The artistic movement of magical realism is once again topical

Long eclipsed by the rise of abstract expressionism in the 1950s, the reputation of magical realism is on the rise again. The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia will present the exhibition “Extra Ordinary: Magic, Mystery and Imagination in American Realism” from February 27 to June 13. The exhibition seeks to re-examine the definition of magical realism and to broaden the canon of the artists who have worked in this category.

The term “magical realism” was popularized in 1943 during the “American Realists and Magic Realists” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, curated by curator Dorothy C. Miller with assistance from museum director Alfred H. Barr Jr . and impresario of the arts Lincoln Kirstein. . The Georgia Museum of Art exhibit will include works originally featured in the MoMA exhibit, including paintings by Ivan Albright, Paul Cadmus, Z. Vanessa Helder and Patsy Santo, as well as other artefacts from many artists presented.

Magical realism is often compared to surrealism, but while surrealism focuses on the life of the spirit, magical realism is grounded in the real world, showing fantastic elements as part of everyday life. The ambiance of magical realistic works of art is often eerie and eerie. The mystical components add to their mystery and invite viewers to take a closer look. Magic Realists took inspiration from the German movement known as New Objectivity, and they also adapted aspects of European surrealism into an American visual language.

“Magical realism was very ingrained in ordinary life and commented very directly on the everyday experience of people in the United States,” said Jeffrey Richmond-Moll, curator of American art at the museum, who organized the exhibit. “From wartime life and its consequences to key social issues like race and civil rights or workers’ rights, to pressing environmental issues of the time.”

Helen Lundeberg (American, 1908 – 1999), “Selma”, 1957. Oil on canvas, 30 × 24 inches. Louis Stern Fine Arts and the Feitelson / Lundeberg Art Foundation, courtesy of Louis Stern Fine Arts © The Feitelson / Lundeberg Art Foundation.

“Extra Ordinary” takes on the challenge of defining magical realism and organizing a diverse group of artists into one style – a style that may not be familiar to American audiences and has often been overlooked. The exhibition also highlights, in the words of critic Clement Greenberg, “the extreme eclecticism that prevails today” in the American art world of the mid-1900s. In doing so, it sheds light on a larger constellation of artists – including women like Gertrude Abercrombie and Honoré Sharrer, artists of color like Eldzier Cortor and Hughie Lee-Smith, and other artists from more remote areas like Everett Spruce and Patrick Sullivan – who also turned to the mysterious, supernatural and hyperrealistic to examine the key social issues of the day. These artists embraced magic or fantasy not as a way to escape everyday reality, but as a way to engage more directly with it.

While the exhibit is not moving, the museum publishes a hardcover catalog to accompany it, with essays by Richmond-Moll and researcher Philip Eliasoph and the catalog on all work in the show by researchers, including Richmond-Moll, William U. Eiland (museum director), David A. Lewis (professor of art history at Stephen F. Austin State University), Maurita N. Poole (director and curator Clark Museum Atlanta art University ) and Akela Raison (associate professor of history and director of museum studies at the University of Georgia).

Upcoming events related to the exhibition include:

  • A Zoom lecture by Philip Eliasoph on February 25 at 4 p.m. Eliasoph is an art historian, critic, curator, and professor of American art history in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Fairfield University. In this lecture, he will discuss Paul Cadmus’ 1947 painting “Aire de jeux”.
  • A panel discussion with professors from Zoom UGA and Clark Atlanta University led by Richmond-Moll, March 18 at 1 p.m.
  • An outdoor film screening of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia on April 1 at 8:15 pm
  • An Artful Zoom conversation on Eldzier Cortor’s “Southern Landscape”, led by Emily Hogrefe-Ribeiro, Assistant Curator of Education, April 14 at 1 pm
  • A Zoom Lecture by Angela Miller, Professor of Art History and Archeology at Washington University in St. Louis, April 22 at 1 p.m.
  • A Homeschool Day To-Go program on April 23
  • A Zoom Artful Conversation on “Coney Island” by Leonard Everett Fisher, led by Callan Steinmann, Curator of Education, May 5 at 1 pm
  • A family day on the go, with free self-guided gallery activity sheets and art kits available for pickup May 13-16
  • Teen Studio via Zoom, run by teaching artist Kristen Bach, May 20 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.
  • And a Toddler Tuesday To-Go on May 25, with a story hour and toddler art activity available on the museum’s Art at Home website.

Christopher S. Washington