Global Wonders and No Floppy Clocks: Surrealism Beyond Borders: Tate Modern, London

Susan Tailby
5 min readSep 3, 2022


I didn’t know anything about Surrealism beyond Dali and that lobster telephone. This exhibition was a great introduction to the wider world of surrealist artists and artworks, though best not to read the information cards — none of know really what the artists were trying to achieve!!!!

The multi-layeredness of the works was what attracted me, and I could see why the Nazis would hate such socially and culturally challenging, apparently disordered art. But it’s all about symbols and dreams really, and perhaps in this world of disturbing times, just like the 1930s, we need ways of exploring the painful and horrific and of dreaming new and wonderful dreams.

Once I’d got over my excitement of seeing Dali’s Lobster phone, I wandered, looking at what seemed visually appealing to me. There was so much more here than melting clocks, people as machines/insects and magical realism.

The riot of chairs caught my eye — on one level comical and on another level, very disturbing.

The 1930s leisure poster meets technology was fun and intriguing too.

A Miro work used so many different styles and techniques — swirls of colour, hand painting, Chinese style calligraphy — the more I looked, the more I saw! The recurring top hats theme too!

How much fun is this! All the perspectives and depth — so intriguing.

What I hadn’t expected to encounter was Durer or Bosch like techniques. One artist went medieval with a drone like looking down perspective, in a detailed, Durer-like castle.

A lot of the time it’s like walking into fairy tales — something bad has happened here! (In another work, cute little googly eyed monsters gobble up people — it’s the contrast of cartoonishly cute and gruesome. Like Goya, Surrealist art allows people to express, present and explore the unspeakable, the inexpressible — such as Picasso’s Guernica). This is truly art for our time. Movingly a former Japanese soldier portrayed a soldier haunted by war and what he had done, and his rejection of war.

And meaning is in the eye and mind of the beholder. The label explains that this is two people. I see more of a dish running away with a spoon, definitely cute nursery rhyme cutlery and unthreatening! For me, beautiful is a deconstructed way!

On one level delightful in its miniature splendor. But also some individual and collective disturbing and distressing things happening within the tiny box setting.

I loved the films — there was a jolly one of a man in a top hat having his hat knocked off by a beach ball. But he gets a bowler hat and the girl, and skips off into the sunset! Equally impressive was a French film of a beautiful woman crawling along a dining table ignored by the guests, mesmerised by chess games, pursuing a chess piece through a water fall, climbing up and down cliffs, clawing up pebbles on the beach in a hoarding manner. Is she in a dinner party or a forest? What a quest. (And yet it showed me how all those perfume and high end fashion adverts owe a huge debt to Surrealism).

The pass the piece was fun too — every image matches, even when turned into patterns! Extraordinary works were in the last room — one which looked like the gun barrel shot from James Bond, with bold swirls of black, white and red, and another sludgy earth like piece with textured splodges and streaks of browns, beiges and greens. A fascinating piece was a wooden sculpture in a box — was it an insect?

Not to mention this surrealist piece from South America — celebratory, playful and yet questioning.

And, well is it a monster, or a deconstructed Welsh dragon?

Yes there were Lee Miller works, but also other artists too!

People as robots, a leap on from people as machines or tools.

@ None of the works are mine, purely used as illustrations for the wonderful Tate Modern Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition, August 2022



Susan Tailby

By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....Theatre, Movies, Dance & Art!