Many Surrealists produced objects and images with an insistently erotic dimension. This was driven, in part, by their interests in Freudian psychology and so-called “primitive” non-Western art, which they presumed to be untainted by modernist rationalism. Though these explorations of the human figure had a long tradition in the history of art, Surrealists went further, breaking taboos and shocking viewers in their depiction of mutilated, dismembered, or distorted bodies. In the 1930s, such visions may have had particular resonance given the still-pervasive sight of World War I veterans—many left limbless or using prosthetics—and the specter of a second World War on the horizon.
To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.
A war fought from 1914 to 1918, in which Great Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Italy, Japan, the United States, and other allies defeated Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria.
A literary, intellectual, and artistic movement that began in Paris in 1924 and was active through World War II. Influenced by Sigmund Freud’s writings on psychology, Surrealists, led by André Breton, were interested in how the irrational, unconscious mind could move beyond the constraints of the rational world. Surrealism grew out of dissatisfaction with traditional social values and artistic practices after World War I.
Modern can mean related to current times, but it can also indicate a relationship to a particular set of ideas that, at the time of their development, were new or even experimental.
SLIDESHOW: Share your work with the world! Take a photo of your creature (see activity above) and upload it to Flickr with the tag “MoMA Learning Creatures.” Check this page for a slideshow of other invented creatures.
Questions & Activities
Shake-N-Make a Creature
Create your own creature using the laws of chance. Gather a variety of images of living things (humans, plants, and animals) from magazines or newspapers.
Cut out arms, legs, heads, eyes, tails, wings, and other body parts. Put them inside a bag and shake them up. Without looking into the bag, pull out body parts until you’ve assembled a life-like figure. Paste your composite being to a piece of paper.
Give your creature a name. Is it more humanoid, or more plant- or animal-like?
Share your work with the world! Take a photo and upload it to Flickr with the tag “MoMA Learning Creatures.” Check this page or the Flickr photo set for a slideshow of other invented creatures.