So I finally got myself together and headed out to our lovely Gallery of Modern Art to finally check out the famed Surrealism: Poetry of Dreams display that was trouncing past my sub-conscious for the past few weeks. I’ve been desperately wanting to check it out for a while now, and I finally snagged the chance last Wednesday. I assumed that you had to be in the right state of mind to go to one of these exhibitions – and it was best to go by yourself if you really wanted to take your time – and I was right.

Firstly, I realised that I never really understood Surrealism and quite frankly, I still don’t particularly understand it. From what I’ve read, heard and fervently Wikipedia’d, Surrealism was formed in the spirit of revolt that characterised the European avant-garde inthe 1920s. Just like the Dada movement, in which some of them had participated, these poets and artists denounced the rationalist arrogance of the late nineteenth century, which had been halted in its tracks by the First World War. However, rejecting Dadaism, the surrealists broke away to proclaim the official existence of their own movement in 1924.

So, wandering about the gallery display, with a brochure in one hand and clicky-inky pen in the other, I scrawled notes frantically. To my surprise I found out that, dominated by André Breton, Surrealism was, at first, essentially a literary movement. The surrealist artists, “introduced the theory of the liberation of desire through the invention of techniques that aimed to reproduce the mechanisms of dreams.”

Breton wrote the Surrealist Manifesto (once you call anything a “manifesto” you pretty much have it made) in 1924 – that defined the purposes of the group. He included citations of the influences on Surrealism, examples of Surrealist works and discussion of Surrealist automatism. He defined Surrealism as:

Dictionary: Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.

Encyclopedia: Surrealism. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.

Clearly, we weren’t allowed to take shots of the main display area – so I managed to accrue a plethora of photos from around the display – and in particular, the children’s area. Yeah, I know it sounds a little creepy, but I always love the kids interactive area – there’s always something magnificent going on in this area – and the eye-popping aesthetic of these spaces alone is something to view in awe. I’ve always seen the kids area as a bit of a shock to the system – with many children not understanding the full meaning behind the works that they are creating – as art is often filled with overpowering sense of sexuality and anger – and in a great many of works, violence – I find children happily playing in these areas slightly morbid and quite frankly, a little creepy. But, creepy good, not creepy bad.

AUTOMATISM: The most alluring concept that I found in Surrealism, is the idea of Automatism, a technique which strove to reduce the role of consciousness and the intervention of the will by basically letting your brain spit out any ideas – in writing, drawing, prose – onto paper – creating a random flow of inspiration out. This seems like a randomised way of achieving genius, but is essentially what we go through day after day – many things are unplanned, many idea are spontaneous. And by reading my posts, you can see I’ve got as much literary skill as an otter, but I keep pouring out a mess of words despite of myself. CLEARLY GENIUS.

EXQUISITE CORPSE: Now, to be frank, I didn’t know that there was such a morbid name for this “technique”. Also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term cadavre exquis) or rotating corpse), this is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds their own component to an original composition – the results can be both alarming and in most cases – incredibly disturbing. Awesomely enough, the name is derived from a phrase that resulted when Surrealists first played the game, “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau.” (“The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.”) – So morbid, but so lovely.

Now a trip out to a special event isn’t complete with out some sort of tacky souvenir that reminds you not of only the experience but of your gullibility. My experience certainly wasn’t complete…until I bought myself these two unbearably fantastic items from the glorious little exhibition shop:

  1. A cola candy mustache.
  2. A “ce n’est pas un badge” (this is not a badge) badge.

Once again, with feeling:

1. A cola candy mustache.

2. A “ce n’est pas un badge” badge.

Kids, it doesn’t get much cooler than this.


Adult $20
Concession $16
Members $15 (Discount available to Gallery and Foundation Members)
Secondary students $10
Children (12 years & under) FREE
Family (1–2 Adults & Children aged 13–17) $50
Season adult $60
Season concession $48
Season member $45 (Discount available to Gallery and Foundation Members)

Purchase your tickets in advance online at qtix or telephone 136 246 (booking fee applies).

Tickets are also available from the exhibition entry from 11 June – 2 October 2011. Please note the ticket desk closes at 4pm daily.



  1. I…don’t really understand “art” sometimes, but I do dig the wall decoration in the fourth picture down. It’s something I want in muh house!

  2. I love this post!! I’ve taken a few art history classes through the years and in one of them…i can’t remember when it was, we did the exquisite corpse technique! It was hilarious….the professor would assign a person with either a noun, verb, adjective….and then we would make loooong poems which made no sense. It was awesome.

  3. I find both Dada and Surrealism to be a major influence on my music — it’s fascination with the meaninglessness of meaning to me lines directly up with the kind of exoticism from the 19th century, and especially of later incarnations of it like Lomax’s field recordings and the like.

