Bored Funnyman (Time Magazine article)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 3:05:05 AM

Bored Funnyman (Time Magazine article)
Monday, Feb. 02, 1953

The red corduroy walls of Rome's smart Obelisco Gallery have seen some unusual exhibits lately—churches in flames, frolicking priests, transparent cats gorged on mice and flowers. But last week's show topped them all. Gallery Owner Gaspero del Corso had reached out to Belgium and brought back 28 paintings by an old surrealist funnyman, Brussels' dour little René Magritte (TIME. June 21, 1948). For Romans, it was a first good look at Magritte's sleepy fantasies. Del Corso's enthusiastic verdict: "They are scandalized."

Surrealist Magritte is still up to his old tricks. "I'm always looking for a feeling of luxury, of uselessness," he says, and his newest pictures are plainly froth: light, half-joking canvases whose titles are meant to titillate, not explain. He showed a slim grand piano encircled with a wedding ring, called it The Happy Hand. His Art of Conversation has two graceful swans paddling neck to neck about a blue lake. His Hesitation Waltz is a picture of two oranges decked out in masks, eying each other warily. One of the favorites: Night at Pisa, which shows the famed leaning tower considerately propped up by an outsize kitchen spoon.

Rome's gallerygoers turned out in force for the show, walked off with ten paintings (priced from $500 to $1,000) in the first few days. The critics enjoyed it, too, but they wondered about the artist behind the dry little jokes. Wrote one critic: "His works have the flavor of ashes. Magritte has no fear, no hate, no love, no regrets, no hope: he is a tranquil man, an illustrator of metaphor, an exegete of domesticated mysteries."

At 54, René Magritte is likely to agree, at least in part. He lives a simple workaday life in a three-room apartment, puts in four mornings a week transferring what he calls his "dreams" on to canvas, and spends the rest of his time listening to the radio or walking solemnly around Brussels. In five years he has taken only one trip: a short jaunt to Southern France. "There's nothing I want," he says. "If someone offered me $10 million, I'd take it, I suppose. But I don't want the money. I desire nothing known. Most of the time I'm just bored."
 

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