In 1986 there were several exhibitions around Britain to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Surrealist Exhibition in London. I was invited to curate one of these, at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea, and I made it different from the others by bringing the story up to date and considering the place of surrealism in British culture more broadly.
This meant moving between those artists who identified themselves as surrealist and other artists whose work showed the influence of or an affinity with surrealism. Some critics saw this as a betrayal of surrealist principles, but I emphasised the need to be scrupulous in distinguishing between what was truly surrealist and what was ‘surrealistic’. And I thought that some provocative ideas would come out of these juxtaposions.
This was partly achieved through the layout of the exhibition and the installation photos included here show something of that. In 2020, Jean Bonnin published his lively and witty book on Surrealism in Wales, and he included a section on Contrariwise. I drew a plan of the exhibition for him to help explain the exhibition’s organisation and I have now added that plan to this website.
The catalogue of the exhibition also probed these relationships. As well as my own introduction (reproduced here), it included an essay by the surrealist scholar J. H. Matthews (born in Swansea) on ‘The Spirit of Surrealism’, as well as shorter texts by, amongst others, Ian Breakwell, Charles Tomlinson, the Melmoth group, Susan Hiller and Jonathan Swift.
Copies of the catalogue can be obtained direct from this website – see details under ‘Contact’.
The opening of the exhibition was delightful, when Graham Chapman of Monty Python entered into the spirit of the event by flinging wet fish into the audience. The article in the Daily Mirror the next morning is one of my favourite ‘reviews’.
Also included here are a couple of more formal reviews of the exhibition by David Briers and Silvano Levy, together with a short extract from the end of Michel Remy’s book Surrealism in Britain (1999).
And, finally, there is a response of a different kind from the artist Anthony Earnshaw.