Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season opens this Saturday at SFMOMA. It’s an exhibit of his paintings from 1943 to 1967, showing his return to Surrealism and exploring several of the themes that recur in his work. It includes more than 70 works in 9 galleries, with some of his best known pieces, like The Son of Man, the 1964 self-portrait of a bowler-hatted man whose face is obscured by an apple.
There’s more information at the SFMOMA website.
Among the highlights is the immersive gallery in which there are many iterations of his painting The Dominion of Light. It shows an outdoor scene with paradoxical lighting. “The lower portions feel like night, and the upper portions feel like day,” curator Caitlin Haskell says. “And the way that the compositions are created, it allowed us to sort of join their horizon lines, so that these street lamps are all on a level, and you can sort of walk into that space and inhabit it, in a way that no one has been able to before.” That’s because although he painted more than 20 versions of the theme, they haven’t been shown together with more than 2 until now. (He was painting one for a museum that he decided to submit to the Venice Biennale without alerting the museum… so he had to paint another, and then Peggy Guggenheim wanted one, so he had to paint another.) “The paintings stand together as sort of a discrete subset or series within Magritte’s corpus, because they all have the same title. But in Magritte’s lifetime, he did not show them together. We’re able to see The Dominion of Light as a series for the first time.” There are also many of the ‘hypertrophic’ pieces, with a gigantic apple or flower crowding a small room, or SFMOMA’s Personal Values, which has an outsized comb, shaving brush, matchstick, soap, and goblet in an otherwise normally sized bedroom. And men wearing bowlers, or their silhouettes appear in several guises. Haskell says they’re summed up by his best known example, The Son of Man. “Maybe the most beguiling self-portrait of the 20th Century. So we’re really really lucky to be able to include one of Magritte’s most iconic paintings. What I love about this work is that it just sets your mind questioning. You think you know who this very bourgeois man is in the bowler hat, and yet because of the placement of the apple, you’re constantly wondering what is behind there. You think you know, but do you know?”