SFMOMA Shows The 'Vache' Side Of Magritte

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René Magritte, 'La Famine' (1948).

Have you ever wondered what it would look like if a famous artist tried to make stupid paintings on purpose?

A new exhibit at SFMOMA featuring René Magritte’s later work includes over 20 paintings that have never been shown in a U.S. museum. It's an impressive show all around. But I flocked to the pieces from his vache period, where he painted intentionally lousy paintings—sometimes technically sloppy, or else with an ugly subject.

There's a lot of humor in these paintings, or rather, the existence of these paintings. But Magritte had a political reason for it, according to the exhibit. Surrealism as a movement was meant to be absurd and confusing. But to Magritte, in 1947, the Nazi party's proliferation throughout Europe was enough absurdity for the world. Magritte switched course, and said, “My painting is a battle, or rather, a counteroffensive.”

Imagine being so frustrated with the political climate you shift your entire artistic approach to confront it. And imagine fighting Nazis with bad paintings! Is that all we have to do?

'Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season' runs through Oct. 28, with a special ticket that’s extra admission on top of your museum ticket, at SFMOMA. Details here.