As the Neue Nationalgalerie will be closed for several years for renovations, there is currently a unique opportunity to take the broadened concept of Surrealism of the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg and apply it to works from the Nationalgalerie's own collection. Moreover, the 30 works from the Nationalgalerie also provide an opportunity to view the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg with new eyes: instead of the chronological layout of the previous hang, thematic criteria can now for the first time come to the fore.
The exhibition's point of departure is a folding screen recently acquired by Julietta Scharf, the collector's daughter. The Surrealists discovered the screen at a flea market and included an image of it in their magazine La révolution surréaliste in 1926. Made in the latter half of the 19th century, the spectacular find can be seen as a surreal allusion to a shrouded world of intimate desires and temptations. On closer inspection, the shadowy outlines of tiny devils scattered among the bewildering array of figures are suggestive of unconscious or suppressed anxieties - what a serendipitous discovery for the Surrealists, who were particularly interested in the ambiguities of social conventions!
The Collection Scharf-Gerstenberg is exhibiting excellent works by the Surrealists and their forerunners. Paintings, sculptures and works on paper are being exhibited on three floors under the title "Surreal Worlds". The spectrum of artists ranges from Piranesi, Goya, Klinger and Redon to Dalí, Magritte, Max Ernst and Dubuffet.
The history of fantastical art is traced in more than 250 works. Surrealism, a movement seeking to renew art whose principles were proclaimed in a manifesto by André Breton in the Paris of 1924, is at the centre of the collection.
Nearly all members of the group of Surrealists are represented by selected works in the collection. There are larger groups of works, in particular, by René Magritte, Max Ernst and Hans Bellmer, but also by Wols and Paul Klee. The central pictorial strategies of Surrealism, such as combinatorics, metamorphosis and pure psychic automatism are illustrated by numerous virtuoso examples.
Surrealism has its place in a significant line of tradition in occidental art. The earliest works in the collection include Piranesi's illustrations of fantastical dungeon architecture as well as the nightmarish ghostly figures in Goya's etchings. French Symbolism of the late 19th century is represented by paintings of Odilon Redon and Gustave Moreau, as is its German counterpart in the form of graphic cycles of Max Klinger.
The spectrum of art on exhibit is augmented by a film programme which includes both the classic surrealist films of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí as well as films by contemporary artists who draw upon Surrealism or use its formal instruments in their work.