Raw Appeal of Surrealist Art Is Grounded in Reality; the Bizarre, Thought-Provoking, Weird World of Surrealism Appeals to Broad Range of Collectors. (News)

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For decades, the work was often dismissed by critics and historians as overly commercial. But today, surrealist art is gaining recognition, according to curators, gallery owners and publishers, as a movement that has left an indelible--if oftentimes dark and disturbing--mark on the world of modern art. Add to this its undeniable and growing popularity among viewers and collectors (The New York Times recently called surrealism "one of the few crowd-pleasing art movements of the 20th century"), and surrealism's future looks, in contrast to its typical subject matter, bright.

Those who deal daily in the works of surrealists, both of the past and the present, express what appeals most to people about the style: the need to use one's mind when viewing the works rather than passively enjoying it as one might a floral or a still-life painting. According to Boots Harris of Discovery Galleries in Bethesda, Md., surrealisms power lies in its ability to expand the mind. "It allows you to take your mind somewhere it doesn't usually go," he said. Said Meridith Brand, director of public relations for the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., "There's a certain amount of freedom to it that both shocks and fascinates people, I think. The idea behind surrealism is that the rational, conscious mind is not allowed to censor the artist, so what we see on the canvas is more raw and real. As a result, there's a lot of weirdness in it. There's non-rational imagery; there's a need to interpret."

The need for the viewer to decipher the work was exactly what the artists who first forayed into the world of surrealism had in mind. Andre Breton started the movement, which had followers in both art and literature, in 1924, drawing from the theories of Sigmund Freud to rally against the rationalism that many believed led to World War I. Freud had developed the theory of the psyche and, with fellow psychologist Carl Jung, explored, among other things, how the unconscious mind reveals itself through symbols. Jung believed that the human psyche was comprised of three parts: the ego (conscious mind), the unconscious mind and the collective unconscious (archetypes). Surrealist artists hope to bring the visions and symbols of the unconscious mind, including the collective unconscious, to light through paintings, sculpture and photography so that they might be interpreted. Some of the best-known artists from surrealism's heyday, those who today are considered surrealist masters, include Joan Miro, May Ray, Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and, of course, Dali.

Today, surrealist art continues to draw people to museum and gallery shows and to purchase the work of surrealist artists who continue to tap the hidden world of dreams and whose art is sought by a clientele that transcends demographics of age, geographical location and gender.

Daddy Dali

Arguably one of the most well-known surrealists is Salvador Dali, thanks to a painting called "Persistence of Memory," which, according to Brand, "is the painting that represents surrealism in the public mind." Although not among the Salvador Dali Museum's collection, the museum still welcomes approximately 225,000 visitors each year to view its 95 original oils, more than 100 watercolors and drawings and thousands of graphics, sculptures, photographs and the like created by the surrealist Godfather. Sixty percent of visitors come to the museum from outside of the United States. According to Brand, attendance peaked at 225,000 about four years ago and has held steady ever since. She attributes this increased and maintained interest in Dali's work to recent recognition by critics and historians of surrealism as a legitimate artistic movement.

Dali's popularity also led Bruce Hochman, director of the Salvador Dali Gallery in Pacific Palisades, Calif., to hold "Dali in Manhattan" for two weeks in April. According to Hochman, with more than 500 works on display, this was the largest collection of Salvador Dali pieces ever exhibited for sale in New York. …