Real/Surreal: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art
June 27–October 13, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (May 8, 2014)—This summer the Frist Center for the Visual Arts presents the critically acclaimed Real/Surreal: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art from June 27–October 13, 2014, in the Center’s Upper-Level Galleries. Focusing on art created between the 1920s and 1950s, the exhibition traces the influence of celebrated European Surrealists on American artists ranging from Man Ray and Federico Castellón to Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth and many more.

Drawn from the Whitney Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition features more than 60 paintings, photographs and prints. At the thematic heart of the exhibition is the meeting of realism—fidelity to a subject’s observable nature—and Surrealism—artwork that explores the imagination and subconscious in search of deeper realities. “This exhibition seeks to challenge and break down the traditional art historical categories of realism and Surrealism,” says Frist Center Curator Katie Delmez. “The two approaches, while seemingly opposite, do have points of convergence and their juxtaposition encourages new ways of looking at American art of this period.”

Surrealism was an international movement in art and literature that originated in Europe in the 1920s. While some of its practitioners explored abstraction and used the subconscious to directly influence the formal structure of their work, others developed imagery with strong roots in traditional painting. This vein of Surrealism flourished most famously in the work of Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, and it was particularly influential for American artists who were academically trained and had a command of realistic painting and drawing techniques. As the movement spread to the United States, the fundamental ideas behind it became more diffuse and were interpreted in a variety of ways. Ms. Delmez notes, “Most people don’t immediately think of Edward Hopper or Thomas Hart Benton as being influenced by Surrealism, but there are in fact links, in particular the notion of something unsettling lying beneath the surface.”

The subject matter depicted in Real/Surreal ranges from commonplace objects and experiences to fantastic and cryptic imagery as is the case in Man Ray’s La Fortune (1938) in which a billiard table grounded in a barren landscape inexplicably projects into a sky of boldly colored clouds. Federico Castellón’s haunting and foreboding painting The Dark Figure (1938) pairs crisp hyperrealism with fantastic imagery of familiar forms such as disembodied limbs in contorted positions, decaying architectural forms and a faceless silhouette.

Themes of isolation and solitude typically associated with the pressures of contemporary urban life were common during this period. The female subject in George Tooker’s Subway (1950), for example, who is surrounded by ominous and clone-like strangers in a labyrinthine subway station, appears anxious and paranoid. Although the work of American artists Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth did not typically include fanciful imagery, their subject matter and composition often conveys similar moods of unease. Ms. Delmez explains, “Hopper specializes in portraying the psychological isolation that many people were feeling at the time, either in urban environments as seen in the individual patrons of the diner in his well-known work Nighthawks, or in small towns as demonstrated by Cape Cod Sunset in our exhibition. The unnaturally diffused lighting and lack of human figures or other signs of habitation or life, aside from half drawn window shades, evoke a literal loneliness and sense that something is not quite right.”

To explain this feeling of despair, scholars point to a litany of historical events and sweeping changes during the 30s, 40s and 50s: the rise in industrialization and urbanization, the devastating Great Depression and Dust Bowl, World War II and the realization of mass murder through technology. “The artists in this exhibition are responding to their times and reflecting some of the anxiety that was then permeating our society,” says Ms. Delmez.

Exhibition Credit

This exhibition was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Sponsor Acknowledgment

The exhibition’s tour was funded in part by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts gratefully acknowledges our Picasso Circle Members as Exhibition Patrons.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Related Public Programs

Friday, June 27
Curator’s Tour: Real/Surreal: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art Presented by Katie Delmez, curator, Frist Center
12:00 p.m.

Gallery admission required; members free
Meet at exhibition entrance

From Grant Wood’s and Edward Hopper’s scenes of rural America to the dreamlike photographs of Man Ray, a sense of the unsettling and uncanny pervades much of the output of America’s foremost artists of the first half of the twentieth century. Join Frist Center Curator Katie Delmez as she discusses the variety of ways that American artists responded to the influence of European Surrealism.

Thursday, September 18
Lecture: “American Elegy: Andrew Wyeth’s Winter Fields” Presented by Richard H. Axsom, Ph.D., curator, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
6:30 p.m.

Frist Center Auditorium
Gallery admission required; members free
Seating is first come, first seated

Richard H. Axsom will discuss Andrew Wyeth’s early masterpiece Winter Fields (1942), a highlight of the exhibition Real/Surreal: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art. Wyeth’s enigmatic and unsettling painting takes its rightful place in an exhibition that explores the porous boundary between realism and Surrealism in early twentieth-century American art. Although seemingly an objective document of a dead crow in the open countryside, Winter Fields yields far more in its allusive and rich content. Wyeth fashions a deeply American meditation on death and renewal.

