The Future of Magic Realism

        Over the years, Magic Realism has been misunderstood by many and it remains an elusive term today. In recent times, there has been a trend to apply it imprecisely, and even gratuitously. A large part of the problem relates to applying the term to different art forms and in different periods. There are few cohesive links between the two main movements, one in art and the other in literature. And to complicate matters, recently the term Magic Realism has also been applied to works in cinema.

       From the early 1920's through the end of 1950's the term Pinata,2004 by Rob EvansMagic Realism was only applied to painting. It referred to Realism that incorporated mysterious or fantastic elements, but still portrayed everyday life. The term was applied to the work of many artists in different areas of the world. There were countless references made  to Magic Realism by writers, art critics and art dealers during the four decades following World War I .  

       The term Magic Realism was only applied to literature beginning in the 1960's. At first it was used in reference to works of Latin American writers, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miguel Angel Asturias, Isabel Allende and Jorge Luis Borges. Its usage has been broadened to include works of diverse origins and earlier periods, such as those of Ernst Juenger, Mikhail Bulgakov and Salman Rushie. Because most of this literature features considerable amounts of fantasy, this is a different  type of Magic Realism than the one that had been established in art in the 1920's.

      More recently, some writers have expanded Magic Realism to apply to Motion Pictures, and there are many fine examples . These include films like American Beauty, Big Fish, Chocolat, The Red Violin, and Whale Rider. One of the highest grossing foreign films was Like Water for Chocolate, based on a Magic Realism novel. It is clear that it is easier in Cinema to develop the complex and inextricable mixture of realism and fantasy that makes up the fabric of effective Magic Realism .

The Candle Bearer (detail from Stairway to the Attic by Paul Christiaan Bos      Today the term Magic Realism is developing interest that it never commanded during the first half of the 20th century. Its place in the history of painting is defined, although now somewhat obscured by the passage of time. Because a different set of standards are now used to define Magic Realism in literature, there is confusion about what criteria apply to contemporary work. Where does one draw the line between Magic Realism and Fantastic Realism or the so called Imaginary Realism? It might seem appropriate to treat Magic Realism in art in purely historical terms, rather than to attempt to redefine it so as to be consistent with its application to other art forms. There may be an argument that the term should be "retired" when it is applied to painting? Still for those artists willing to research its roots and apply its original and distinct principles to contemporary painting, some great rewards await. The rewards of life as a Magician.


Suggested Reading and References:        

Magic Realism Rediscovered, 1918-1981, Seymour Menton, Art Alliance Press, London, c1983

Modern Art despite Modernism, The Museum of Modern Art, Abrams, New York, 2000

German Post-Expressionism, Dennis Crockett, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Chapter 1 - Magic Realism Introduction
Chapter 2 - Roots of Magic Realism
Chapter 3 - Neue Sachlichkeit Artists
Chapter 4 - Surrealism vs Magic Realism
Chapter 5 - Magic Realism in other European countries
Chapter 6 - Magic Realism in the Americas (1)
Chapter 7 - Magic Realism in the Americas (2)
Chapter 8 - Contemporary Magic Realism

Neue Sachlichkeit Gallery
European Magic Realism Gallery
America Magic Realism Gallery