Reviewing the reviews: Interpreting the negative response to the blockbuster exhibition, "Surrealism: Desire Unbound"
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In 2001, the exhibition Surrealism: Desire Unbound opened at the Tate Modern also showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This enormous exhibition, showcasing over 300 surrealist works, was highly anticipated and promised to be a smashing success. However, after its debut the majority of visitors and reviewers alike were ultimately disappointed in the quality of this exhibition. Upon viewing the exhibition myself, I also had a predominantly negative experience and immediately began to question what had caused my reaction. This examination, which I have continued in the years following the exhibition, is the topic of my thesis. To approach this subject, in Chapter One I provide an in-depth discussion of the exhibition itself. This includes a detailed examination of the concept of desire, the chosen theme for the exhibition, as well as a description of the curatorial techniques and subjects that are explored within. Following this discussion, in Chapter Two I analyze several reviews of the exhibition to flush out the primary reason cited for the poor response to Surrealism: Desire Unbound . In this section I also point out several positive attributes of this exhibition as it is not my intention to label it a complete failure. Finally, in Chapter Three I will present my approach for improving this exhibition. My suggestions will be drawn from curatorial techniques used in both the original surrealist exhibitions held in the 1920s and 1930s and from modern techniques from more recent exhibitions. The goal of this thesis is to provide answers to others, like myself, who left this exhibition feeling dismayed and wondering exactly what had gone wrong. Beyond that, I anticipate my suggestions will prove useful to future curators in their efforts to create a successful thematic exhibition. I hope this work achieves these ends and that it will ultimately contribute to the development of a new curatorial practice for this type of exhibition.