People who seek a symbolic meaning do not understand the inherent poetry and mystery of the image
If defying explanation and challenging the perceptions of existence are central to the ideas of René Magritte, what would he have made of seeing his work, reproduced to many times the original size and able to disappear in the blink of an eye?
If you think yourself unfamiliar with the work of Magritte, then think again. The Belgian surrealist has influenced everyone from Andy Warhol to Steve Jobs and left an indelible mark on popular culture. His paintings are, by turns, funny, questioning, confusing and menacing, with titles that pose questions and make statements about the nature of reality. For example, ‘The Treachery of Images’ (often knows as ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ [‘this is not a pipe’], tells us not to immediately accept what we see. However, ‘The Son of Man’ – arguably his most famous painting – is a self-portrait in which his head is obscured by an apple and a bowler hat. In an irony Magritte himself may have found amusing, the piece is part of a privately-owned collection and rarely exhibited for public viewing.
With this in mind, this year art lovers were excited to discover his work ‘existing’ anew in “Inside Magritte”, a show like no other at the Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan – an old factory building that has, appropriately, been reimagined and converted into a multi-disciplinary arts complex. The show has been described as an ‘immersive’ experience, which, when applied to the work of many artists would be a succinct and adequate description. However, Magritte has traditionally presented a challenge for experts and art historians and this new approach adds an interesting dimension to the work of a man who famously resisted explanation.
Production company, Crossmedia Group worked with respected art historian Julie Waseige of Succession Magritte and Stefano Fake of The Fake Factory in selecting 160 pieces from a catalogue of over 1000 works, to create the eight chapters of “Inside Magritte”. Purists may question how it is possible to fully appreciate these challenging artworks when entirely removed from the originals, but to Julie, this creates something of an interesting duality in that “Inside Magritte” is not intended to replace the experience of his work, indeed it removes the distance between object and viewer that is necessary for its preservation. The scaling up of the paintings creates an imposing familiarity between artist and viewer. “The technology makes it possible for us to observe much more closely, sometimes even beyond the capacities of our eye, the details of the painting,” she explains.
And it is tempting to simply describe the exhibition in terms of its technology – the fifty-minute-long ‘immersive experience’ presents flowed and animated works scaled to room size using twenty-nine Canon XEED laser projectors which, with the support of Matrix XDimension® System is capable of transmitting over 40 million pixels on the installation surfaces. And Virtual Reality transports visitors inside each painting thanks to an app developed for Samsung Gear VR headsets. But the experience of scale, clarity and motion seeks not to get just under the skin of Magritte but offers a 360º viewpoint that also exposes his technical skill as a painter.
“The immersive experience makes it possible to highlight the different techniques used by Magritte,” explains Julie. “Thanks to technology, the principle of metamorphosis, for example, can be shown in the image as a bottle is gradually transformed into a carrot.” If this sounds absurd, it is entirely deliberate, “contemplating one of his paintings is an exercise in letting go,” says Julie. “A kind of fight against human nature that always wants to explain everything.”