Saturday, 2 November 2019

The Treachery of Images

The Treachery of Images

Sean John
Sean John
Sep 4, 2016 · 3 min read
‘This is not a pipe.’
René Magritte’s well known ‘The treachery of images’ (1928–29) is a painting that subverts traditional modes of visual and linguistic representation in an attempt to undermine the social semiotic relationship between words and image. Specifically, it attempts to correct structuralist modes of perceiving textual and visual associations that rely upon linear and sometimes false logic.
This enquiry and analysis of structuralist thought was aided by a set of written correspondences between Magritte and Michel Foucault. It was Foucault who called the painting a double ciphered calligram (Foucault, 1983, p. 20). Foucault asserted that the words ‘this is not a pipe’ can be seen less as rhetorical instruction and more as a subverted visual representation designed to disguise a message: that words and language can be ‘arbitrary, conventional and circumstantial’ and thus can be dysfunctional and misleading (Foucault, 1983, p. 5). This flew in the face of the structuralist movement that relied upon Plato’s metaphysical connection between word and image to present coherent multimodal representations of meaning in the world.

Foucault’s analysis asserts that the disorientation affect within Magritte’s painting is not the contradiction between the image (the pipe) and the text (‘this is not a pipe’), but our natural human instinct to ‘read’ associations between text and image (Foucault, 1983, p. 21). For Foucault, contradiction is inherently rhetorical, and more broadly exists within a single mode of communication. Multimodal analysis requires the viewer/reader to interpret within a multiplicity of modes, in this case, two visual modes. Crucially, one of the modes (the text) is actually visual, disguised as textual. Thus, the ‘secretly constructed and carefully unraveled’ double-ciphered calligram emerges (Foucault, 1983, p. 20).
In this case the ‘text’ intentionally contradicts the image. The words themselves act as a legend not to the image, but of course, to the painting as a whole, and the conceptual framework in which it exists. This strategy allows the uncomfortable opening of a conversation with the viewer about narrative connections and their often unquestioned truth(s). As Foucault wrote, ‘Magritte allows the old space of representation to rule, but only the surface, no more than a polished stone, bearing words and shapes: beneath, nothing. It is a gravestone’ (Foucault, 1983, p. 41). As a result, a seemingly anchored and narrow space for interpretation quickly reveals itself as complete sorcery. What Magritte wanted us to know was that the obstruction to our desires is not the object in our field of view, but is vision, thought and perception itself.
Magritte and Foucault aligned with Swiss semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure’s assertion that a thing and its name have a totally arbitrary relationship. Thus, Magritte’s painting cautions us against making overly facile connections between art (or language) and the physical realm. For many years, humans had — and often still do — suppose that language and reality have an organic relationship. Magritte uses a multimodal calligram to help us understand that this supposition is based upon a secret visual dependency and as a result, we often go about our days assuming that what we see and what we say are two realities that overlap seamlessly. This is a false logic that the treachery of images bursts open at once.
Foucault, M. 1983, This is not a pipe, trans. J. Harkness, University of California Press, Oakland, California.

Time Transfixed - MAGRITTE

Time Transfixed 

By Rene Magritte 


Department of Museum Education 
Division of Student and Teacher Programs 
The Elizabeth Stone Robson Teacher Resource Center 

Rene Magritte 
(Belgian, 1898-1967) 

Time Transfixed, 1938 

Oil on canvas, 147 x 98.7 cm 

Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1970.426 

Rene Magritte believed that all beings and objects are mysteri- 
ous. An enigmatic man frequently dressed in a dark suit and 
bowler hat, he too possessed an aura of mystery. Unlike the 
other Surrealists of his time, Magritte found mystery not in 
fantastical imagery, but in everyday reality. The Art Institute of 
Chicago painting Time Transfixed is a perfect example of the 
mystery that can be found when ordinary, yet incompatible 
objects collide. 

The oldest of his family's three sons, Magritte was born on 
November 21, 1898, in the small Belgian town of Lessines, just 
outside Brussels. His father was a salesman, his mother worked 
as a dressmaker and milliner, and the family lived a comfort- 
able bourgeois life. However, Magritte's father was a restless 
man, and the family moved frequently from town to town. 
Consequently, as an adult, Magritte hated to travel. 

Playing in a local graveyard, the young Magritte one day wit- 
nessed an artist painting in a nearby grove. From that moment 
onward, the boy viewed painting as a magical, mysterious act. 
During his youth, Magritte attended weekly art classes where 
his talent was recognized. His boastful father considered the 
young Magritte a child prodigy and sold his childhood works to 
fellow business partners. 

