MoMA Audio: Collection, 2008
Curator, Anne Umland: The title of this work, The Menaced Assassin, provides one enigmatic clue into the possible meaning or meanings of this monumental work executed by the Belgian surrealist, René Magritte.
You see a space that is, in fact, comprised of three distinct parts. A sort of perspective from a voyeur outside, within which two bowler-hatted impassive men lurk, one with a cudgel in his hand on the left, and the other with a net. These figures, in fact, closely resemble photographs of Magritte himself this marks the first appearance of figures like this in Magritte's work. But they would go on to become stock personas in his art.
And then as you enter into this deep space with its peculiarly tilting floor your eye drawn into the center you encounter the figure on the right of another suited man, apparently listening to music on an old-fashioned phonograph, oblivious, so it seems, to what lies behind him. This nude female corpse, with what looks to be a severed head, blood pouring from her mouth.
Magritte was known to be fascinated with the popular cinema, and with detective thrillers. And so it's another way of thinking about Magritte's ambition to create an immersive world akin in some way to cinema, and to thinking of the canvas as a projection screen for these fantastical narratives and mysterious scenes.
What he presents us with is this mystery that will never be solved, and that has fascinated generations of people now from the moment of its first appearance in 1927.
Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938
September 28, 2013–January 12, 2014
Painted for his first solo exhibition, in 1927, L’Assassin menacé is one of Magritte's largest and most theatrical compositions. Like many of the Surrealists, Magritte was an avid fan of the pre-World War I popular crime fiction series Fantômas; he borrowed the placement of the two detectives figures flanking the doorframe from the Le Mort Qui Tue (The Murderous Corpse), a film from the series first released in 1913. It was Magritte’s ambition to create a similarly immersive and fantastical world on the canvas, here made manifest in the unsolvable narrative of this enduringly mysterious painting.