A Visual Breakdown: Confronting the Strange in Max Ernst's "L'oeil du silence"

October 31, 2020
11 am
New Perspectives talk, online

Max Ernst's L’oeil du silence (The Eye of Silence; 1943–44) actively resists interpretation and frustrates attempts at description. Prolonged looking only gives the viewer more contradictions and impossibilities, rather than bringing resolution. This talk by Max Dunbar, PhD candidate in the Department of Art History & Archaeology in Arts & Sciences, will explore the indeterminate and ambiguous nature of this enigmatic painting. The Eye of Silence sits in between natural and artificial, imaginary and real, chance and control, human and alien. The image never resolves into an understandable scene, and the viewer is left with a puzzle. Surrealist artists like Ernst recognized the potential in this complex web of signs, indeterminate images, and chimerical forms. The Eye of Silence confronts the viewer with its ambiguity, and it is up to the viewer to make sense of it.

New Perspectives

New Perspectives talks are opportunities to learn more about the Museum’s collection from emerging scholars. The talks are given by graduate students in the Department of Art History & Archaeology in Arts & Sciences and focus on one or more works from the collection, often aligning with the students’ own expertise and scholarly interests.

About the speaker

Max Dunbar is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History & Archaeology in Arts & Sciences. He focuses on 20th-century modernism in North America and Europe, and he is especially interested in political art, public mural painting, and artistic formation during the 1930s. His dissertation explores the extensive discourse around left-wing political art during the Great Depression, using the early career of Philip Guston as a case study for many issues and debates about leftist art, federal patronage, and arts education.

Image credit

Max Ernst (German, 1891–1976), L'oeil du silence (The Eye of Silence), 1943–44. Oil on canvas, 43 1/4 x 56 1/4". University purchase, Kende Sale Fund, 1946. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris