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A Surreal Shock: Diverse Concepts Explored Through Surrealism
Written by Yunjin Huh | Published. 2022.03.03 21:00 | Count : 225

[Image of the Surrealism Declaration; photo credit: Yunjin Huh]

Having interest and curiosity in surrealism, I visited the “Surreal Shock” exhibition hosted in the Hangaram Seoul Arts Center Museum to deepen my understanding of the art form. 


This exhibition, launched from November 27th, 2021 to the coming March 6th, 2022, displays a total of 180 artworks from surrealist maestros such as René Magritte, Salvador Dali, and Marcel Duchamp. The works were provided by  the Rotterdam Boymans van Vöningen Museum in the Netherlands, which has the largest collection of surrealist works across Europe.


At a press conference held on November 26th, 2021 regarding the exhibit, Els Hoek, curator of  Boymans van Vöningen Museum, noted that "unlike other art genres, I hope surrealism will be understood as a psychological state expressed beyond a single genre, style, or art movement”. She also added, "I hope visitors can enjoy the exhibition and appreciate it with an open mind."


The exhibition consisted of six sections, divided by time period and theme. The exhibition begins with the Surrealism declaration of Andre Vrton, the advocate of surrealism. Vrton argued that  surrealism would “open us to a new reality that was free from the world's lightless fate formed by reason and conformity”. 


I received special permission from the manager of the exhibition to take photos only for the purpose of this article. Taking photos and/or videos of this exhibition is originally restricted.


The next section looked back on the history of Dadaism, which was established during World War I, along with Surrealism. It explained the interesting dynamic between these two artistic movements in that Surrealism emerged in the wake of Dadaism but the two forms are represented  differently; dadaists focused on denial of tradition where surrealists believed a ‘new reality’ and tradition would form from their art.


The sections that followed explored the abstract concepts of unconsciousness, desire, automatism, irrationality, and the strangely familiar. In the 1920s, surrealists attempted to free themselves from rational ideas such as reason, morality and aesthetics; they tried to approach the part of themselves which was often suppressed. They did so by opening a gateway to the unconscious and bringing together seemingly unrelated everyday objects in surprising and unconventional ways. 


The most notable section was the third, which focused on the theme of dreams. It was considered the core of the exhibition because it caught a glimpse of the way  artists integrate their interpretations of human beings, nature, and human relationships into their artworks. 


An example is Salvador Dali's <Venus of Milo with Drawers>. Just as humans unconsciously contain a lot of mental space, Dali tried to express the “drawers” of hope, anxiety, and various thoughts on the Venus of Milo, a classic sculpture of ideal beauty. 


My favorite pieces were those from Salvador Dali because they depicted absolute strangeness through  rearrangement and variations of everyday images. I admired the creativity and deepness of his works, as he provided a deeper meaning within each seemingly ridiculous detail or arrangement.


Dali’s works were also very intricate: even the smallest figures are illustrated in detail. For instance, in his painting “Couple With Their Head Full Of Clouds”, three people, approximately the size of a fingernail,  have cloth wrinkles and recognizable shoes. 


Through this experience, I was able to gain more knowledge about surrealism itself and receive inspiration from multiple artists. The freedom of expression and disposition of common features helped me widen my range of thoughts. I would recommend the exhibition for art students or just those who want to develop and open their minds. 




Yunjin Huh

Grade 9

Chadwick International School



Yunjin Huh  hsr@dherald.com

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