Real/Surreal Film Series
Inspired by the artistic examination of Surrealism in Real/Surreal: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Frist Center is pleased to announce a three-part film series. Through dreamlike atmosphere, nonlinear storytelling, and delightfully twisted imagery, these films defy convention and delve into the uncanny moments of the everyday.

Friday, August 15
Film: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
7:00 p.m.

Frist Center Auditorium
Gallery admission required; members free

In the Depression-era South, three escapees from a Mississippi prison chain gang, Everett Ulysses McGill, sweet and simple Delmar, and the perpetually angry Pete, attempt to return home. They make a hasty run for their lives and end up on an incredible journey filled with challenging experiences and colorful characters in this modern-day spin on Homer’s The Odyssey. Directed by Joel Coen. Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, John Goodman, and Holly Hunter. Rated PG-13. 93 minutes. 2000.

Friday, September 19
Film: Mulholland Drive
7:00 p.m.

Frist Center Auditorium
Gallery admission required; members free

David Lynch, the king of surreal, delivers a tale beginning with a car crash on Mulholland Drive. The surviving Rita has amnesia and staggers to an apartment building where she runs into an aspiring actress. Together, they attempt to put the pieces of Rita’s life back together. Along their journey, the pair interlocks lives with several interesting characters including a man whose dreams keep coming true, a difficult film director, two gangsters and a pair of deadpan detectives. Directed by David Lynch. Starring Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. Rated R. 146 minutes. 2001.

Friday, October 10
Family Film: Coraline
7:00 p.m.

Frist Center Auditorium
Gallery admission required; members free

Coraline is a curious young girl who unlocks a mysterious door in her family’s new home and enters into an adventure in a parallel reality. On the surface, this “Other World” eerily mimics her own life—though it is much more fantastical and sinister. Coraline must rely on her resourcefulness, determination, and bravery to escape the clutches of her “Other Mother” and get back home. Directed by Henry Selick and Mike Cachuela. Starring Dakota Fanning, John Hodgman, Teri Hatcher. Rated PG. 100 minutes. 2009. DVD.

Tuesday, August 26, Tuesday, September 2, and Tuesday, September 9
Art History Course: American Realism and Surrealism, 1920–1950 Presented by Dr. Vivien Green Fryd, professor, Department of History of Art, Vanderbilt University (Three parts)
5:30–7:00 p.m.

Frist Center Rechter Room
$20 members/$30 non-members
(for all three classes)
Advance registration required: call 615.744.3355 before Friday, August 15.

This three-part class introduces participants to the visual language and meanings of American art within a cultural, historical, political, and social context from 1920 to 1950, focusing on the following movements: The Precisionists, American Scene Painting, Regionalism, Magic Realism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism. Additional classes will be held on Tuesday, September 2, and Tuesday, September 9.

Participants will:
• gain an understanding of major movements within American art history, 1920–1950;
• become familiar with key works of art, their artists, styles, and materials;
• acquire a working knowledge of the vocabulary used in art history;
• learn how to “read” the meaning of an artwork within a cultural, historical, political, and social context.

Thursday, September 11 and Thursday, September 18
Workshop: “Real/Surreal: Rendered Surreal” (Two parts)
6:30–8:30 p.m.

Frist Center Studios
$15 members/$20 non-members (for both classes)
Advance registration required; call 615.744.3355 before Friday, September 5

Teaching artist Chasen Ingleheart will guide participants age 18 and over in this two-part drawing workshop that focuses on color exploration and technical rendering through drawing. Using a combination of various drawing techniques and colored pencils, participants will create a multi-layered drawing based on Surrealist imagery similar to works found in the exhibition Real/Surreal: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art. All levels of artistry welcome. Materials provided with workshop cost.

Buddy Kite: 615-744-3351, ”
Ellen Jones Pryor: 615-243-1311, ”

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About the Frist Center
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit art exhibition center dedicated to presenting and originating high quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. The Frist Center offers the finest visual art from local, regional, national, and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions that inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways. Located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., the Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery (open until 5:30 p.m. each day) features interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Information on accessibility at the Frist Center is found at”>http:// Gallery admission to the Frist Center is free for visitors 18 and younger and to members. Frist Center admission is $10.00 for adults and $7.00 for seniors, military and college students with ID. College students are admitted free Thursday and Friday evenings (with the exception of Frist Fridays), 5–9 p.m. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservation by calling (615) 744-3247.The Frist Center galleries, Café and Gift Shop are open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. and Sundays, 1–5:30 p.m., with the Frist Center Café opening at noon. Additional information is available by calling (615) 244-3340 or by visiting our website at

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