Yves Tanguy, A Large Picture That Represents a Landscape, 1927. Oil on canvas, 45 7/8 x 35 3/4 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection
An inventor of convincingly illusionistic landscapes, Yves Tanguy had no artistic training. His first exhibition included this painting, A Large Picture That Represents a Landscape, and set forth all the surreal elements he would continue to examine in his lifetime.
This scene shows a windswept beach where rippled sands dotted with dune grass stretch toward breaking waves. At left looms a gray monolith, evocative of menhirs—huge, upright stones of ancient origin and uncertain use. Clustered on and around it are faceless, quasi-humanoid figures. Fishy shapes swim among the slender poles, plunging the viewer into an imagined submarine realm.
Nearby more realistic depictions of landscapes in Seeing Nature, this work makes for interesting conversation. Look closely at Tanguy’s painting—what jumps out at you first?
Local songwriter Andrew Trotter recently visited Man Ray–Human Equations while taking part in a songwriting challenge. “When I walked in, I knew there had to be a song there. After I wrote the lyrics for the challenge, trying to capture some of the qualities of Man Ray’s art, my musical collaborator from Canada, Natalie Edelson, put it to appropriately surreal music and made a demo,” says Trotter. He was kind enough to share the final product with us; check out the demo and an excerpt of the lyrics below.
White skull, pale breast
Object, soft flesh
Is that what you meant?
Won’t you come down to play,
The artists at the cafe
Are making their moves
On lovely young things today.
You pictured a derriere,
Each part of her is fair,
But this butterfly you’ll never get,
Slipped out of your camera’s net.
What is this game you play,
Why don’t you let things stay
As they are—you’re pushing it way too far.
(left) Man Ray, Aline et Valcour, 1950. Oil on canvas, 30 x 38 in. Private Collection. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015 (right) Man Ray, Untitled (Mannequin with Cone and Sphere), 1926. Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 1/4 in. The Bluff Collection. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015
Titling this work after a novel written by the Marquis de Sade while he was incarcerated in the Bastille in the 1780s, Man Ray pays homage to the literary figure greatly admired by the Surrealists. The novel Aline et Valcour explores the relativity of moral standards, a theme the viewer is encouraged to find embedded in this cryptic composition based on Man Ray’s photograph featuring the same elements.
What similarities between Man Ray’s photograph (at right) and his painting (at left) of the subject do you notice? What differences stand out?