Norman Lewis, Phantasy II, 1946. Oil on canvas, 28 1/8 x 35 7/8" (71.4 x 91.2 cm). Gift of The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: John Wronn
  • MoMA, Floor 4, 401 The David Geffen Galleries

The devastation of World War II caused a mass exodus from Europe to locations around the globe. Among the refugees who flooded into New York were artists and art dealers whose presence transformed the city’s cultural scene. These figures exchanged ideas with their American counterparts, mutually influencing each other’s work. The search for safety took artists to other places, such as Cuba, that inspired the work they made upon arriving. Those who remained in Europe—whether by choice or not—made art marked by the legacy of a shattered, war-torn continent.

Surrealism was a touchstone for many artists who sought inspiration in the realm of the fantastic, and they incorporated a vocabulary of totemic forms, lunar landscapes, and swirling organic shapes into their work. Their cosmic imagery evokes far-off galaxies but also, as Cuban artist Wifredo Lam said, “communicates a psychic state.”

15 works online


Installation images

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