New York

René Magritte

Iolas Gallery

In January of 1967 René Magritte decided to translate eight paintings—some little known, others classic Surrealist works—into sculpture. The paintings were then “pointed up” in wax—only the academic term will serve—in Verona and cast in June, 1967, shortly before the artist’s death in August. Magritte, who approved and signed the waxes, never saw the final states.

The present works are intensely strained transcriptions of various motifs from Magritte. In the vast scaling-up, the entirely peculiar, original sense and literary conceit of Magritte’s imagination—not to say the coolness of the painting—is entirely sacrificed. The supple facture, the detachment and the refinement of color is especially missed. Instead we get theatre—tableaux morts, one might say. The great pun on the painting of David, so central to the sense of Magritte’s Récamier (David’s sitter interred bolt upright in her specially made casket) has sadly been extenuated. We now are made to participate, not only at the wake of Récamier, but of sculpture too, for what has died in the huge bronze is not merely the immortal image of a celebrated subject, but one of the arts itself.

I believe that the awfulness of the bronzes would have been lessened had they been painted rather than glumly patinated after casting. This of course was impossible, due to Magritte’s untimely death, as well as unlikely, for in Magritte’s later painting we also find him drifting toward spectral worlds of a single, stony coloration. The bronze matter and color—sheer conspicuous consumption of matière noble—only intensifies the deadness of the whole undertaking. The pretentious scale also contributes to diminishing the effect of the works. The scale that the Verona artisans worked in is particularly Italian, a Campo Santo effigy scale. That such funerary scale should have been avoided can be demonstrated easily by comparing the failure of these works with the comparative success of other translations of late Surrealist painting into bronzes of a smaller scale. The 1968 casting of de Chirico’s 1933 Hector and Andromache is telling. The modest scale of this little bronze creates something far more convincing than the late painting on which it is based—something which cannot be claimed for the aberrant Magrittes. Of the eight, perhaps only one made a successful transition from visual-literary conceit to sculpture, La Folie des Grandeurs, in which the lowest drum of the entruncated and diminishing female is in fact quite marvelously and monumentally simplified.

Robert Pincus-Witten