Curator Lizzie Bisley on Te Papa’s Surrealist Art exhibition

The Te Papa Surrealist exhibition opens tomorrow — Saturday 12 June! This is your (ultra-rare) chance to see 180 surrealist masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.

To celebrate the exhibition’s opening and find out more, we interviewed the exhibition curator Lizzie Bisley, Curator Modern Art at Te Papa. Have a watch below!

Lizzie Bisley, Curator Modern Art, 2019. Photo by Jack Fisher. Te Papa

Te Papa’s Surrealist exhibition runs until 31 October in Te Papa’s gallery, Toi Art. Te Papa is the only venue in the Asia Pacific region to host the exhibition, and as a city we’re incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to view these artworks — which include sculpture, furniture, paintings, graphic design, prints, and photography. (Please note, charges apply.)

This exhibition features major works by all key surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, Leonora Carrington, and Man Ray.

To get you fully informed before you go along to the exhibition, visit the library and browse or borrow from our extensive collection of Surrealist books:

Surrealism on our Catalogue

Salvador Dalí, Mae West Lips Sofa, wood, woollen flannel, cotton and brass rivets, 1938. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (purchase with the support of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation and the Rembrandt Association). Photo: Jannes Linders. © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí/VEGAP. Copyright Agency, 2020.

“Pure psychic automatism” – Surrealist masterpieces coming soon to Te Papa

Coming to Te Papa on the 12th of June there will be the ultra-rare chance to see 180 surrealist masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.

The Te Papa Surrealist exhibition runs until 31 October in Te Papa’s gallery, Toi Art. Te Papa is the only venue in the Asia Pacific region to host the exhibition, and as a city we’re incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to view these artworks — which include sculpture, furniture, paintings, graphic design, prints, and photography.

Surrealist Art at Te Papa Exhibition

This exhibition features major works by all key surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, Leonora Carrington, and Man Ray.

Salvador Dalí, Couple with their heads in the clouds, oil on panel, 1936. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Purchase with the support of: the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation, the Rembrandt Association, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, the Erasmusstichting and Stichting Bevordering van Volkskracht. Photo: Studio Tromp. © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí/VEGAP. Copyright Agency, 2020.

About Surrealism

Pure psychic automatism, is how co-founder of André Robert Breton French writer and poet and author of the First Manifesto of Surrealism (Manifeste du Surréalisme) defined Surrealism:

Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

Surrealism was birthed from the fiery remnants of the Dada movement, which was a direct reaction to the propaganda and mechanised slaughter of the First World War. Dada was a mirror to the insanity of the world at the time: the Dadaists saw society’s embrace of progress and rationalism as the problem, and so the movement was anti-idealistic, anti-rational and anti-aesthetic.

Both Surrealism and Dada shared a lot in common — they both incorporated a condemnation of Western logic and reason. However, whilst the Dadaists were unfocused and often nonsensical with a deep suspicion of meaning, the Surrealists were linked to the works of Freud and Jung and were often attempting to tap into the unconscious subliminal world; trying to create images that represented the dream world’s mysteries and secrets and finding powerful motivation for looking for meaning in those subconscious worlds. Both movements served as core precursors to today’s art world, and many modern art movements such as performance art and post modernism originated in these movements.

To get you fully informed before you go along to the exhibition, Wellington City Libraries has an extensive collection of Surrealist books. We’ve highlighted a few below, but you can also browse them on our catalogue:

Surrealism on our Catalogue


Salvador Dali : 1904-1989 / Descharnes, Robert
“Picasso called Dali “”an outboard motor that’s always running.”” Dali thought himself a genius with a right to indulge in whatever lunacy popped into his head. Painter, sculptor, writer, and filmmaker, Salvador Dali (1904-1989) was one of the century’s greatest exhibitionists and eccentrics. He was one of the first to apply the insights of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis to the art of painting, approaching the subconscious with extraordinary sensitivity and imagination. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)

