Friday, 24 June 2016

Radio Review: 24 June

Recalling a very weird and wonderful art exhibition

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-colour-176These days, the word ‘surreal’ increasingly means random. Many self-appointed surrealists seem to try far too hard to come up with their odd juxtapositions. The pioneer surrealists, however, tended far more to be creatures of instinct, to whom the weirdest ideas occurred organically.

This year is the 80th anniversary of the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London, the show that truly introduced surrealism to Britain. Last week, The Sunday Feature on Radio 3 (Sundays, 6.45pm) took poet Ian McMillan back to that seminal event through archive interviews and modern expertise.

McMillan opened and closed proceedings by exploring and recreating Dylan Thomas’s involvement with the exhibition, walking through the galleries offering cups of boiled string, available in two flavours, weak and strong. Thomas denied being a surrealist, but he was.

Naturally, Salvador Dalí looms large over proceedings, but the stories about him are so good, only a churl would mind his dominance. Perhaps the best is that of him attempting to give a lecture wearing a diving suit. Lacking an air supply, Dalí began to suffocate, and the poet David Gascoyne was dispatched to find a spanner with which to free him.

Then there was the tale, told by art critic Louisa Buck, of Dalí meeting Sigmund Freud, taking his painting of Narcissus and keen to grill the old man on the nature of narcissism. Freud would not be drawn.

Dalí was also keen to stress the importance of Freud’s studies into the unconscious as an influence on the surrealists. While Freud was pleased to meet Dalí, he couldn’t see how his concept of the unconscious had anything to do with surrealism. Maybe he just needed a nice strong cup of boiled string.

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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