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Art: Inheritors of Chaos

3 minute read

As art lovers emerged from dimmed-out Manhattan streets, they encountered a blinding white light. “That’s day,” said the patroness of surrealism, Peggy Guggenheim, shielding her eyes from a mass of blue-white electric bulbs. “Isn’t it awful?” “Day” illuminated a “painting library” (a large room enclosed in a sinuous purple tarpaulin), where art lovers were invited to sit on narrow, legless, armless rockers, and by turning unframed canvases hung from triangular columns, study the exhibits from any angle they desired.

Such is the entry of a new museum opened last week for the benefit of the Red Cross by jet-haired Miss Guggenheim, wife of Painter Max Ernst. Under the name Art of This Century, Miss Guggenheim’s four-roomed gallery (30 West 57th) is to be a permanent show. All owned by herself, the collection of 171 exhibits (14 by Husband Ernst) is reputed to be the biggest of its kind.

Beyond the painting library, gallery-goers enter a kind of artistic Coney Island. Here are shadow boxes, peepholes, in one of which, by raising a handle, is revealed a brilliantly lighted canvas by Swiss Painter Paul Klee. Another peep show, manipulated by turning a huge ship’s wheel, shows a rotating exhibit of reproductions of all the works, including a miniature toilet for MEN, by screwball Surrealist Marcel Duchamp.

Beyond these gadgets mankind swarms into what seems to be a decorated subway. There spectators gaze at large canvases by England’s Leonora Carrington, Spain’s Miro, Chile’s Matta, all their works unframed, suspended in the air from wooden arms protruding from concave plywood walls. Every two minutes, while onlookers enjoy the spectacle, a roar as of an approaching train is heard, lights go out on one side of the gallery, pop on at the other.

This installation is the creation of diminutive, Austrian-born Scenic Designer Frederick J. Kiesler, director of the laboratory of the School of Architecture at Columbia University. Says he, making everything plain: “We, the inheritors of chaos, must be the architects of a new unity.”

In the gilt-encrusted drawing rooms of the former Whitelaw Reid mansion on

Manhattan’s Madison Avenue & 51st Street, another surrealist exhibition was” last week attracting crowds. Organized by Pioneer Surrealist Andre Breton for the benefit of French prisoners of war, it also had a striking installation: a cat’s cradle consisting of miles of string woven all through one exhibition room. As an added attraction a number of schoolboys were employed to play catch with footballs over the labyrinth.

Among the show’s 105 exhibits, including dolls, idols, ceremonial masks by American Indian primitives, was work by Painters Masson, Delvaux, Chagall, Tanguy, Magritte, Vail, Hirshfield. Of those canvases faintly visible behind the 7-ft.-high string cobweb was a huge new Freudian nightmare by Surrealist Ernst. Painted specially for the exhibition, Surrealism & Painting depicted a nest of multicolored bosomy birds, from whose naked, writhing limbs a semihuman arm emerged to paint its creator’s conception of the disorderly universe. In the next room hung early canvases by de Chirico; also three recent Picassos, one of which, Les Femmes au Bord de la Mer, dwarfed, by its sheer creative power, every other painting in the show.

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