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Abstraction, Dadaism & Surrealism

As one of the representative artists of the Russian avant-garde, Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) showed 40 paintings in the "Last Futurist Exhibition of Pictures:0-10" in St. Petersburg in 1915. These paintings consisted of geometric forms including rectangles, circles and crosses painted in black on white canvases in a style that Malevich called "Suprematism." Completely negating the depiction of objects and phenomenon of the natural world visible to the eye, Malevich and his disciples put forth a theory of painting that dealt with non-visual abstract subjects such as mass, movement and the energy and forces of the universe. This Suprematist movement became very influential in Russia following the 1917 revolution. The work Suprematism in the collection of the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art was painted in the year of the Russian Revolution. It has a simple and dynamic composition with a vanishing point at the top of the painting and marvelous overall balance that continues to exert its mysterious appeal on viewers to this day. With the rise to power of Joseph Stalin, Suprematism would soon come under criticism from Russia’s Communist Party, resulting in an abrupt end to the movement. However, Malevich’s abstract painting theory would continue to have a strong influence of 20th-century art.

Kazimir Malevich, Suprematism, 1917, 65.6 x 48.2cm

As World War I enveloped all of Europe, people succumbed to feelings of hopelessness and despair. It was this atmosphere that gave birth to Dadaism, as conventional values crumbled and artists adopted the "meaningless" and the "haphazard" as elements of expression. The result was a movement that breathed fresh new spirit into the European art world. Jean Arp (1886-1966) was a participant in this Dadaist movement, and after moving to Paris he also took part in the Surrealist movement. He created collage works with compositions employing natural happenstance, such as the patterns created when scraps of paper he tossed in the air landed on the floor or table. Later, in the 1930s, Arp focused on the creation of bronze sculptures with natural organic forms. The work Two Thoughts on a Navel in the Kawamura collection is composed of a slug-like object that seems to be crawling over a donut-shaped form that can be thought of as a human navel. With the combination of a part of the human body and one of the lower forms of animal life in this humorous work, Arp is apparently poking fun at the concept of human supremacy and expressing a concept that places the human being on parallel with the creatures of nature and the universe.

Jean Arp (Hans Arp), Two Thoughts on a Navel, 1932, 10.0 x 22.0 x
© BILD-KUNST, Bonn & APG-Japan / JAA, Tokyo, 2007

It wasn’t long before two of the central figures of the Dadaist movement in Paris, the poets André Breton and Paul Éluard, began to recognize the limitations of the movement and separated themselves from it completely. As its alternative, they began the Surrealist movement, which rejected the rationalism of modern society and used methods similar to psychological tests such as oral experiments during sleep and automatic description in pursuit of artistic expression that deeply involved the subconscious.
Max Ernst (1891-1976) was one of the representative painters of the Surrealist movement, and he employed new methods including frottage and decalcomania to express a metaphysical world. After his talent was recognized by Éluard and his wife Gala, Ernst took up residence at the Éluard home. During his stay there, Ernst executed paintings on the walls and doors of numerous rooms of the house. However, after the Éluard family sold the house, the new residents removed the strangely painted doors and painted or wallpapered over the paintings Ernst had created on the walls. These lost works were eventually forgotten, until the year 1967 when Éluard’s daughter, Cécile recalled them from her youth and retrieved what she could of them from under layers of wallpaper or from the storeroom where they had rested for years. One of the recovered paintings is the work Entrer, Sortir in the Kawamura collection, which was originally painted on the dining room door of the Éluard home. The model in the painting is believed to be Gala, who eventually became Ernst’s lover.

Max Ernst, Enter, Exit, 1923, 205.0 x 80.0cm
& ADAGP, Paris & SPDA, Tokyo, 2007

Related works in the collection

  • Wassily Kandinsky, Untitled, 1923
  • Naum Gabo, Linear Construction No.1 (Variation), 1942
  • René Magritte, The Garment of Adventure, 1926
  • Joan Miró, Composition, 1924
  • Man Ray, Red Hot Iron, 1966
  • Museum