When Michel Foucault published his short treatise on Magritte’s iconic painting of a gentleman’s pipe, titled Ceci n’est pas une pipe, in 1968, it was the year after the artist’s death and two years since the publication of Foucault’s Les mots et les choses – une archéologie des sciences humaines (published in English as The Order of Things). Equally important is the fact that Foucault’s work coincided with the climactic period of Magritte’s legendary images, which the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has curated in an exhibit titled René Magritte: The Fifth Season.
During the 1940s through 1960s Magritte displayed a fully developed vision of the world as a panoply of phenomena in which images are as much seen as projected, mediated by an eye for the fantastic, such that even the most ordinary of objects, an apple or stone, may suddenly reveal a world that are beyond rational explanations. Instigated by classical Cartesian doubt, whereby sense perception is immediately put under question, what Magritte invokes—similar to Diego Velázquez—is a worldview characterized by solipsism, illusion, belief, trompe l’oeil, and the poetic imagination.
Just as a pipe may not be a pipe but the illusion of a pipe, in spite of what our eyes and words may tell us, so too may a great boulder be as light as a feather or a landscape painting be a metaphorical widow through which we may see the literal world it supposedly represents in a new way.
In the final analysis, I thoroughly enjoyed The Fifth Season. More than an homage to an historically significant artist, the exhibit was a transformative experience in which I not only felt that I saw Magritte’s work for the first time but also that I saw the ordinary world around me with fresh eyes, like a blind man with his vision restored. Oh, how beautiful everything is!
Please click on the above image to see more photos of the exhibit