Surrealism and Beyond in the Israel Museum

Desire: Muse and Abused


The exploration of desire offered artists and poets a vast territory in which to probe unconscious fantasies, fears, and inhibitions. The drive to liberate desire through art related to the rise of Communism and Fascism and to the two world wars. Libido became a revolutionary force, and constituted a rebellion against political and social censorship.

By the late 1920s, desire became a principal obsession. Sigmund Freud’s theories of sexuality circulated within the group, and artists and writers viewed themselves as agents of desire. Woman, perceived as a source of creative inspiration, offered promise and power. The passive femme-enfant (woman-child) was valued for her dual nature – naive yet seductive. The Surrealist conception of woman was patriarchal: “What matters is that we be masters of ourselves, the masters of women and of love too” (Manifesto of Surrealism, 1924). This elevation of desire was rooted in the ideas of eighteenth-century French aristocrat Marquis de Sade, who viewed uninhibited passion as a male right.

In paintings, objects, photographs, and collages the female body became a core component, either idealized and mystified or assaulted and fragmented – the passive target of violence. Collage and montage became supreme media through which to dissect, rearrange, or disfigure the female image. Using woman as an object for the projection of unresolved anxieties and conflicts, artists, particularly Hans Bellmer, examined the darker sides of desire.

André Breton viewed the physical reaction to art as indistinguishable from erotic pleasure. This intoxication reverberates in Man Ray’s photographs focusing on the female body. His legacy is evident in the work of Raoul Ubac, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and Bill Brandt. Marcel Duchamp, with his female alter ego “Rrose Sélavy,” explores the erotic impulse and examines gender boundaries, recreating himself as an object of desire.

למאגר התערוכות , מוזיאון ישראל | מוזיאון ישראל, ירושלים | כל הזכויות שמורות © מוזיאון ישראל, ירושלים 1995-
To The Israel Museum Exhibition Online | The Israel Museum, Jerusalem | Copyright © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem 1995-