Magritte's mother suffered from depression. In 1912, when 
Magritte was just 14 years old, she committed suicide by 
drowning in the nearby River Sambre. Although he rarely spoke 
of this tragic event, the artist did mention on several occasions 
the memory of his mother's face covered by her white night- 
dress when she was pulled from the river, her body laid bare in 
the moonlight. To what extent this memory was fact or fiction 
is unknown; however, in later years Magritte painted several 
works that evoke death by water, as well as others in which 
faces are absent or concealed (Sylvester 14). 

In 1916, Magritte moved to Brussels to begin his formal stud- 
ies at the Academie des Beaux-Arts (the National Academy 
of Fine Arts). While at the academy he studied anatomy 
and perspective. During World War I (1914-1918), many of 
the universities in Brussels had closed; consequently, the 
Academy, which remained open, became a central gather- 
ing point for students of all disciplines. Magritte made more 
friends in the literary circle than with other art students, and 
this companionship remained a life-long preference. 

In 1921, Magritte married Georgette Berger, whom he had first 
met when he was just 14 years old. The two lived a simple 
lifestyle in Brussels. Instead of painting in a studio, Magritte 
chose to paint in the dining room, where he could be closer 
to Georgette. As an artist, fame did not come until the last 
10 years of his life. To earn a living, he worked as a wallpaper 
designer and commercial artist, making posters for businesses. 
In his advertisements and designs he experimented with 
collage and dislocation, which would later appear in his paint- 
ings. Today Magritte's legacy is still apparent in advertising: for 
example, the CBS eye logo was appropriated from Magritte's 
painting False Mirror (1928) (Whitfield 11). 

Beginning in the 1920s, a group of artists, writers, and poets 
gathered in Paris around the poet Andre Breton (1896-1966). 
These artists, the Surrealists, were dedicated to revising the 
standard definition of reality, by focusing on automatic writing 
and drawing, creating fantastical images, recounting dreams, 
and exploring the subconscious. Magritte worked with these 
artists during a three-year stay in Paris. In 1930, he returned 
to Brussels, where he collaborated with a group of writers 
who began referring to themselves as the Belgian Surrealists. 
Unlike the flamboyant Parisians, this Belgian group better 
suited the artist's reserved manner and his desire for anonym- 
ity. Members rallied around the group's only painter, creating 
poems and other texts to accompany works. 

In 1924, Magritte became interested in the art of the Italian 
Metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1974). Magritte 
admired de Chirico's use of dislocation, the combination 
of incompatible objects of reality, such as a cannon and a 
clock, within the same picture frame. He also was attracted 
to de Chirico's tight brushstrokes and pronounced outlines. 
Magritte's mature style developed in the late 1920s. He experi- 
mented with many of de Chirico's stylistic techniques such as 
collage-painting, the juxtaposition of identifiable objects, and 
the illusion of double images. 

Magritte believed that the conscious combination of con- 
tradictory objects could reveal similarities that are often 
overlooked. In Time Transfixed, we find the surprising juxtapo- 
sition of a locomotive protruding from a fireplace. In explaining 
the painting, Magritte said: "I decided to paint the image of a 
locomotive.... In order for its mystery to be evoked, another 
immediately familiar image without mystery — the image of a 
dining room fireplace — was joined" (quoted in May 1997). In 
this work we also find another device that Magritte frequently 
used, modification of scale. Here, the locomotive has been 
shrunk to a non-traditional size to fit inside the fireplace. It is 
in the surprising juxtaposition and shift of the scale of these 
common and unrelated images that mystery, magic, and 
humor merge. Magritte situated the train in a fireplace vent 
so that it appears to be emerging from a railway tunnel. The 
tiny engine races out into the stillness of a sparsely furnished 
dining room, its smoke neatly floating up the chimney, as if to 
suggest smoke produced by a fire. 

A mirror, a clock, and two candlesticks are placed strategi- 
cally on the mantel. These ordinary objects further add to the 
mysterious setting. Magritte felt that mirrors provide mystery 
in the sense that they are a false reflection of reality, and thus 
he often included mirrors in his paintings. Although we find 
both the clock and one candlestick reflected in the mirror, the 
second candlestick, and the rest of the room, do not appear in 
this mirror which, strangely, is as dark as the hearth below. 

Giorgio de Chirico, The Philosopher's Conquest, 
1913-1914. Joseph Winterbotham Collection. 

