Curators: Isabel Carlos, Ana Vasconcelos, Leonor Nazaré and Patrícia Rosas
The new display of works from the CAM Collection is focused around four major themes: the portrait, still life, Surrealism and Abstraction.
An American artist of Armenian origin, Gorky ranks highly in the history of North American Modernism and 20th-century Western art. His early work followed the traditional themes of still life and portraiture, exploring some of the key issues of modern art, of which he was a tireless proponent. Having taught himself his craft, Gorky was a "fervent scrutiniser" of the paintings of "his" masters: Cézanne, Braque, Picasso, De Chirico and Miró.
In Surrealism he discovered the instruments of expression that were essential for revealing his inner voice. In the 1940s these paintings took on unique characteristics, leading him to produce works that were influential to abstract expressionism, the first major international movement to be set in motion by North-American art. Gorky breathed new life into the "Shipwrecked Surrealism", which had taken refuge in the USA during World War II. On the invitation of André Breton and Marcel Duchamp, he participated in the 1947 exhibition of Surrealism in Paris, the first major art event to take place in post-war France.
Despite never having visited Paris or even Europe, Gorky, who saw himself as a pupil of Kandinsky, adopted the French and German approaches, also one of the main influences sought out by Portuguese modernists. His work has various affinities with that of Portuguese artists who travelled in Europe in search of a modern creative milieu.
Coined by Apollinaire in 1917, the word "surrealism" once indicated an "intensification of the real". However, its meaning was altered in the definition provided by André Breton, its principal mentor, when the First Surrealist Manifesto was published in 1924. For Breton, man is the "definitive dreamer" and surrealism is "Pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express (…) the true function of thought (…) in the absence of all control exerted by reason and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations."
In Portugal, Surrealism and Neo-Realism emerged from contact with international currents and as an artistic expression of resistance against the Salazar regime. In its search for the "interior voice" and the exaltation of the imagination and of dreams, surrealism distanced itself from neo-realism's direct political engagement. Portuguese surrealists formed and broke alliances, involving, removing and distancing themselves from joint actions, and produced remarkable visual and literary works of art that often crossed over into each other. Cesariny praised automatic writing as "the discovery of the century", while a huge painted "cadavre-exquis", the largest ever of its kind, was shown at the 1st Surrealist Exhibition in the studio of António Pedro in 1949.
Chronologically, surrealism in the visual arts earned its greatest expression in Portugal between 1947 and the last exhibition of 1952 held at Casa Jalco in Chiado, where photographs by Fernando Lemos, the only example of surrealist photography in Portugal, were shown alongside paintings by Marcelino Vespeira and Fernando de Azevedo (several of which were already totally abstract).