René Magritte, the extraordinary surrealist painter, faced a question of conviction in the 1940s. As Europe was overwhelmed by the horrors of World War II, Magritte’s production was transforming in ways that surprised even the artist’s closest colleagues and advocates. Already in possession of his classic style of painting, honed over the previous two decades, Magritte suddenly began to make images that looked almost nothing like his previous work. In this era of instability and upheaval during the German occupation of Belgium, he questioned the role of art and looked for a new direction and new meanings.
René Magritte: The Fifth Season — presented exclusively at SFMOMA from May 19 through October 28, 2018 — focuses on the latter half of Magritte’s career, from approximately 1943 to 1967, a period of remarkable transformation and revitalization for the artist. With loans from North and South America, Europe and Asia, it is the most complete presentation of Magritte’s late work mounted since the artist’s death in 1967. With more than 20 artworks being shown for the first time in a U.S. museum, and the first concentrated examination of Magritte’s sunlit surrealism and gouaches in this country, it marks a major milestone in the artist’s exhibition history.
“Magritte’s paintings opened up whole fields of inquiry that are still being explored by artists today,” said Caitlin Haskell, associate curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA and curator of René Magritte: The Fifth Season. “My hope is that those who don’t yet know Magritte will visit and encounter a painter who inspires them to question their surroundings; while those who are familiar with his work will be able to discover new sides of a supremely fascinating artist, who understood that the insights we find in paintings can affect how we see the world.”
70 oil paintings and gouaches, presented in a series of immersive galleries, reveal Magritte as an artist especially attuned to the paradoxes within reality. The subtitle “The Fifth Season” — taken from one of Magritte’s paintings made during the war years — evokes an alternative realm and references the artist’s belief in the special capacity of art to awaken us to new possibilities. Sometimes unsettling and often humorous, Magritte’s powerful paintings draw us into a parallel universe that seems to exist simultaneously with the recognizable world and challenge us to reconsider what is real.