twentieth-century surrealist movement – his contemporaries include Salvador Dali, André Breton, or Max Ernst. He is famous for his work The Treachery of Images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe); does it ring a bell? You shouldn’t trust the apparent lack of ingenuity of Magritte’s paintings. They’ve been really well thought out. To him, ‘the perfect painting does not enable contemplation, which is an ordinary and boring feeling’ (R. Magritte, Complete Works, 1979) but its role is to embody ideas. Magritte humorously questions reality and its representation. He encourages us to observe the world from a different perspective, to develop our critical mind, and to be wary of the obvious. Here we go!
Have you ever discussed a shared experience with a friend, only to realise that your memories differ? We all as individuals create a mental map in order to grasp the world around us. This mental map results from our education, our knowledge, and our values. We only make sense of things by distorting them – we tend to generalise, focusing on certain details while overlooking others.
In the background of The Waterfall we can see foliage quite close, while in the foreground there is the painting of a distant forest. The two foliages are different: one of them is close and the other one distant; one is part of a whole, and the other is presented on its own; one is set indoors, and the other is set outdoors. The painting The Waterfall embodies the thought that associates the object (the forest) with its representation (the painting) while also transcending their spatial and conceptual differences. This is the manifestation of our mental map.
REALITY VERSUS PERCEPTION
The King’s Museum is in the same vein: it presents the outline of a man. The outside world surrounding him is dark and opaque, but we can see a vast mountainous landscape in the gap left inside the character’s silhouette. Magritte shows that the world only exists through perception. Our perception of the world is unique, but not necessarily true, as it is based on our own realities.
INNATE OR ACQUIRED?
Hegel’s Holidays unveils a surprising association – a glass of water and an open umbrella. Two ordinary, everyday objects with opposite functions – one contains water, while the other repels water. This is Magritte’s unusual context. Seeing these objects where you wouldn’t expect them creates a visual shock that makes them lose the identity you would automatically assign to them. Magritte questions conventions: we assume that our automatic views/thoughts are natural and true, when in fact we have acquired them/they have been prescribed to us.
I really recommend the exhibition on Magritte at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (until January 23rd!). You will discover his most famous paintings through philosophical concepts. If you have already seen it, please share your thoughts in the comment section!