Surrealism Beyond Borders review – A raging sea of glorious strangeness

Subversive, liberating, violent, transgressive and revolutionary, surrealism was always more than a parade of melting watches and trains chuffing out of fireplaces. It was also more than a European phenomenon. For a movement that officially began in Paris in 1924, with the publication of the first Manifesto of Surrealism, its ideas travelled around the world remarkably quickly to Osaka and Bogotá, Mexico and Manila, to Cairo and to Greenwich Village.

Co-produced by Tate Modern and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Surrealism Beyond Borders is filled with unlikely conjunctions and unsettling objects, Freudian dreamworlds, nightmares and fantasies. So surreal, so predictable. Where this exhibition – and its enormous catalogue – differs from previous surveys is in showing how expansive, sprawling and diverse a movement surrealism was, and how, emerging in the aftermath of the first world war, its influence continued through the century, in art produced in postwar Japan and Korea, in the black power movement and the protests at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, and in the May 1968 protests and strikes in France.

Long Distance by Ted Joans.
‘Spidery, sexy, automatist’ … Long Distance by Ted Joans. Photograph: © Ted Joans estate, courtesy of Laura Corsiglia. Photo by Joseph Wilhelm / Meridian Fine Art

With its substitutions, its impossible juxtapositions, collisions and surprises, surrealism is with us still. What began as an avant garde movement (how quaint the term now sounds) has now become ubiquitous. The compendious, fascinating catalogue takes us from the Bureau of Surrealist Research in Paris to Sufism and surrealism in Turkey, and from surrealism in Brazil to the Philippines. Along the way we meet jazz musicians and poets, Leon Trotsky and a Vodou priest, surrealism’s fellow-travellers and oddball loners, feminists and revolutionaries, visionaries and misogynists. Sean O’Hagan writes in the catalogue of “a multifarious, polyphonic surrealism … a shifting,…

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