René Magritte, 1898-1967 / Meuris, Jacques
“The works of Rene Magritte (1898 – 1967) and the ideas that underlie them are a special case both in the history of modern art and in surrealist painting. In the search for the “”mystery”” in which things and organisms are enveloped, Magritte created pictures which, taking everyday reality as their starting point, were to follow a different logic from that to which we are accustomed. Magritte depicts the world of reality in such unsecretive superficiality that the beholder of his pictures is forced to reflect that the mystery of it is not evoked by some sentimental transfiguration, but rather by the logic of his thoughts and associations. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The Duchamp book / Parkinson, Gavin
“Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was, without doubt, one of the most influential and controversial artists of the twentieth century. No other figure has attracted such a wealth of often contradictory interpretation and commentary. Associated with Cubism, Dada and Surrealism and widely seen as a forerunner of conceptual art, he avoided being too closely allied with any one movement. Credited with the invention of the ‘readymade’ and a champion of what he termed ‘non-retinal art,’ he was responsible for some of the most iconic works of his era.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Leonora Carrington : surrealism, alchemy and art / Aberth, Susan
“This, the first book on Leonora Carrington (b. 1917), provides a fascinating overview of this intriguing artist’s life and rich body of work. Carrington’s preoccupation with alchemy and the occult, and the influence of indigenous Mexican culture and beliefs on her production are all explored.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Man Ray : photography and its double
“Man Ray delighted the avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s with daring, creative experimentation. He was the first Surrealist photographer, a gifted rebel with an incisive eye and a passion for freedom and pleasure.This outstanding monograph sheds new light on Man Ray’s photographic genius — incredibly, around one third of these images have never before been published. Visually spectacular and intellectually stimulating it shatters the myth — cultivated by Man Ray himself — that his photographic creativity resulted from timely mistakes and chance occurrences.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The age of light / Scharer, Whitney
“A novel inspired by the life of the Vogue model-turned-renowned photographer finds Lee Miller relocating to 1929 Paris, where she becomes the muse and colleague of the mercurial surrealist, Man Ray.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The hearing trumpet / Carrington, Leonora
“The Hearing Trumpet is the story of 92-year-old Marian Leatherby, who is given the gift of a hearing trumpet only to discover that what her family is saying is that she is to be committed to an institution. But this is an institution where the buildings are shaped like birthday cakes and igloos, where the Winking Abbess and the Queen Bee reign, and where the gateway to the underworld is open. It is also the scene of a mysterious murder. Occult twin to Alice in Wonderland, The Hearing Trumpet is a classic of fantastic literature that has been translated and celebrated throughout the world.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Wedding Fashion

Until April 22nd 2012 Te Papa is host to the exhibition Unveiled: 200 Years of Wedding Fashion from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

If you can’t make it to see the exhibition or you have had your interest sparked, explore our Weddings Popular Topic page, and take a look at some of collection on Wedding Fashion:

Syndetics book coverI do : 100 years of wedding fashion / Caroline Cox.
“I Do is a captivating review of wedding fashion over the last century. Chapter by chapter, the book outlines the changes from the ostentatious Edwardian wedding gowns of the early twentieth century to the knee length flapper gowns of the 1920’s, inspired by Parisian couture and the designer Coco Chanel. By the 1930’s Hollywood reigned and film-star weddings, publicised both on the silver screen and in fan magazines, brought a touch of glamour into the ceremony, which was soon to be cut short by the restrictions of the Second World War. By contrast, the war bride had to cope with walking up the aisle in ‘make-do-and-mend’ concoctions of muslin and parachute silk. Since the 1950’s romantic styles have dominated, influenced by Dior’s New Look and the American ‘sweetheart’ line – despite incursions from street styles and high fashion. But the 1960’s mini – seemingly a rejection of marital bliss and a symbol of independence – was worn by few brides, and despite the effect of the hippie counterculture and feminism, marriage still survives today. A widespread subversion in the look of the bride has yet to happen, suggesting that the white wedding is here to stay.” (Amazon)

Syndetics book coverThe wedding dress : 300 years of bridal fashions / Edwina Ehrman.
“From the romance of its evolution to the splendor of its design, the wedding dress is unlike any other garment, a talisman from a fantasy world, the manifestation of dreams coming true. This book draws on wedding garments in the V&A’s renowned collection along with photographs, letters, memoirs, and newspaper accounts to explore the history of the white wedding dress and the traditions that have developed around it from 1700 to today, when designers from Vera Wang to Vivienne Westwood continue to challenge the aesthetic. Paintings, drawings, and wedding photos depict queens, princesses, celebrities, and everyday women- including Kate Middleton – in their gowns. The text considers the dress in the context of the commercialization of weddings that began in the Victorian era. The Wedding Dress is not only about costume, but also about the cultivation of the image of the bride.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverVintage weddings : one hundred years of bridal fashion and style / Marnie Fogg ; [foreword by Bruce Oldfield].
“A visual journey through 100 years of wedding styles and dresses, “Vintage Weddings” takes a close look at the key periods, diverse styles, iconoclastic designers, significant ceremonies and cultural influences in wedding fashions. Organized chronologically, this book shows the reader how to recognize the silhouette that will best suit their body shape, identify luxurious fabrics, contrast various styles, and to source appropriate accessories, from gloves and shoes to flowers, veils, jewellery and table decorations. Throughout the book, individual pieces that epitomize the defining characteristic of each designer or decade are analyzed in detail. This book is for those interested in collecting and acquiring all aspects of authentic vintage pieces relating to the wedding ceremony, and also for prospective brides who are buying new, but are looking for sources of inspiration.” (Amazon)

