Those that frequent the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have probably noticed one of the most famous of Rene Magritte's paintings - Les Valeurs Personnelles (Personal Values.) The museum purchased the painting in 1998, for the price of $7.1 million. Painted in 1952, it is one of the Belgian Surrealist painter's iconic works. The painting depicts a tiny bedroom, furnished with a bed in the corner, and a gigantic comb standing on it. The walls are painted light blue with big white fluffy clouds, and there is a gigantic wine goblet, shaving brush, match, and mirrored armoire. Adding to its value, unlike some of his other works, he painted only one of this particular work. The purchase was the museum's first Margitte. Following the purchase they held a career retrospective with 63 of his paintings. San Francisco was the only venue in the U.S. and it had been 30 years since the Bay Area had presented an overview of his work. Perhaps you attended the show in 2000. For the exhibit, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (who is hosting the current Magritte show) loaned San Francisco their, seldom loaned out, La Trahison des Images (The Treachery of Images.) This painting is better known by its title, This is not a Pipe - which of course, is a picture of a pipe. Magritte wanted viewers to examine the uneasy relationship between objects and the words that describe them. He had said, "An object is never so closely attached to its name that another cannot be found which suits it better." Other paintings of Magritte's are easily recognizable as well. The Son of Man shows a well-dressed gentleman in a suit wearing a bowler hat, with a large apple in front of his face. He repeatedly painted men with bowler hats - but he, himself was known to wear one only to accommodate photographers. There is a great scene with bowler hats in the most recent version of
The Thomas Crown Affair, with Pierce Brosnan, where - (well you just have to see it to appreciate it.)
Magritte tried to challenge viewers of art to think - not always successfully. In 1948 Magritte had his first solo exhibit in twenty years - in Paris. In it he presented seventeen oil paintings and other works, from his Vache period, all completed in about five weeks. Vache means cow in French - or can also mean stupid and ugly - which the paintings strove to be. The scandal almost ruined his career. But one can't deny the influence Magritte's art has had on future artists and popular culture. After becoming familiar with his work, one sees references to it everywhere. Even though he and his wife lived a conventional middle-class existence, it was said to be a life-long act. It was said of him, "He is a secret agent, his object is to bring into disrepute the whole apparatus of bourgeois reality. Like all saboteurs, he avoids detection by dressing and behaving like everybody else." Magritte loved that Surrealism was revolutionary. The show in Los Angeles should be evocative and fun and perhaps thought provoking and the S.F. MOM loaned them Les Valeurs Personnelles.