    The connections to improvisation, between exquisite corpse and the impromptu nature of automatism and the whole concept of anti-art, create a fascinating corollary to aleatoric music, too.

    Wish I could see the xzibit though.

  4. Wish I could see the exhibit, as surrealism fascinates me-(-or in surrealist terms)–the not-me me. Thanks for sharing your visit with us!
    And congrats on FPed! Hang on for the ride–talk about surreal!

  5. I’ve always found surrealism to be an appealing way to view the world. It is so closely linked with the way we each see through our own lens, and shines a light on the deep dark depths of the psyche.

  6. wadingacross says:

    When I was young, I wanted to be an artist. Figured a degree in art education was sensible, but my perfectionism, beliefs and common sense shelved art for me. I still doodle and watch in amazement as my toddler children’s natural artistic abilities are already surpassing my own at that age.

    Anyhow, as someone with a modicum of artistic ability, natural and learned, I’m supposed to be someone who “gets” it, or at least respects the varying styles. Frankly, I think there is a lot of garbage floating out there which the media, literati, artiste’s and such say is beautiful, wonderful and groundbreaking. I find the majority of modern art and all of its variant schools/style absolute dreck. Children could come up with – and often have – some of the exact same stuff, but since the artist is famous and has attached symbolism and meaning to their work, it gains absurd value.

    Anyhow, a close friend of mine got his degree in painting and also did some comic strips for our college rag. My favorite strip he drew is thus:
    A single panel of a single room at an art gallery with a single piece of artwork on a wall of indeterminate medium, style and subject. Four persons paired into two groups; first pair in front of the art, second some steps behind the first pair. Individual A says to B, “What is it?” A, “Art.” From behind, C asks D, “Who are they?” Says D,”Artists.”

  7. Thanks for the tour of the gallery. You managed to get a lot of great pictures despite the official show having a “no photos” policy. I love the images as well as the write-up. It was informative and interesting to read. Thanks! You’ve definitely got me thinking about surrealism again.

  8. Dreck? Yeah most of it’s Dreck. I once considered throwing some paint on a canvas, and entering it in a school art contest, under the title – crap. What offends me most is that Modern art doesen’t have
    to be bad – not that it’s bad so much as meh, it really is art. Art doesen’t have to be ‘good’ to be called
    art, but I do wish that people would pay more attention to the skill factor. A lot of modern stuff is pretty,
    but the simple fact is that anyone could do it. That said, some of my favorite stuff is from the crazy school – I like to be startled out of my reality by gazells with human faces, and dog headed nudes crawling on the floor sipping coffie – but in the two works I mentioned, realism was key – you have to
    capture the truth before you can effectively warp it, not that gluing faces on stuffed deer is hard – I
    do think you should consider the dificulty of the peice – and the origionality of the idea – before handing an artist any metals.

  9. Ah, the untamed spirit of surrealism.. once again seemingly reduced to a cola candy moustache and an overpriced frothy corporate coffee. Where the only ‘Surreal'(tm) thing going on here is the lukewarm sight of sanitary Imeme-Pad using metrosexuals with confident teeth, gently handing out polite Ooh’s and Ahh’s while lightly drifting from one pre-canned exhibit to the next & checking the radical status of their fellow ‘edgy’ Social Networkers. Sanitized Art-Life at its finest!

  10. writingisl0ve says:

    This was by far one of my favorite articles I have read. The moment I saw your title, it had me hooked. I’m an avid art lover myself and surrealism happens to be one of my favorite movements/time periods! I wish I lived in Australia to visit the same museum, but for now I’ll spend my free time at the MoMA! Thanks for an incredibly enjoyable read 🙂

  11. I witnessed surrealism yesterday when I heard ‘Watch The Throne’ in it’s entirety for the first time. Check it out, and btw also check out Wan’s 2 Cents @

  12. Diary Scope says:

    “I dreamed I was alive. That surprised me. I was alive. But I woke myself up.”
    this said it all. Great topic to write about.

  13. My favorite part is when you bashfully mention your appeal to the kids corner and activities. Whenever I find myself in an artistic setting where the kids get to make works of art based on what they’ve learned, I always wish I could join in. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this!

    1. MMIXLaw says:

      Why not join in? You probably paid more for your ticket than they did. And if anybody bothers you, just tell them you are a surrealist.

  14. Paul Henne says:

    I totally enjoyed this article! You should check out Jung’s writing on the introvert and extrovert; I think that he inspired a lot of the self-aware, extroverted authors and artists.

    1. Lautreamont’s book “Maldoror” was a big influence on Breton and Dali and it is a delicious read. Technically, the first work of Surrealism is Breton’s own “The Magnetic Fields”, but there is a collection of his poetry that I enjoy more. “Nights as Day Days as Night” is a fun diary of the dreams of Michel Leiris.

