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Endless Enigma

A gallery guide produced on the occassion of the exhibition Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art from September 12 to October 27, 2018, organized in association with David Zwirner at 537 W 20th Street, New York.

This exhibition celebrates the fantastic themes explored in art across centuries and traces the rich historical throughline that connects artists’ enduring fascination with the imagination, the subconscious, and dreams. Drawing from the twelfth century to the present day, Endless Enigma provides a unique opportunity to examine a nities in intention and imagery between works created by a wide range of artists over a broad span of time.

In 1936, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. introduced Dada and Surrealism to the American public with the now legendary exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism. In that exhibition, which brought together 694 works—the earliest of which were represented by late medieval objects—Barr presented the innovations of Dada and Surrealism in the context of what he called “Fantastic Art” by European Old Masters, whose work displayed unexpected thematic and formal relationships with those of the avant-garde.

Endless Enigma takes Barr’s show as its point of departure, highlighting a variety of artists featured in his show while also introducing new examples—some contemporary—that illustrate the ongoing in uence of fantastic art today. Surrealism—according to its most famous spokesperson, André Breton—was based on the exclusive use of the imagination as the springboard for creation. This manifested itself in myriad ways, through, among other methods, the embrace of chance, magic, and the supernatural; the deconstruction of forms; and the exploration of phantasmagorical imagery.

Although he singled it out as one of the primary tenets of Surrealism, Breton was hardly the rst to laud the imagination and its merits. In 1550, Giorgio Vasari wrote about the work of Piero di Cosimo (1462–1522) in Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, noting: “Nor is it possible to describe the di erent fantastic things that he delighted to paint...what with the buildings, the animals, the costumes, the various instruments, and any other fanciful things that came into his head.”

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