Installation view, “René
Magritte and Contemporary Art:
The Treachery of Images”.
René Magritte, “The Treachery of
Images (This is not a pipe),” 1929,
oil on canvas, 25 3/8 x 37”.
René Magritte, “Decalcomania,"
1966, oil on canvas, 81 x 100 cm.
René Magritte, “Personal Values,"
1952, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm.
||“Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images” brings together 65 iconic images by René Magritte juxtaposed with 65 works by 31 contemporary artists. The exhibition explores Magritte’s influence, looking at quotations of both ideas and images. While some contemporary artists’ work is a direct homage, others use Magritte’s ideas about doubling, perception and representation as a point of departure for conceptually based pieces. LACMA invited John Baldessari to help design the exhibition, and Baldessari’s contribution takes signature elements from Magritte’s work and imposes them onto the architecture of the space. They are made to function as visual cues throughout the exhibition. One enters the museum through a scaled rendition of Magritte’s “The Unexpected Answer,” a 1933 painting in which the silhouette of a figure has been cut into a doorframe. By bringing this painting to life one immediately identifies with the figure in Magritte’s work, and thus travels through the exhibition with this image in mind. To cover the floor, Baldessari designed a blue carpet with puffy white clouds (from Magritte’s paintings) and wallpaper for the ceiling consisting of a montage of Los Angeles freeway intersections. Baldessari has also asked that the security guards wear bowler hats, to further identify them with figures in Magritte’s works. The result is a container through which to relate to the art.
Magritte’s painting “The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe)” (1929) served as the catalyst for the exhibition. It is one of Magritte’s best known works, and is an icon of modernist art. In it, he painted a realistic rendition of an ordinary object--a pipe--filling up most of the canvas, below which he painted in script: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (this is not a pipe). The work calls into question what was for centuries taken for granted in Western art; the image is not a pipe, but a depiction or a representation of a pipe. Magritte often painted ordinary objects so as to give them new life through painting. In this way his influence was similar to Marcel Duchamp’s, whose idea of the ‘readymade’ changed the path of contemporary art. “The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe)” was a model for Joseph Kosuth’s “Definition (Thing),” in which he painted dictionary definitions of specific words. It also served as a taking off point for Baldessari. “Wrong” (1967) is an early example that is about the formal rules of art-making. Using photo emulsion and hand painted text, Baldessari created an image where a tree appears to grow out of the head of the subject--a classic faux pas in photography.