      If one tires quickly of the nonsensical nature of much surrealist output, there is always Kafka. He predates Surrealism, but he managed to write such strange stories which nonetheless convey a great deal. Raymond Roussel is a less well-known writer who prefigures surrealism – his novel “Locus Solus” is great.

      If one is looking for adventurous (though not necessarily surrealist) literature in general, one might look into the Oulipo writers (Calvino, Perec, Queneau) as well as the writers of the nouveau roman, especially Alain Robbe-Grillet (whose novel “La Belle Captive” features illustrations by the surrealist painter Rene Magritte).

  15. I went to Musuem of Modern art when i visited New York. I really tried to appreciate it, but just didn’t understand it. I blame it on my logically inclined brain that find art difficult to appreciate.

  16. NIce read.

    Surrealism essentially explores the interface between consciousness, perception and agreed reality. It’s quite fun if approached with an open attitude.

  17. One of the things that Andre Breton and his buds used was automatic writing (they had some other name I think) which basically meant that they wrote pages upon pages of words that came into their head, or images that came into their head as if some truth would arise from the uncensored sub-conscious. I’ve read some of it. Interesting but stupid.

  18. Very cool post, wonderfully descriptive without being boring or museum-y. It sounded like talking to a friend that knows without being snobby about knowing. Loved the pics. Very surreal 😉

  19. thewordygecko says:

    Thanks for that, I like your photos and comments. I went to the lectures hosted by Mark Pennings, and they provided a very useful background to the exhibition and Surrealism in general. They may be available on the gallery website somewhere. If you’re not sure about Freud, Tony Thwaites’ talk was terrific, for example. I’m going back for a second look at the exhibition, as I got so tired the first time part way through I don’t think my tiny brain took in very much!

    1. Fantastic! I will have to look into that!

      I have to agree with the size of the exhibit – I’m afraid I was have started to doze off at the end – horrible, I know – but I too should go back and have another look!

    1. I loved HK when I was there – but I fear I was a little too young to fully appreciate it! Will be heading back there soon and I can’t wait to get back into the fray!

  20. Cool post on your visit to the Surrealism exhibit — and it’s too bad that you couldn’t take photos of the main exhibit, as I wondered what that looked like. When I hear Surrealism, I think of Salvador Dali and Magritte, with their fantastical works. Very wild stuff — I think “Poetry of Dreams” is a good subtitle for the exhibit. The art and writing seem dreamlike and otherwordly (if that’s a word).

  21. […] SURREALISM; UNDERSTANDING THE UN-UNDERSTANDABLE. (via JAYJAYNE.COM) So I finally got myself together and headed out to our lovely Gallery of Modern Art to finally check out the famed Surrealism: Poetry of Dreams display that was trouncing past my sub-conscious for the past few weeks. I’ve been desperately wanting to check it out for a while now, and I finally snagged the chance last Wednesday. I assumed that you had to be in the right state of mind to go to one of these exhibitions – and it was best to go by your … Read More […]

  22. Natalie says:

    I did an mini thesis on surrealism, and surrealism is absolutely fascinating. Although at times, morbidly lovely and disturbing.

  23. Great blog & great photos! To allow your mind to flow subconciously, without allowing your concious thoughts (molded by society’s rules) to interfere, really is a challenge that would leave many of us with a blank canvas. This explains why children are often so successful–they have yet to be molded by social norms.

      1. This is also part of the reasoning as to why I just love kids – their minds are so open to things and are eager to know things, for the sake of knowing – oh to be young and malleable again!

  24. My understanding of automatic writing is it is the craft produced when a writer just writes whatever comes to mind, without controlling it.

    Is this right?

    1. As I’m not exactly a scholar in this area, I can’t give you a fantastically accurate response -but that sounds like what it essentially is!

  25. Thanks for covering this subject- really looking forward to hearing more about your ideas on Surrealism. Keep in touch, with us over at the Beaubourg…Best, G.

  26. Nice, i’ve never been to an exhibet, but I really like films that try to include this. In the one with the photo with the pencil, was that a blotch of something or a drawing? I liked that one =D

    1. Yup, it’s a paint blotch in which you could draw on top of or around to create something new! Great way to tap into our inner creative juices!

  27. This is getting a bit more subjective, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace. The interface is colorful, has more flair, and some cool features like ‘Mixview’ that let you quickly see related albums, songs, or other users related to what you’re listening to. Clicking on one of those will center on that item, and another set of “neighbors” will come into view, allowing you to navigate around exploring by similar artists, songs, or users. Speaking of users, the Zune “Social” is also great fun, letting you find others with shared tastes and becoming friends with them. You then can listen to a playlist created based on an amalgamation of what all your friends are listening to, which is also enjoyable. Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose

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