The Surrealist Moment at Jack Rutberg Gallery

Karel Appel / ‘Elephant Dansant’. Photo Credit Patrick Quinn
Karel Appel / ‘Elephant Dansant’. Photo Credit Patrick Quinn

The Surrealist Moment at Jack Rutberg Gallery

By Patrick Quinn


SURREAL / UNREAL at Jack Rutberg Gallery through December 24th


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Surrealism as follows; ‘the principles, ideals, or practice of producing fantastic or incongruous imagery or effects in art, literature, film, or theater by means of unnatural or irrational juxtapositions and combinations’.

Writer and poet Andre Breton, widely acknowledged as the founder of Surrealism, had a perhaps more succinct definition; ‘pure psychic automatism’.

Jack Rutberg Gallery is currently showing an amazing exhibition that not only attempts to encompass the history of Surrealism, but reveals how it still informs artists working today. For most people, Surrealism begins and ends with Salvador Dali. But there isn’t a single melting clock on display here. The gallery’s intent is to educate, inform, and some cases, introduce the audience to the artists who have created Surreal art since it began as a Movement back in the 1930’s. It features over a 100 paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures. Some of the names are familiar such as Rene Magritte and Max Ernst and some are unexpected like David Hockney and Ed Ruscha. One of the strongest aspects of the show is how it refuses to only focus on the past. Current work by artists typically associated with other styles has been seamlessly blended into the mix. It’s not often that Joan Miro and Raymond Pettibon get to share wall space together.

There are three rooms plus a smaller section upstairs. The work is laid out in a casual timeline and includes extensive text labels for those who wish to delve deeper into the movement’s history.

The Jack Rutberg Gallery has a stellar history of staging noteworthy shows such as this and there are certain artists the gallery has long championed. So it is no surprise to find an early painting by Hans Burkhardt near the entrance. The gallery has represented his work since 1973 and the work included here are some of his earliest paintings. Two other artists with strong ties to the gallery are brothers Joel-Peter Witkin and Jerome Witkin. The painting ‘Vincent and his Demons II’ is a particularly appropriate choice for this show.

Things get especially interesting in the main room. Traditional Assemblage pieces by George Herms and Gordon Wagner seem positively goofy when seen in this company. A painted elephant by Karen Appel seems to have stepped out of a French remake of ‘Yellow Submarine’. Ed Ruschas’s ‘Black Ants’ reminds us that though Salvador Dali is not featured in this show, his influence in Surrealism is certainly present.

‘Surreal / Unreal’ is open now through December 24th.  The gallery is located at 357 N. La Brea Avenue, L.A. CA 90036.

Gallery hours are Tuesday – Friday 10:00am to 6:00pm and 10:00am to 5:00pm on Saturdays.

For more information, call (323) 938-5222 or visit their website at

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