Surrealism Reigns at Tefaf Art Fair

This is the 100th anniversary of the Surrealist manifesto, a document written in France for a radical art movement whose resonance endures in our chaotic moment at the 10th edition of the Tefaf New York art fair. Throughout the Park Avenue Armory, among the fair’s 89 exhibitors from 15 countries, objects made during the heyday of Surrealism, from the 1930s to the 1950s, pop up frequently. The ethos of Surrealism, which celebrated dreams, nightmares, the unconscious mind and odd juxtapositions is also prevalent.

This is a bit of a switch for Tefaf, the grand old art fair started in Maastricht, the Netherlands, which started off as a place to buy deaccessioned museum pieces and bona fide old masters. The New York edition focuses on modern and contemporary art and even the handful of dealers here specializing in antiquities, jewelry or design seem to have followed the Surrealist theme. Here are a few among this very manageable fair with exceptional wares.

Leon Tovar (366)

Rufino Tamayo’s “Claustrofobia,” 1954.Credit…via Leon Tovar Gallery

Surrealism was especially embraced in Latin America (although everywhere, really, as the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition “Surrealism Beyond Borders,” which opened in late 2021, attested). Leon Tovar Gallery, which started in Bogotá before moving to New York a little over 20 years ago, is showcasing a terrific painting by the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo titled “Claustrofobia” (1954). The red, pink and orange canvas with a wooden frame that looks as if it’s been clawed as much as carved, highlights an insectoid figure banging around inside a geometric armature. Tamayo worked at the archaeology museum in Mexico City, later absorbed into the National Museum of Anthropology, and was inspired by pre-Columbian art, but this painting also shows his affinity with Francis Bacon, whom Tamayo knew in 1940s New York.

Galerie Jacques Lacoste (301)

The Mae West sofa or Bocca sofa, in pink satin and red velvet, circa 1938. It was conceived by Salvador Dalí and executed by the designer Jean-Michel Frank. It mimics the lips of the actress Mae West.Credit…via Galerie Jacques Lacoste

Another object with an impeccable Surrealist pedigree is over at Jacques Lacoste, which is showing French design from the 1930s. Here is a soft, peach-hued sofa conceived by the wunderkind Salvador Dalí and executed by the designer Jean-Michel Frank that mimics the lips of the saucy actress Mae West. The sofa was part of a set commissioned by a baron with the idea that the home was a kind of stage or theatrical set. (Frank was the only architect included in a landmark 1936 exhibition of Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, organized by the museum’s first director, Alfred Barr.)

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