Comprising more than 160 paintings, collages, drawings, sculptures and illustrated books, the extensive Max Ernst retrospective at the Fondation Beyeler features major works, discoveries and techniques from every phase of his career. For the first time since the artist's death in 1976, Swiss viewers have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the diverse oeuvre of this artist of the century in all its richness.
Max Ernst (1891-1976) was among the most versatile artists in modernism. Following his beginnings as a rebellious Dadaist in Cologne, Ernst moved to Paris in 1922, where he soon became one of the leading lights of Surrealism. During the Second World War, he was twice interned as an enemy alien, and was set free thanks to the efforts of his friend, the poet Paul Eluard. In 1941 he escaped into American exile, where he found new impulses and at the same time provided inspiration to the generation of young American artists. A decade later, he returned to war-devastated Europe, where the once-celebrated Max Ernst seemed to have been forgotten. Yet soon he was discovered to be one of the most fascinating and versatile artists of the 20th century. In 1958 he was granted French citizenship.
A continual inventor of innovative figures, forms and techniques, such as frottage, grattage, decalcomania (a paint-transfer method) and oscillation, Ernst repeatedly reoriented himself. This resulted in an unprecedented oeuvre that resists any clear stylistic definition. The development of his art was partly influenced by Ernst's changing places of residence in Europe and America.
Max Ernst's creativity in handling sources of imagery and inspiration, the breaks between his many phases and types of subject matter, are still capable of astonishing viewers today. Like a revolutionary of vision, he rearranged images and elements, and as a Surrealist established links between pictures and the viewer's unconscious mind. What remained a constant was the persistence of Ernst's rebellion. Like his life, he once said, his work was "not harmonious in the sense of classical composers." A master of metamorphosis, Ernst was a searcher and discoverer, an honarary doctor of philosophy who increasingly expanded his range of investigation to include astronomy, ethnology, ornithology, mathematics and psychoanalysis, following up his love of the natural sciences and creative chance.
Strong women who could not be more different from each other accompanied him on his path as man and artist: Gala Eluard, later Dalí's muse, artist Leonora Carrington, art collector and patron Peggy Guggenheim, and painter Dorothea Tanning.
Even decades after his death, Max Ernst's art, in its continual attempts to overcome tradition while making reference to it, seems more relevant than ever. The exhibition reviews a career that combines subconscious memories and happenings and hidden aspects of the past with an experience of the present moment and political events to evoke fantastic-realistic visions of the future.