World Art Collections Exhibition
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

Subversive Spaces
Surrealism and Contemporary Art

Subversive Spaces, an exhibition which examines the influence of the Surrealist art movement, opens at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia (UEA), Norwich, on Tuesday 29 September 2009 and runs until Sunday 13 December 2009. The exhibition features work by leading contemporary artists including Francis Alÿs, Lucy Gunning and Paula Rego, alongside that of significant Surrealists including Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and René Magritte. Subversive Spaces is a Whitworth Art Gallery touring exhibition.

“The exhibition seeks to draw attention to affinities and, in some cases, ongoing artistic dialogues between contemporary art and Surrealism. Psychic disturbance and interior space co-mingled in the Surrealist imaginary, while recent artists have explored themes such as hysteria in varying permutations of installation, video and performance.”
– David Lomas, Director, Centre for Studies of Surrealism and its Legacies

Subversive Spaces challenges visitors’ experience of space and perceptions of their environment. The exhibition has several themes which connect the artists across time – chief among them the ideas of subverting the domestic space, ‘psychic interiors’, and of ‘wandering the city’.

‘Wandering the city’ reveals the Surrealist preoccupation with discovering hidden social spaces in our city streets and uncovering our subconscious fears and desires. Photographs of a Paris long since destroyed confront our modern journeys though the urban landscape, pausing only to examine spaces of dereliction, dirt and disuse. Brassaï’s atmospheric photographs demonstrate the Surrealist love of walking the streets, revealing a mysterious and unfamiliar image of the city by night. George Shaw depicts the in-between spaces of a city in his melancholy paintings of the council estate where he grew up, while Francis Alys’s video Railings embraces strolling aimlessly as a resistance to being productive. Tracing affinities between the surrealist past and subversive present, the exhibition explores the spaces where we don’t want to find ourselves and records what happens when we do.

‘Psychic interiors’ investigates notions of disturbance, anxiety and hysteria and considers the constraining spaces of the home. Max Ernst’s collaged fantasies of rabbits, monkeys and beds present a surreal view of the home as a place of disorder, while Lucy Gunning’s video Climbing Around My Room explores the claustrophobia of domestic spaces. Subverting the supposedly safe and comfortable environment of the home, a dismembered leg by Robert Gober protrudes from a wall to lie on the sitting room floor, and Mona Hatoum’s menacing furniture seems to come alive.

Lucy Gunning, Climbing Around My Room, 1993

“Subversive Spaces is a fascinating project which not only represents a creative collaboration across university museums, but also allows us to explore themes suggested by the Sainsbury Centre’s permanent collections of world art, with the help of academic colleagues at UEA, Norwich University College of the Arts and, of course, the Centre for Studies of Surrealism and its Legacies.”

– Nichola Johnson, Director, Sainsbury Centre

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The East Anglians runs concurrently with Subversive Spaces. This major new exhibition of photographs by Justin Partyka documents a largely-forgotten rural community which is struggling to preserve a way of life that has remained unchanged for generations. The East Anglians comprises 58 colour photographs, which include harvesting wheat and vegetables using traditional methods, farmhouses and farms where time appears to have stood still, and skilled rural workers such as reed cutters and rabbit catchers. Full press release available from the Sainsbury Centre. Click here for more information.