“Surrealism is no longer an art movement but an attitude towards art and design,” said Mateo Kries, director of the Vitra Design Museum, Germany, which houses the most important Surrealist works of art. That attitude is evident in the exhibition Strange Clay, at London’s Hayward Gallery. Among contemporary artists who use “clay in unexpected ways” are David Zink Yi, a giant alien squid (2010) sprawls in a pool of ink; Japanese artist Takuro Kuwata’s candy-colored Yeti; And Lindsey Mendick’s kitchen has insects and bugs.
Viewing Klara Kristalova’s portrait, Camouflage, installed there is like walking through a Grimm’s fairytale glade. The ceramic figures, often of eccentric teenagers, have more exotic features – such as the wooden girl, stuck in a tree stump, with bare hands; or a boy wearing a horse-headed street device. The artwork was inspired by the view behind her house near Stockholm: “It’s a forest full of my abandoned sculptures,” the artist told BBC Culture. “As time passes, they change, disappear and seem to grow new. I see it as a good metaphor for life.”
Ms. Kristalova grew up in an isolated part of Sweden, “with more uneasiness when my mother read me scary folk tales,” she said. Her artist parents kept many books on Surrealism, which she devoured, and which “got into my spine,” she said. “I love Max Ernst, and especially I love Meret Oppenheim. I find her work stupid and silly, but it is close to the life of women.”
Oppenheim is often credited as the most famous female Surrealist. In the late 1930s she designed Traccia, an elegant side table sitting on a bird’s leg. A few years ago, in 1936, when she was 22 years old, she made a bracelet out of a brass tube, and covered it. with hair It was for Schiaparelli, but she wore it to meet Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar at a cafe in Paris. Her friend’s opinion about looking at it – that anything can be covered with fur – inspired the object, her cup and saucer coated with gazelle fur, according to MoMA, is “the single most famous Surrealist object”.
Today, when we are familiar with Oppenheim’s fur cups and plates, it is a stretch to imagine the shock and frenzy it caused at the time. It begs the question: does Surrealist-inspired art, which relies on its power to disturb, still have shock value?