Dreamland: American Explorations into Surrealism

At Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery. Shows through
March 25.

Reviewed by Beth Taylor-Schott

bananas.jpgDreamland: American Explorations
into Surrealism
, which had its opening reception on Saturday,
January 20, at Sullivan Goss in Santa Barbara, includes enough
great art for two excellent shows, and yet still manages to be more
than the sum of those two parts. A less ambitious approach might
have included just the works from the 1930s and ’40s. This kind of
strict historicism would have focused attention more narrowly on
art that is certifiably surrealist, in which case, it would have
been engaging, but also somehow quaint. Still, a number of the
pieces — particularly “Anatomy of a Vegetable” by Howard Warshaw
and the works by John Wilde and Gertrude Abercrombie — would have
nudged us toward redefining what we think of the movement. And
certainly the quality of the works that fall into this historical
category here never wavers for a moment, reaching a crest
particularly in “Bananas and Plane” by Man Ray and “Still Life” by
Francis Criss.

The works in this exhibit done since 1980 could also have been
pleasingly arranged into an independent exhibition focused on
contemporary art. The intelligence of this contemporary work is
what stands out, particularly in David Ligare’s Thrown Drapery
series and in Miriam Slater’s “Landscape.” The intuitive impact of
many of the pieces is remarkable, especially Rebekah Bogard’s
ceramics and Irma Cavat’s “Crossing Mountains.” But without the
context of the early-20th-century works of historical surrealism,
the contemporary works in the show would look just
that — contemporary.

Which is why bringing the two groups together and intermingling
them was such a brilliant decision, and one that takes us to a
special place. “Dreamland” is a trip through the looking glass, not
so much into pure fantasy, but instead one more deeply into our own
world. Seeing a historical surrealist work like Bayer’s
“Umsinkender (Collapsing)” next to “Hamish, Burning Spear” by Hank
Pitcher, or “Two Figures, Snake Cloud” by Fred Remahl next to a
Fred Stonehouse, makes the relationship between historical
surrealism and our contemporary art perfectly clear. “Dreamland”
does something important by making it impossible to feel smug about
surrealism. Just when one might be tempted by the complacency of
thinking the movement is over, along comes this show to demonstrate
that — far from over — surrealism has gotten so big that we can’t
even make out the edges of it. When we can’t see the surrealism
within the landscape, for instance, it’s because, in fact, it is
the landscape.


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