Restless visionary: Man Ray was always ahead of his time

In the summer of 1940, after almost 20 years in Paris, Man Ray fled the Nazis for the country of his birth. Disliking New York, where he’d spent his youth, he made for the West Coast. He hoped to get as far as Tahiti or Hawaii. But his trip came to an end when, braced by the space, lifted by the lack of skyscrapers (‘made me feel taller’) and swept off his feet by a dancing girl (the latest in a long line of hoofers for whom he’d have the hots), he settled in Los Angeles. Though he would live there for more than decade, he never really liked the

The life of René Magritte was even more surprising than his art

We live at a time in which we could (until recently) travel without difficulty and take for granted access to cultural treasures. It’s easy to forget that this wasn’t always the case, and minds were shaped by what possibilities were available. The Belgian painter René Magritte is a good example of huge talent pushed through a very narrow opening. His art has now become an exemplar of the striking image that commerce can feature. Advertising regularly uses his paradoxical visual combinations of faces replaced by apples, of skies in the shape of doves, of roses filling rooms and, supremely, the conundrum of the pipe demurely labelled ‘Ceci n’est pas une

Rich and strange: Eileen Agar at Whitechapel Gallery reviewed

Heads turn, strangers gawp, matrons tut or look in envy. A man doffs his bowler hat knowing when he is outdone. The model walking imperturbably along a London street is Eileen Agar, her headwear the ‘Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse’, encrusted with crustaceans, spangled with starfish. If the Little Mermaid,in her leggy period, had been invited to Ascot, she might have worn something like this. A British Pathé newsreel of Agar wearing the same hat plays on a loop in the Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. (You can also see it on YouTube.) About 50 seconds in you catch her trying not to smile. ‘Life’s

Rodin was as modern as Magritte and Dali, but more touching and troubling than either

Rodin’s studio at Meudon in the suburbs of Paris is huge and filled with light — a sort of combined warehouse, factory and conservatory. It’s crammed with white plaster figures: battered, writhing and fragmentary. This strange, almost surreal effect has been recreated in The Making of Rodin at Tate Modern. The result is more interesting than beautiful. Few exhibits would normally be classified as finished pieces. Most are plaster casts of clay studies, ranging in scale from miniature to gigantic. Quite a lot aren’t even works in progress, more ingredients for art, bits and pieces he could play around with. Rodin called these ‘giblets’ (‘abats’). Their effect can be macabre:

Puzzle Pieces: Cowboy Graves, by Roberto Bolaño, reviewed

This might seem an odd confession, but the work of Roberto Bolaño gives me very good bad dreams. When I first read his epic masterpiece 2666 I had three nights of fractured nightmares. This happened with every other book as well — usually dreams about reading a book by Roberto Bolaño, except the words melt and shift and are land mines or tripwires on the page. It happened again with Cowboy Graves: 3.08 a.m., and I’m re-reading the central piece, convinced there is a character and a scene in it that doesn’t exist. In an eloquent afterword, Juan Ródenas gives a plausible reason for Bolaño’s seeming capacity to hack the

How Algernon Newton made great art out of empty streets and dingy canals

Quite late in life Walter Sickert paid his first visit to Peckham Rye. He was excited, apparently, because he had often heard about it but never actually been there. Evidently Sickert had a sense of London as an unknown city, full of potential. And he was far from being the only artist fascinated by the hidden recesses of this vast urban labyrinth. Algernon Newton, another case in point, was equally fascinated by unfashionable byways of the metropolis. For Sickert it was music halls and dingy bedrooms in Camden that seemed full of visual possibilities; for Newton it was terraced streets and urban water courses, their banks empty of people. Not

Internet users are the new surrealists, and they keep changing the world

As 2021 continues to progress at a dizzying rate, one of the recurring social phenomenon we’re seeing is the surreal eruption of online activism in the real world. From the recent explosion of GameStop share prices – hiked up by amateur investors co-ordinating online – to the large-scale protests and riots in Washington following the 2020 Presidential election, the communities in cyberspace continue to spill out into the real world. The question is: why are these kinds of actions becoming an increasingly unsettling occurrence in the usual running of society? In the lexicon of web-design, the term UX, user experience, is often used to describe how an individual may interact

A high-end car-boot sale of the unconscious: Colnaghi’s Dreamsongs reviewed

In 1772 the 15-year-old Mozart wrote a one-act opera set, like The Magic Flute, in a dream world. Il sogno di Scipione was based on an account in Cicero’s Republic of a dream experienced by the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus while serving in North Africa in 148 BC. In the dream the younger Scipio is visited by his adoptive grandfather Scipio Africanus, who foretells his destruction of Carthage, dishes out advice on dealing with populist politics and shows him ‘the stars such as we have never seen them from this earth’. Scipio’s is a recurring dream: it inspired Dante’s vision of Heaven and Hell and it returns to haunt us