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Magic Realism

Magic Realism Collage

Started: 1925

Ended: Current

"I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best."

Frida Kahlo Signature

Summary of Magic Realism

The merging of present and past, the invention of strange objects, the juxtaposition of unlike things, and the depiction of alienation are just a few of the ways in which Magic Realist painters evoke the mysteriousness and uncanniness of everyday reality. The original movement emerged in the 1920s in Germany to counter the emphasis placed on individual subjectivity by earlier avant-garde artists. Initially synonymous with Neue Sachlichkeit, Magic Realism focused less on biting social critique and more on explorations of the strangeness and incongruousness of existence. Often using exquisite detail and unusual perspective, the artists conveyed the wonder of observable reality.

Magic Realism's influence spread across media, especially in literature, to become a diffuse practice in several areas around the globe. Never a unified movement, artists in various countries developed the ideas and styles, creating unique versions, which still resonate with contemporary innovators of many media to this day.

Key Ideas

Magic Realism was part of the trend toward classicism in the interwar years that aimed to move away from more expressive styles. Relying on the undistorted figure, the artists emphasized observable reality. To reinforce their classical tendencies many of used materials like egg tempera, which was popular in the early Italian Renaissance.
While Magic Realism is often described as "surreal," the artists themselves were careful to distinguish themselves from the avant-garde group of Surrealist painters and poets. Unlike the Surrealists, the Magic Realists did not wish to probe the unconscious, dreams, or interior states, but rather they emphasized the often-times strangeness of outward experiences.
While some Magic Realists use symbols and allegory, many relied on odd juxtapositions of objects, distortions of space, or hyperrealism to convey the mysteriousness of everyday life. By focusing on such devices, instead of fantastical or made-up elements, the artists create spaces that are more universally understood and that do not rely on specialized knowledge.
While most Magic Realists avoided stinging satire and social critique of the most strident Neue Sachlichkeit artists, many explored the state of society and culture in a more nuanced way, often making commentaries about the feelings of alienation and isolation felt in the modern era.
Magic Realism Image


The origins of Magic Realism are contemporaneous with Neue Sachlichkeit, the Post-Expressionist movement in Weimar Germany that emerged at the end of World War I. The term Neue Sachlichkeit, German for New Objectivity, was officially coined with an exhibition of the same name in 1924. The movement proposed a new focus on reality, portraying an objective understanding of life and art, often using political themes with satirical connotations to bring awareness to ongoing issues of society.

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