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From the late 1790s, when Goya created his famous series of etchings Los Caprichos (The Caprices), the "sleep of reason that produces monsters" depicted in its best-known image has connoted the mysterious, satirical, demonic, or hallucinatory side of the human mind that surfaces like the psychic world of dreams when reason gives way to imagination. Such an undercurrent of artistic inspiration has shaped works by a wide range of individuals in various countries and time periods and in diverse stylistic modes, from the representational to the abstract, from the conceptual to the allegorical, and from the satirical to the surreal. When Reason Dreams: Drawings Inspired by the Visionary, the Fantastic, and the Unreal, on view in the Stieglitz Gallery of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from August 26 to October 29, 2000, brings together a selection of works on paper from the Museum's collection that evoke the spiritual, dreamlike, or surreal.
The works of art range in date from the 1780s and 1790s (Sir Thomas Lawrence, William Blake) to the 1990s (Raymond Pettibon, Nicola Tyson), and include both European and American artists, such as Eugène Delacroix, Odilon Redon, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Pavel Tchelitchew, Joan Miró, Francesco Clemente, Jess, Sidney Goodman, Joseph Cornell, and Paul Thek. A variety of mediums are represented, from pencil, watercolor, pastel, gouache, and acrylic, to charcoal, house paint, soot, spit, collage, and found objects. The common thread relating these drawings is their shared qualities of mystery, otherworldliness, imagination, or hallucinatory vision. Some present strange juxtapositions or transmogrifications of human, plant, or animal forms; others use the medium of collage to create obsessive and unnatural effects. A number of works are by "outsider" artists, self-taught individuals whose lifestyles or personal visions lie outside the norm of professional artistic practice; these include recluses, religious visionaries, and psychiatric patients.
"We hope that When Reason Dreams will enliven that interim season of late summer and early fall, between the sultry 'dog days' of August--when the ancients believed the evil Dog Star brought fierce plagues—and Halloween eve, when ghosts and witches are most likely to wander about," notes Ann Percy, the Museum's Curator of Drawings and organizer of the exhibition.