Exhibition review: Realismo Magico

Reviewed by Clive Gilson, Gallery Curator and member of the Gallery Trust

The Realismo Magico exhibition took place at the Palazzo Reale, Milano between 19th October 2021 and 27th February 2022.

This movement lasted a defined period between 1920 and 1935, although there remain splashes of the genre before and aft and also in literature. The term was coined by German critic Franz Roh who described Magic Realism as generic anti-modernist and a ‘return to order’ and indeed classicism, in the face of expressionism and other artistic ‘distortions’. Accordingly, Magical Realism, typically depicts ordinary subjects yet placed in surreal or magical surroundings. Subjects and still life objects are generally seen in a non-expressive mode, sometimes with coded messages embedded that present compositional depth.

As in this Italian-inspired exhibition there is more than a hint of deep reflection in the subjects portrayed, perhaps even verging on depressive states of mind. This is not surprising as European society struggled to emerge from the period of the Great War and its horrific consequences. The interplay with fantastical settings brings out still deeper insights regarding the mundanity of everyday life and the meaning found in contemplation. This can be seen in the brilliant composition in the exhibition, Afternoon in Fiesole 1926-29, by Baccio Maria Bacci. Also, the portrait of Silvana Cenni, 1922 by Felice Casorati, juxtaposes a tranquil expressionless portrait with a dream-like window view of buildings and structures unrelated to the context of the portrait. In both these paintings, contrasts, potential meaning(s) and insight all interplay across the canvas.

The unmistakable cipher of Magic Realism is the idea of a mimetic approach to reality, where mimesis demonstrates the construction of artificial reality in which life is frozen so that potential enchantment and possible tragic mystery can be glimpsed.  As with expressionism and other forms of art, Magic Realism offers another way of seeing beyond static imagery. 

Realismo Magico is a stunning exhibition, superbly curated and presented.

A copy of the exhibition Catalogue Realismo Magico can be viewed at the Welcome Swallow Gallery


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