SFMOMA's René Magritte exhibit transports us to surreal alternate realities
On Wednesday, the press got a sneak preview of SFMOMA's new Magritte exhibit. (Courtesy of @nadabie)

SFMOMA's René Magritte exhibit transports us to surreal alternate realities


As a raw interpretation of history and human experience, art is one of the most honest and emotive forms of documentation. As seen in the transformative mid-century work of René Magritte, it is a glimpse at life-shaking events, including WWII—a period that, for him, was a time of questioning and revitalization, as well as of departure.

It's this period of metamorphosis, from approximately 1943 to 1967, that will be on show at SFMOMA in René Magritte: The Fifth Season. Opening Saturday, May 19th, the exhibit will capture his surrealism and gouaches in the country's first concentrated examination of his artwork.

With loans from North and South America, Europe and Asia, this will be the most complete collection of Magritte's works curated since his death in 1967. In a series of nine immersive galleries, the compilation of more than 70 works is named after one of his paintings from the war years, conjuring an alternative realm and referencing his belief in art's ability to create new possibilities.

The paintings here are sometimes humorous, sometimes unsettling, and always powerful, drawing viewers into another time and other dimensions entirely and forcing us into his state of wondering what reality is. There is his famous Le Fils de L'Homme—you know the one, of the apple and the bowler hat—as well as the blossoming red rose of Le Tombeau des Lutteurs. Also look for Les Valeurs Personnelles, from SFMOMA's permanent collection, as well as scenic pieces such as L'empire des Lumières and the Dominion of Light collection, which depicts nighttime landscapes with broad daylight skyscapes.

A major highlight is the collection of rarely seen sections from the Enchanted Domain, Magritte's largest work—a 360-degree panoramic mural consisting of eight oil paintings—which was commissioned for a circular room in the Grand Casino in Knokke, Belgium. Five of its pieces are displayed around a curved gallery wall; this is the first time in 40 years that the body of work has been on view in a museum.

In true Bay Area form, there is also an experiential interpretive gallery with six augmented reality interactions to take in Magritte's world's and philosophies. The immersive environment will be created with depth-sensing cameras and motion-tracking technology so viewers can delve into the mind of the artist via windows—gaze at digital mirrors with altered reflections, peer into portals to other realities, and shift beyond the two-dimensional plane where motion is manipulated through 3D software.

"Magritte's paintings opened up whole fields of inquiry that are still being explored by artists today," said Caitlin Haskell, associate curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA, in a recent release. "My hope is that those who don't yet know Magritte will visit and encounter a painter who inspires them to question their surroundings; while those who are familiar with his work will be able to discover new sides of a supremely fascinating artist, who understood that the insights we find in paintings can affect how we see the world."

(Courtesy of Hickey-Robertson via SFMOMA)

Le Monde Invisible (the Invisible World), 1954, from the Menil Collection in Houston.

// René Magritte: The Fifth Season runs May 19th through Oct 28th at SFMOMA, 151 3rd St. (SoMa); tickets ($33) are available at sfmoma.org.

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