René Magritte

Bruce Silverstein Gallery
529 West 20th Street, Third Floor
November 30–January 27

René Magritte, Le rendez-vous, Georgette Magritte, Bruxelles, 1938, gelatin silver print, 9 x 7".

René Magritte and his wife, Georgette, never had children—that kind of production wasn’t high on the Surrealist agenda—but they did keep a menagerie of pets, including dogs and cats and much-beloved pigeons. In one of the most striking images in this closet-size but museum-quality show of Magritte’s little known photography, Georgette poses against a black background, her arms crossed high in front of her chest, a bird perched on each hand.

Magritte’s Le rendez-vous, Georgette Magritte, Bruxelles, 1938, carries the same mischievous spirit, the same intimation of magic, that characterizes Surrealist photography all over the world. One wonders if Magritte took his own photos or films seriously. Did he consider them more than just the stuff of family albums, playful experiments with friends, or a tool for documenting paintings in progress? He took pictures all of his life and enthusiastically picked up an 8-mm camera in his last decade. But it wasn’t until the 1970s, when a cache of previously unknown work turned up, that Magritte’s experiments in photography and film were discovered and came to be studied.

The process has been slow, the pace quickened only recently. Last summer, a public gallery in Australia opened an expansive show titled “René Magritte: The Revealing Image,” featuring 132 photographs and eight films, which considered how they might change history’s appraisal of the artist. This exhibition, by contrast, is decidedly intimate, with just twenty-six photographs and no films. The edit is nimble, however, and the sequence moves swiftly: from a self-portrait, René Magritte fumant une cigarette (René Magritte Smoking a Cigarette), 1914, to a pair of marvelous solarized prints from 1928—L’espion (The Spy) and L’usage de la parole (The Usage of Speech)—to later collaborations from the 1950s and 1960s. Magritte’s own assessment may have been correct, but the works here show the art of his leisure time to be formidable indeed.

— Kaelen Wilson-Goldie