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Surrealism in Belgium (1924-2000)

From 17 March to 19 August 2007: Surrealism in Belgium (1924-2000) was the first high-profile exhibition at this newly opened Mons museum.

The Province of Hainaut was a centre for considerable surrealist activity, and home to the Rupture group, which was established in La Louvière in 1934, then later to the Hainaut Surrealist Group, founded in Mons in 1939. While the Brussels-based surrealist group was more active and better known, several of its members (René Magritte, Louis Scutnaire, Paul Colinet, Paul Magritte, etc.) were in fact from Hainaut.It was therefore only natural for the City of Mons to use the fully renovated BAM as the venue for a major exhibition devoted to Surrealism in Belgium involving almost 500 works of art and documents. Managed by Xavier Canonne, who compiled an outline of the catalogue for this exhibition in his thesis while at the Sorbonne (Paris I) in 2002, and published by Fonds Mercator, this exhibition presented the most comprehensive collection of artworks and documents about surrealism in Belgium.The exhibition was divided into three parts:

  • 1924-1945: section devoted to the creative work of the first surrealist group, surrealist journals such as Œsophage, Marie, etc., the differences between the Brussels group and the Paris group, and the creative work of the Hainaut surrealist group Rupture, led by Achille Chavée, Fernand Dumont, among others.
  • 1945-1962: section devoted to the revival of surrealist activity after the occupation of Belgium, René Magritte's new painting style, his "cow period", the discovery of artists like Marcel Marïen, Rachel Baes and Jane Graverol, and the rapprochement with Communism.
  • 1962-2000: section devoted to the appearance of new figures such as Tom Gutt, André Stas, etc., who are evidence of the persistence of the surrealist mindset and continue to produce leaflets and publications.

In order to make optimum use of the museum's new equipment, film screenings and conferences were organised around this event.

In direct connection with this exhibition, a retrospective devoted to the surrealist artist Armand Simon was held at Anciens Abattoirs. The "Solitaire de Pâturages", which remains relatively unknown among the general public, will regain its rightful status here, as part of an exhibition taking place on an international scale. During his studies at the Athénée Royal school in Mons, he formed friendships with two other future figureheads of Belgian surrealism: Achille Chavée and Fernand Dumont.

In 1923, he discovered the book “Les Chants de Maldoror” (by Isidore Ducasse, better known under the pseudonym of Lautréamont), a counterpart illustration of which he would go on to produce several years later. In 1936, in the company of his friends Chavée and Dumont, Simon joined the Hainaut surrealist group, Rupture. A friend of René Magritte, Raoul Ubac and Christian Dotremont, among others, Armand Simon went on to produce illustrations for other big names, such as Céline and Achille Chavée. The City of Mons therefore had a duty to celebrate the work of this discrete artist, in keeping with Colfontaine Cultural Centre, which celebrated the centenary of his birth in 2006. Many drawings belonging, notably, to the Mons museum collections (which own over 1000 of the artist's works) and to private collectors, as well as Simon's writings and objects, were presented in the Grande Halle at Anciens Abattoirs. We also note that this choice is not an insignificant one, as Anciens Abattoirs, another of Mons's essential cultural venues, has also benefited from European "Phasing Out" funding and will be putting on exhibitions for the general public in direct connection with the Mons museum collections.

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