André Masson. The Metaphysical Wall. 1940. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.331. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
André Masson’s otherworldly watercolor, “The Metaphysical Wall” of 1940, revisits imagery he had explored two years earlier in a drawing (illustrated below). Tall male and female figures flank a wall composed of colorful striations. The figures not only stand in front of the wall, but are mirrored in it as well. A crystalline form at the bottom encloses a skeletal being that is juxtaposed with a transparent ovoid womb containing a living figure to its right. These representations of life and death appear to emanate from a structure one writer has called the “temple of a mother goddess,” more clearly identifiable in the earlier drawing.
Masson created this work in a period of crisis as Germany invaded France. The artist and his Jewish wife and family moved from place to place, eventually reaching Marseilles and escaping to America with the help of Saidie May. At war’s end, Masson sent “The Metaphysical Wall” to May in gratitude for her generosity.
By Jan Ryan
“Did you seek protection? Couldn’t you find the museum or the May apartment?” berates the Interrogator.
“Do you understand simile?” she retorts, “Like a plant, someone has to move me.”
“… throw out some seeds or fall into a visitor’s lap?” the questioning continues.
“After I left the museum no one drew, photographed, no more art history analysis, no X-rays or Internet. There were dire consequences were they to admit they had me. Outside we could be chased through a land of video cameras.”
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