Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jindřich Heisler: Surrealism under Pressure

Jindřich Heisler (Czech, 1914–1953)
Alphabet, 1952; the letter A
Collage of woodcut reproductions on wood
The Art Institute of Chicago
Select image for a larger view

The Art Institute of Chicago currently is hosting a wonderful exhibition titled, Jindřich Heisler: Surrealism under Pressure. The exhibition is on display in the Photography Galleries 2–4 until 1 July, 2012.  Included in the show, as stated by the Art Institute, “is a marvelous alphabet of wooden letters, faced with glued-on xylographic montages reminiscent of Max Ernst.” Heisler collaged images to approximately .125 inch (3.175 mm) plywood and very carefully cut out the shapes. The exhibition curator explains the piece as follows:
Alphabet, Heisler’s magnum opus, is also likely his last extant work. The 25 exactingly designed plywood cutouts (the letter W is not part of Czech and French orthography), covered on one side in 19th-century woodcut reproductions, are both playful and haunting. Each depicts an intricately crafted scene of mystery and violence, and many feature demonic encounters. Heisler apparently used the letters for occult games, such as a version of tarot that involved composing his friends’ names and “reading” the stories they yielded. French Surrealist colleague Robert Benayoun may have had Alphabet in mind when he recalled at Heisler’s death his “inner sense for graphic harmony,” and André Breton used six of the letters to form the word absolu (absolute) at what proved to be the last Surrealist exhibition in Breton’s lifetime, in 1966.

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