Time Transfixed serves as a perfect example of Magritte's inter- 
est in de Chirico. The combination of the train and the clock 
is reminiscent of de Chirico's work The Philosopher's Conquest 
(1914), also found in the Art Institute's collection. Magritte's 
smooth brushstrokes, use of shadow, and dark palette also are 
reminiscent of de Chirico's style. 

The setting for Time Transfixed was inspired by the dining room 
in the London home of the eccentric art collector Edward 
James. The previous year, James had commissioned Magritte 
to paint three works, including the Art Institute's On the 
Threshold of Liberty. James, one of the few English collectors 
interested in Surrealism, became acquainted with Magritte 
after viewing his work at the 1936 Surrealist Exhibition in London 
(Whitfield 75). While working on these commissions, Magritte 
briefly lived in a studio above James's garage before returning 
to Brussels. One painting, La reproduction interdite (Not to be 
reproduced) was an unusual portrait of his patron that featured 
the same mantel and mirror found in Time Transfixed. 

Magritte's paintings often had unusual titles. He named 
the work now at the Art Institute La duree poignarde, which 
translates literally as "the concept of ongoing time stabbed by 
a dagger." When he sent the picture to James, he expressed 
hope that it might be installed at the bottom of the collector's 
staircase so that it (presumably the outward-thrusting train) 
would "stab" James's guests on their way up to the ballroom. 
James, however, chose to place the painting over the fireplace. 

A few years after completing the painting now referred to as Time 
Transfixed, Magritte changed his style to one that portrayed the 
"bright side of life." This included painting women, flowers, and 
birds in a mock Impressionist style. A parody of Impressionism, 
his new style was not well received by the public and, by the late 
1940s, Magritte returned to his old style, focusing once again 
on finding mystery in the most familiar of things. He continued 
in this manner until his death in 1967, and his works impacted 
such important 20th-century American artists as Robert 
Rauschenberg (1925-2008), Jasper Johns (1930- ), Roy 
Lichtenstein (1923-1997), and Andy Warhol (1928-1987). 


Classroom Activities and 
Discussion Questions 

bourgeois: middle class. 

collage: derived from the French verb cotter, to glue or stick. A 
work of art made by sticking pieces of paper, material, or other 
items onto a flat backing, often in combination with painted 
passages. This technique was used extensively by Cubists 
Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). 

dislocate: (dislocation; dislocated) to put out of place; displace. 
Magritte experimented with dislocation by combining incom- 
patible objects together in the same picture. 

Impressionism: avant-garde art movement originating in France 
in the latter part of the 19th century that sought to capture, 
as if seen in an instant, the rapidly changing modern world, as 
well as the fleeting moods of nature. To do this, Impressionist 
painters analyzed natural effects and relied on optical blending 
to seize the impression of light at a given moment. 

linear perspective: scientific method used by artists since the 
Renaissance to represent three-dimensional space on a two- 
dimensional plane, so that they appear as in nature. Linear 
perspective involves a system of lines that converge at one or 
two vanishing points in the distance. 

Metaphysical: (metaphysical painting) term coined by the 
Italian artists Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1974) and Carlo Carra 
(1881-1966) for the calm, empty architectural scenes enlivened 
by mysteriously inappropriate objects, which they produced 
during World War I. 

milliner: a person who designs, makes, or sells hats for women. 

patron: a customer or client. An art patron is a person who 
supports an artist or museum with money or endorsements. 

Surrealism: a modern literary and artistic movement that 
began in France in 1924 and flourished in Europe during the 
1920s and 1930s. The movement, influenced by the writings 
of the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), stressed the 
radical transformation of existing social conditions and values 
through the liberation of the unconscious mind. Surrealist art 
is characterized by bizarre, dream-like imagery. 

World War I: (1914-1918) also known as the Great War, this 
conflict was the largest war the world had yet seen. Prominent 
causes for the war were the imperialistic, territorial, and 
economic rivalries between Germany, Great Britain, France, 
Russia, and Austria-Hungary. The United States entered the 
war in April 1917. 

• The Exquisite Corpse 

The Exquisite Corpse was the earliest of the many games in- 
vented by the Surrealist artists. Designed to create sentences 
that were left to chance, it was played with five players who, 
in turn, wrote an article and adjective/noun/verb/adjective/ 
noun, each folding over the paper so the next person could 
not see what had been written. The name of the game de- 
rives from such a sentence: "The exquisite corpse will drink 
the new wine." Divide your students into groups of five and 
have each group create its own Exquisite Corpse sentence by 
following these steps: 

• Instruct one student in each group to write the first 
word or words of the sentence (article plus adjective) at 
the top of a piece of paper. He or she should then fold 
the piece of paper over to conceal the written word and 
pass it to the next person. 

