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Undercover Surrealism at the Hayward Gallery

James Hatts

A new exhibition at the Hayward aims to reflect the exploratory, experimental and diverse nature of the Surrealist movement.

DOCUMENTS (Issue 1, 1929); 1929-1930; Magazine Cover; Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Centre de Documentation et de Recherche du Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris

Curator Dawn Ades complains that 'surreal' has become a synonym for 'odd' or 'bizarre', reducing the richness of the meaning of the term.

Undercover Surrealism draws its inspiration from the radical magazine DOCUMENTS, published in Paris in 1929 and 1930 by Georges Bataille. The exhibition draws together more than 200 objects that were reproduced in the pages of the magazine.

At the heart of the exhibition are key works by four Surrealist artists – Picasso, Miró, Masson and Dalí.

Big Toe
Jacques-André Boiffard (1903-61): Big Toe, 30-Year-Old Male Subject (Gros Orteil, Sujet Masculin 30 ans), 1929; Silver gelatin print; 31 x 23.9 cm; Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d'art moderne – Centre de création industrielle. Gift of Mme Denise Boiffard (Paris) in 1986. Photo Bertrand Prévost, CNAC/MNAM Dist. RMN

Of particular note is the way that the curators have approached the question of scale and the use of extreme close-up photography to create Surreal images of mundane objects stripped of their context.

DOCUMENTS was about much more than just visual art, embracing archaeology, music and literature. This diversity is reflected in the exhibition, with a 25-minute loop of extracts from films mentioned in the magazine, including Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou.

A listening area offers some of the music that was part of the melting-pot of ideas to be found in DOCUMENTS, including work by Stravinsky, Duke Ellington and voodoo rythms from Haiti.

A reading room at the end of the exhibition allows visitors to peruse the pages of DOCUMENTS, alongside English translations of key articles.

The exhibition occupies the lower level of the Hayward, leaving the upstairs space available for a programme of talks, debates, music and performance. Highlights include two special concert performances on Saturday 29 July of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale narrated by world-renowned bass-baritone Sir Willard White and performed by the London Sinfonietta and conducted by Diego Masson.

• Undercover Surrealism is at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank until Sunday 30 July
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