Under the title ‘Surreal Worlds’, rotating exhibitions highlight works from the permanent collection. Surrealism in its broadest sense takes centre stage here, with important predecessors and successors presented alongside the main proponents of the movement that began in Paris in the early 1920s. Visitors enjoy a unique opportunity to explore the curving byways in the development of fantastical art, not just its well-known avenues.
The collection includes select artworks by almost all members of the group of Surrealists surrounding French intellectual André Breton, including first and foremost Max Ernst and Hans Bellmer, but also René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Yves Tanguy and André Masson. In their art they employed the most important techniques for exploring the ‘surreal worlds’ that open up beyond the bars of logic (André Breton) and promise a life of freedom. They created automatic drawings, collages, and decalcomania (a reproductive procedure resembling the Rohrschach test), frottage works (rubbings), and fumages (images ‘painted’ with candle smoke).
In addition, works created in the 18th and 19th centuries demonstrate that many elements of Surrealism predated the formation of the movement. Even though they were not fuelled by the revolutionary impetus of the Surrealist avant-garde, they reveal a similar mistrust in reality. Piranesi’s designs for prisons lead the observer into Kafkaesque labyrinths, Francisco de Goya’s etchings present a dark world of the absurd, and paintings and drawings by Symbolists such as Odilon Redon and Alfred Kubin create an often unsettling secretive atmosphere of reticence.
After the Second World War the Art Brut of Jean Dubuffet, whose works form another focus of the collection, continues some of the trends of Surrealist art. Dubuffet’s interest in crude, ‘raw’ art, whether arising out of madness or dilettantism, reflects similar aspirations to those once pursued by André Breton and his friends. Like them, Dubuffet believed in a renewal of art outside of academic doctrines, and relied on the power and sensibility of the naive.
Last but not least a small selection of films enriches the exhibition, from classics by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí to films by contemporary artists whose visual vocabulary references Surrealism. These can be viewed in the Sahurê-Saal, which houses columns from the ancient Egyptian temple of that name. Along with the famous Kalabsha Gate at the entrance to the collection, these columns were temporarily left behind when the Ägyptisches Museum was moved from this building to the Museumsinsel in 2006. Until completion of the fourth wing of the Pergamonmuseum they will remain welcome guests in the exhibition galleries of the ‘Surreal Worlds’.