The Album (published by Electa) that accompanies the current monographic exhibition dedicated to Max Ernest at the Palazzo Reale in Milan, opens with a splendid photographic overview. More and less well-known images that highlight his life and career, tracing them back to a common denominator: his gaze. Ernst's flicker is entirely encapsulated in his unique way of 'piercing' the lens as much as the canvas; a single glance to create or decode the eternal enigma of his art. An example of this is the first, intense snapshot offered, dated 1909 at the dawn of his university studies in psychology, philosophy and art history.
Ernst, self-taught, had been drawing and painting since childhood. Able to experiment with the most disparate styles (Futurism, Cubism, Expressionism), he said of himself: “One’s eyes drank in everything that entered one’s field of vision”. The discovery of De Chirico's metaphysics is, for him, decisive, although the common passion for terrains vagues is transfigured into something else in his works, becoming eclectic collages, within which he superimposes, rehashes and dislocates with a naturalness and audacity that are already, to a large extent, prescient of his future work.
Max Ernst's interweavings are the very essence of his art-making, all the more audacious when they seem disconnected from each other, placing him far above any artistic current that has been juxtaposed with him over time.
However, it is not only the sparks that his eye is able to catch that determine his vision, since biographical and amorous events are also able to do so; think - in this sense - of the 1920s and the ménage à trois with Paul Éluard and his wife Gala. The Poet hosted him in his own house, in which Ernst set up his own atelier, decorating - also - the interior.
The Milan exhibition highlights the two lines pursued throughout his career: eros, linked to a new representation of the female figure, as well as a careful analysis of nature as a source of inspiration, for which he juxtaposes the four elements with alchemic symbolism.
Admirable, in this sense, is an oil on canvas of 1927-28, belonging to the Guggenheim Collection, entitled The Forest, where the geometries of the vegetation stand out against the darkness of the horizon, standing out in concert to enhance the circular glow of light, placed in the centre. Almost an alternative version of the earlier Forest of Red Thorns (1927) with which it establishes an eerie, silent dialogue.
The rooms follow one another in an incessant whirlwind of enigmas and experiments that have as their absolute value the vision of Vinci and Michelangelo, finding various points of analysis in the Renaissance; although - reaching the 1930s and the unconsciously fantasy and arbitrarily ideal landscapes - it is another overbearing presence that accompanies the visitor.
There is, in fact, a silent force that harks back to the purer visions of Piero della Francesca and the common intent to make 'seeing' and 'transposing' their main artistic aim, in a new understanding of the Cosmos.
Ernst had an all-encompassing conception of his own art, himself producing catalogues and flyers for his exhibitions: making postcards and graphic works an immeasurable heritage, amply documented at the Palazzo Reale.
Max Ernst: the Dadaist, the Surrealist, the Romantic, the Pataphysician, the Humanist interested in the Renaissance. His life and work appear today as a kaleidoscope, rich in facets and yet unmistakable.
So says the introductory essay to the Album, knowing full well that the quintessence of Ernst's work lies in the indefinable, unspeakable fascination that binds his figurative motions to the soul of the observer.
The exhibition, promoted and produced by Comune di Milano-Cultura and Palazzo Reale with Electa, in collaboration with Madeinart, is curated by Martina Mazzotta and Jürgen Pech.
Over 400 works including paintings, sculptures, drawings, collages, photographs, jewellery and illustrated books from museums, foundations and private collections in Italy and abroad. These include: the GAM in Turin, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Ca' Pesaro Museum in Venice, the Tate Gallery in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Cantini Museum in Marseilles, the State Museums and the Arp Foundation in Berlin, the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum in Madrid.