• The next person should fill in the next part of speech (a 
noun), conceal it, and pass the paper to the next person. 

• When the sentences are complete, instruct students to 
open the papers and share with the class. The results are 
often strange and humorous! 

• Please note that sentences may need slight editing. 

• Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream... 

Oftentimes, Magritte would create a painting after awaking 
and recalling a bizarre dream. With its dislocated objects 
and mysterious mood, Time Transfixed is reminiscent of an 
unusual dream. Assign a creative writing exercise in which 
students imagine and describe a dream that includes the 
scene represented in the painting. How did the train appear 
in the fireplace? What other unusual things are located in the 
room? Ask students to concentrate on their sensory experi- 
ences of the work. What do they see? Feel? Taste? Smell? 
Hear? Have students share their dreams with the class. 

• A Train Is Speeding... 

Have students create a word problem using Time Transfixed. 
For example: Pretend that the train is speeding out of the 
fireplace at 45 miles per hour. How long would it take for the 
train to reach a town located 32 miles away? Have students 
work together in small groups to create a word problem 
related to the painting. Have each group share their word 
problem and then find the solutions! 

• Surrealist Room 

In Time Transfixed Magritte used the process of dislocation 
by having a locomotive emerge from a fireplace. Display Time 

Transfixed and have students discuss why this painting is 
unusual, asking: What do you see? What kind of room is this? 
What is out of place? Is the image serious or lighthearted? 
Then, using the sheet provided (see the next page), have 
students cut out objects from magazines to create a collage 
of a Magritte-inspired room. 

• What's for Sale? 

Magritte's paintings are often used in advertisements. 
Pretend that Time Transfixed is a billboard advertisement. 
What might it be advertising? Have students create an ad- 
vertisement using the painting. 

Related Resources 

Ades, Dawn with contributions by Margherita Andreotti and 
Adam Jolles. Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman 
Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, I L Art 
Institute of Chicago and Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1997. 

Gablik, Suzi. Magritte. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1970. 

Hammacher, A.M. Rene Magritte. New York: Harry N. Abrams 
Inc., 1974. 

Hanson, Abigale, with contributions by Cori Wulf. Rene 
Magritte. Slide Packet. Chicago, IL: Art Institute of Chicago, 
Department of Museum Education, revised 2000. 

May, Sally Ruth. The Art Institute of Chicago — The Essential 
Guide. Chicago, IL: Art Institute of Chicago, 1997. 

Meuris, Jacques. Rene Magritte. Germany: BenediktTaschen,i992. 

Sylvester, David. Magritte: The Silence of the World. New York: 
Menil Foundation and Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1992. 

Whitfield, Sarah. Magritte. London: The South Bank Centre, 1992. 

The Art Institute of Chicago — Twentieth- Century Painting and 
Sculpture. Chicago, IL: Art Institute of Chicago and Hudson 
Hills Press, Inc., 1996. 

Time Transfixed 

by Rene Magritte 

Produced by the Department of Museum Education 
The Art Institute of Chicago 

Robert W. Eskridge, Woman's Board Endowed Executive Director 
Rita E. McCarthy, Associate Director, Student and Teacher Programs 

Written by Cori Wulf 

Portions of this text adapted from Rene Magritte slide packet, written by Abigale 
Hanson with contributions by Cori Wulf 

Classroom Activities by Cori Wulf 

Edited by Jane Clarke, Rita E. McCarthy, and Patricia Smith 
©2001 The Art Institute of Chicago 

Saturday, 12 October 2019

An Immersive Play Puts You Inside René Magritte

An Immersive Play Puts You Inside René Magritte's Surreal Life

Surrealists: They're just like us!

