Art History Students Contribute to the LSU Museum of Art’s Surréalisme Exhibition

This fall the students in LSU School of Art professor Darius Spieth’s History of Prints course had the opportunity to contribute to the Bonjour | Au Revoir Surréalisme exhibition, learning practical skills about museum curating firsthand.

Organized by LSU Museum of Art in collaboration with the Visat family, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Pau, France, and Professor Spieth, the exhibition is on display September 28, 2017 – March 25, 2018. The Surrealist exhibition features a selection of 60 works on loan from the family of printmaker and painter Georges Visat.

As co-contributors to the curatorial component of the exhibition, History of Prints students were required to conduct research, write didactic texts for the exhibition, deliver public talks, and lead guided tours for museum visitors.

“To see the Surrealist prints executed by Georges Visat firsthand represents a rare opportunity for LSU students and the art community in Louisiana to explore a key episode in the history of twentieth-century art,” Spieth said. “The collaboration with the LSU Museum of Art was exemplary in that students could work directly with the prints and take over some curatorial responsibilities of the exhibition project, which will help them further along their professional paths.”

The students had the opportunity to gain valuable learning experiences in a museum setting, said Courtney Taylor, LSU Museum of Art curator. “They did object-based research with the prints on loan from France, wrote interpretive labels for the prints/portfolio they studied, and acted as docents, giving tours for other students,” Taylor said.

For the course the art history students each researched an artist featured in the exhibition, and had the opportunity to examine the prints in person. “It is important, when learning about prints, to handle and study the real objects,” Spieth said.

Surrealism Exhibit

“The curatorial process itself started with actually seeing the prints we chose in person before they were displayed officially at the exhibition,” said Kelly Ward, a LSU Manship School of Mass Communication senior who took the class.

“As a student and co-contributor, each of us selected an artist on display and wrote the display description that would go next to the pieces in the exhibition,” student Sarah Eikrem said. “We had to research and analyze the pieces for the description and give some background information on the artist. Being able to see the final product on the wall was really really amazing!”

Studying the surrealist artists in-depth helped the students to better understand their artist’s techniques and creative inspiration, Spieth said.

“I chose the only Dalí print, Le Cheval Royal,” Ward said. “I enjoyed going behind-the-scenes to see the prints before they were hung for the exhibit, as well as engaging with the younger art history students that came to the docent tours.”

The exhibition is composed of rarely-seen prints by iconic Surrealist artists who collaborated with Visat’s publishing house. Included in the exhibition are graphic works by Max Ernst, Dorthea Tanning, René Magritte, Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, Roberto Matta, and Francis Bacon, among others.

Visat founded Éditions Georges Visat in 1962 and established his printing presses in the Parisian art district of Saint-Germaine-des-Prés. As Surrealism seemed to lose momentum in the 1950s, artists such as Visat’s close friend and collaborator, Max Ernst, sought to revive the movement. The exhibition includes works by early Surrealists as well as those who sought to reinvigorate the movement in the 1960s. The exhibition also features illustrated artists’ books with Surrealist poetry, a specialty of Visat, who had a profound understanding of Surrealism’s literary foundations.

“The visual power of the prints, I believe, speaks for itself and will make the exhibition an engaging encounter with the dream worlds of Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Salvador Dali, René Magritte, André Masson and many others,” Spieth said.

Professor Spieth made the initial connection that brought the exhibition to the LSU Museum of Art. During a research expedition in 2013, Spieth met Visat’s son-in-law in Pau, France, and forged a partnership. Visat’s family wanted to share his works publically and Spieth hoped to bring authentic works by Surrealist masters to Louisiana. This show is the first time the prints have been exhibited in the United States since the late 1960s.

The course provided the opportunity to learn more about prints, printmaking techniques, the importance of prints in the fine arts and the role of prints in disseminating images, Spieth said.

Spieth gave a gallery talk in the museum Thursday, February 8, 2018.

This exhibition is a collaboration between the LSU Museum of Art and the LSU School of Art. Learn more.