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Deng Shiqing
No Happy Ending , 2019
Oil on linen
3 pieces: 152.4 x 101.6 cm each (60 x 40 in.)
Courtesy of the artist

Surrealism is a cultural movement, developed in Europe in the 20th century, that aims to release the unconstrained imagination of the subconscious. The term was first coined in Manifeste du surréalisme (Surrealism Manifesto) in Paris in 1924 by French poet and critic André Breton. Early day surrealism is based on two artistic transformations in the early 20th century; a socio-political attitude derived from the earlier Dada movement and an aesthetic approach from Cubism.

The movement proceeded from the principle of the Dada which was a subversive reaction against tradition and the order of rational thought that had guided European culture and politics in the past and the horrors of World War I. In addition, Surrealism is also rooted in Cubism, which was a movement that emphasized only pure artistic ideologies by rejecting the traditional techniques of perspective and foreshortening.

Since the first manifesto, many artists from diverse genres and countries became involved and enriched the discourse of surrealism, including French Photographer Man Ray, French poet Louis Aragon, Spanish artist Salvador Dalí, German painter Max Ernst, British artist Eileen Agar, and later, French photographer Claude Cahun, Belgian artist René Magritte, and far away from Europe, Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

After the first notable exhibition of Surrealists, Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in 1938 in Paris, many exhibitions followed suit: Abstract and Surrealist Art in the United States organized by Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio and San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco (1944); Photographic Surrealism at Brooklyn Museum, New York (1980); and Max Ernst: Dada and the Dawn of Surrealism at Museum of Modern Art, New York (1993).

Eileen Agar
Fish Circus, 1939
Collage, pen and ink and watercolour on paper
54.3 x 67 x 3.2 cm (21.4 x 26.4 x 1.3 in.)
© The Estate of Eileen Agar. All Rights Reserved 2017 / Bridgeman Images
National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh

After almost a century since its beginning, Surrealism still motivates many contemporary artists today, as they adapt the idea in different historical, geographical, and cultural contexts. Showing the relevance of the movement in the contemporary, museums around the world continue to pay homage to Surrealism now, including Phantoms of Surrealism at Whitechaple Gallery, London (2021), and Surrealism Beyond Borders, the huge joint collection exhibition between Tate Modern, London, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2021-2022).

Most recently, Venice Biennale 2022, titled The Milk of Dreams, was also inspired by Surrealism and features many female Surrealist artists who had been forgotten from the male-dominated art history. Attempting to interpret Surrealism from a current point of view, The Milk of Dreams allows us to rediscover artists and their works that we haven’t given their deserving attention to, and assists in recognizing that Surrealism can be read away from the established canon.

Related categories

Mixed Media



Symbolic Images/Objects


Unconsciousness / Subconsciousness

Reality and Fantasy / Illusion / Imagination

American Abstract Expressionism

European Art

20th Century Art

Sensory Experience

(Inspired by) Cubism

Gelatin Silver Print

21st Century Art

Dreamlike Imagery

Modern European Art

Post-apocalyptic Imagery

Art of the 1920s

Post-War European Art


Psychedelic Art