Syndetics book coverWedding dress across cultures / edited by Helen Bradley Foster and Donald Clay Johnson.
“Editors Foster and Johnson use the term “dress” for more than clothing. They include body modifications, supplements, and usage based on terminology developed by Ruth Barnes and Joanne Eicher in Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning in Cultural Contexts (CH, Dec’92). These 14 essays by international scholars in art history, textiles, anthropology, folklore, and theatrical costume provide a spectrum of wedding clothing, symbolism, and customs from traditional Swazi bridal garments, Inca sandals and tunics, the Moroccan Berber bridal Aabroq (cloth-and-jewelry headdress and face covering), and Korean embroidered whalot robes to Greek wedding crowns and Slovak bride capping. Several studies cover changes over time within cultures: contemporary political attempts to lower inhibiting dowry requirements for Rabari families (Hindu pastoralists in Kutch, western India); modern marketing through packaged elite weddings in Osaka, Japan; modifications to Alaskan Inupiaq atikluks (parka-style dresses and jackets); and the latest US playful theme weddings (e.g., Renaissance, cowboy, Celtic, Halloween, 1920s), which reject tradition and allow for the ultimate in free choice. The colorful cover might deceive readers looking for a lush coffee-table book, but this small volume, though rich in content, is limited in illustrations. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All libraries. B. B. Chico Regis UniversityCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE)

Syndetics book coverQuest for the dress : finding your dream gown without losing your sanity, friends, or groom / Nancy Di Fabbio.
“Having run a bridal gown shop for over 20 years, Nancy Di Fabbio has seen everything from botched plans for a plus-sized bride to wear a petite grandmother’s dress to knock-down, drag-out family fights over the veil. In “Quest for the Dress, ” she draws on her irrepressible sense of humor, experience, and entertaining stories to create one guidebook that helps brides find their dream dress without losing their sanity in the process. The guide includes tips on creating a game plan for the wedding before making any plans, choosing shopping companions carefully, finding the right accessories and the perfect headpiece and veil, a crash course in fashion and fabric, avoiding alteration problems, and caring for a dress after the big day. Perfect for future brides and those close to the bride, “Quest for the Dress” is an enjoyable and useful present for a shower or engagement.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBridal couture : fine sewing techniques for wedding gowns and evening wear / Susan Khalje.
“Create a fantasy! Susan Khalje guides readers through the principles and techniques of designing, constructing, and embellishing wedding gowns and evening wear. Ideal for the bride-to-be or seamstress. Learn how to choose the right fabric, work with lace, and problem solve tricky construction issues.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Knot book of wedding gowns / by Carley Roney.
“What’s the real difference between an $800 gown and an $8000 gown? Is Dupioni better than Duchesse? When do you need a crinoline, and what is a crumb catcher? From the creator of the #1 online wedding resource, The Knot Book of Wedding Gowns provides the answers to these questions and thousands more. The perfect gift for a bride-to-be, this lavishly illustrated book–more than 250 color photographs and illustrations–tells her everything she needs to know about the single most expensive and important piece of clothing she will ever own. The only fully comprehensive book on the subject, The Knot Book of Wedding Gowns dissects the construction of the dress; profiles the numerous styles; defines and illustrates hundreds of varieties of fabrics, laces, embellishments, and accessories; and provides straightforward counsel on which cuts work best with which fabrics, and what styles look best on which body types. In addition, informative sections explain how and where to search for a dress, how to pull everything together to achieve the perfect look, and how to care for the masterpiece when the wedding is over. Fascinating bits of history throughout unveil the traditions and significance of this most important piece of clothing. For that all-important decision of a lifetime, The Knot Book of Wedding Gowns is the ultimate book on the ultimate dress.” (Syndetics summary)