By Kara Weisenstein
Aug 27 2016, 7:50am
If someone on Governors Island asks you to buy the house of a dead surrealist, you’re not being duped. A group of artists is conducting a sort of seance to resurrect the ghost of René Magritte during each of the remaining weekends this summer. Set in an abandoned two-story building that once housed Naval officers, The Enchanted Realm of René Magritte is an immersive play peopled by his mother, his lover, his wife, his wife’s lover, and a fish. 
Exquisite Corpse Company is a performance collective that makes work using the methodology of a surrealist parlor game: it commissions work to various artists and Frankensteins their creations into a cohesive narrative. “You don’t know what’s going to come out of this brain soup,” Exquisite Corpse artistic director Tess Howsam tells The Creators Project. “The Enchanted Realm could go a lot of ways. It could become Alice in Wonderland-y. But it became a story of love and memory and a lot about Georgette, Magritte’s wife.”
Magritte aficionados appreciate a good "pipe" joke or Son of Man Halloween costume, but few are familiar with the painter’s life story. When he was 13, Magritte’s mother drowned herself in a river near their home. He met his future wife, Georgette, at 15, but then cheated on her in his 30’s with a younger artist named Sheila Legg. And he died in 1967, at 68, of pancreatic cancer. The play on Governors Island resurrects Magritte’s melancholy personal life through exchanges between the artist, his lovers, and his parents.
Set up as “open house” to hawk the painter’s childhood home, the play unfolds through eight crumbling rooms, each housing different memories from Magritte’s life. “I started to see him as more human than ever before. I always thought of him as this philosophical, ahead-of-his-time brainiac, and that’s why I was initially drawn to Magritte, but then it’s like, ‘Oh, he’s a man.’ I guess my takeaway is an appreciation of human nature, of mistakes, of relationships,” Howsam says. Strewn with Magritte’s most recognizable motifs, including green apples and bowler hats, The Enchanted Realm of René Magritte hints at the pathos behind paintings of blindfolded lovers and trains steaming out of fireplaces.
The source material for the play is a lesser-known Magritte mural commissioned by a Belgian casino in the ‘50s. Magritte cobbled it together from eight canvases replicating the best images from his earlier paintings. There’s the cloud-filled sky over a nocturnal street from The Empire of Light. There’s a reverse-mermaid with the torso of a fish and the lower anatomy of a woman. Each room in the house on Governors Island was decorated by a different team of visual artists, and these symbols show up on the walls, in costumes, and in props.
Howsam says contrasting the wacky imagery with Magritte’s fraught biography helps her understand the artist’s pathos. “Now that we’ve walked together for a while now, I feel like I can see a lot more of his life in his work, and it humanizes the absurd. Magritte calls it ‘the mystery of the ordinary,’ and what we’re exploring here is the mystery of being ordinary. Yes, there are magic fish in this show, but it’s mostly about life,” she says.
The Enchanted Realm of René Magritte runs every weekend from now till the end of September 25, 2016. To learn more and get tickets, click here.

Enchanting René Magritte Experience Goes Inside Surreal Paintings

A giant bowler hat in Knokke, Belgium houses the magical 50-person virtual reality experience.

By Beckett Mufson
Jul 13 2017, 6:39pm
Iconic Dadaist, surrealist, and conceptual artist René Magritte died 50 years ago this August, but his work is reborn in a new immersive experience called Magritte VR. As part of festivities commemorating the Belgian artist's life and work, the Magritte Estate commissioned an immersive world to be constructed from high resolution scans of his most famous paintings, such as The Treachery of ImagesGolconda, and The False Mirror. A sculpture imitating the "pipe" in The Treachery of Images stands nearby. Ever the prankster, Magritte would likely appreciate that visitors must literally enter a giant bowler hat in the seaside Belgian town of Knokke to view the immersive experience.
Bristol-based studio BDH Immersive created the virtual reality experience, which can be viewed by 50 people at a time inside the massive headpiece. "Magritte is one of the most celebrated artists that's ever lived, and rightly so," says director John Durrant. "In our Magritte Virtual Reality experience, we have built a journey through his wonderful landscapes and have captured their particular and peculiar atmospheres." Their work furthers efforts like Ali Eslami's DIY recreation of paintings like The Listening Room, mirroring the likes of The Dalí Museum's Dreams of Dalí VR experience.
Magritte VR is just one of several Magritte-based activities in Knokke this summer. His largest painting, The Enchanted Realm, will be on display at the nearby Knokke Casino, accompanied by a 15-minute sound and light show. Furthermore, an app is available that will guide visitors through the city "with the help of René Magritte," though it's unclear exactly to what extent the deceased icon will assist.
"I hope [Magritte] would have enjoyed the Magritte Virtual Reality Experience," Durrant continues. "As an artist, he too would have been inspired by the emerging technologies. We can only dream what amazing virtual realities he would have created."
Check out Magritte VR in the images and video below.
Learn more about Magritte VR here. Check out more of BDH Immersive's work here.

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