Johannes Moesman, The Surrealists, and The Tears of Eros and Centraal Museum

March 8, 2020

After it appeared in the 1930s, Surrealism quickly spread throughout Europe gathering a diverse group of artists interested in exploring the unconscious, berserk, bizarre, and the occult. The most influential art movement of the first half of the 20th century accumulated gender equality and nurtured an emancipated view on sexuality.

The tension between Eros and Tanatos occupied the Surrealists very much, and looking from a contemporary perspective it seems they used explicit imagery to break through taboos. When it comes to this matter, of special mention is Dutch artist Johannes Moesman whose imagery went far beyond any conventional sexual fantasies into nonconformity that was still a taboo subject.

The current exhibition The Tears of Eros: Moesman, Surrealism and the Sexes on display at Centraal Museum explores Moesman's oeuvre in regards to his celebrated international male and female contemporaries, as well as the later generation of artists who felt inspired by the Surrealist domains such as Sarah Lucas, Gillian Wearing, Paul Kooiker and Viviane Sassen.

J.H. Moesman - Selfportrait
J.H. Moesman - Self-portrait, 1935

The Surrealist Frenzy

Johannes Moesman (1909 - 1988) was a supervisor-draftsman at the Dutch Railways, surrealist painter, cultural policy critic, and calligrapher. At the end of 1920, he discovered Surrealism and immediately fell for it.

Moesman finally found a perfect vehicle to express his sexual fantasies on the canvas; although he became the most important surrealist painter in the Netherlands, Moesman received some international recognition in the 1960s thanks to the efforts of Her de Vries, who showed reproductions to André Breton.

Leonora Carrington - Oink
Leonora Carrington - Oink (They Shall Behold Thine Eyes), 1959. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

The Installment

The exhibition starts with Moesman’s sources of inspiration such as the Surrealist journals that introduced this prolific painter to the movement; the works of admired Surrealists such and their common fascination with women, fetishes, and sex. It continues with the selection of works by women artists such as Leonor Fini, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning and Unica Zürn, as well as the works depicting experiments with sex and gender by the artist such as Claude Cahun, Pierre Molinier, Marcel Duchamp/Rrose Selavy, Toyen and contemporary artists such as Gillian Wearing and Sarah Lucas.

The final selection will be focused on Surrealists’ fascination with Marquise De Sade and sadomasochism, with explicitly erotic works by Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, and William B. Seabrook.

Left Man Ray - Portrait of Rrose Selavy Right Salvador Dali - La Mamoire
Left: Man Ray - Portrait of Rrose Sélavy, 1921 / Right: Salvador Dalí - La Memoire de la Femme-Enfant, 1929

The Tears of Eros at Centraal Museum

As part of The Tears of Eros, Canadian artist Jon Rafman (1981) was invited to extend his ongoing video project titled Dream Journal (2016–19) for which he archives his own dreams by using the surrealist technique of automatic writing. This project is showcased at The Annex, a program in the last gallery of the main exhibition halls.

The exhibition is curated jointly by Marja Bosma and Nina Folkersma, and it will be accompanied by a bilingual (Dutch and English) catalog with essays written by various authors.

The Tears of Eros: Moesman, Surrealism and the Sexes will be on display at Centraal Museum in Utrecht until 24 May 2020.

Featured images: The Tears of Eros Installation views. Images by Robert Oosterbroek, courtesy Centraal Museum.