World famous collection of Surrealism at Te Papa

May 31, 2021: News

A unique, world famous collection of Surrealist art takes up residence at Te Papa this winter.

Banner plain

Surrealist Art: Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen | He Toi Pohewa: He Toi Marupō o Muhiama o Boijmans Van Beuningen opened Saturday 12 June and runs until 31 October 2021 in Te Papa’s gallery, Toi Art.

The exhibition space, designed by Warren and Mahoney in close collaboration with Te Papa features 180 fascinating pieces including major works by artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington, René Magritte, and Marcel Duchamp.

Te Papa is the only venue in Australasia to host the exhibition.

The renowned collection has come from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and includes sculpture, furniture, paintings, graphic design, prints, and photography.

In 2018, Warren and Mahoney completed Te Papa’s Toi Art, where the exhibition is to be held. Katherine Skipper, Studio Principal of Warren and Mahoney’s Wellington studio, says the practice is very proud to be working with Te Papa once more for this extraordinary exhibition.

“Surrealism set out to create a new reality – expanding human consciousness by bringing dreams, desires, imagination and the unconscious into ordinary life. We knew from the beginning that we wanted the exhibition design to evoke something of these ideas, giving visitors the sense of having stepped into another world.

“Visitors will be led through six highly distinct galleries, in which colour, lighting, materials and music create different moods and tempos. There is an all-encompassing journey from the first gallery – dark and atmospheric, with spotlit paintings such as Dali’s Couple with their Heads Full of Clouds – through to the exhibition’s final room. Awash in an envelope of colour, the walls of this last gallery are filled with paintings by Belgian artist René Magritte.

“The Surrealists loved to play with exhibition design, as well as with their audiences’ expectations of a space or an artwork. In the design for Surrealist Art / He Toi Pohewa we have given these ideas a contemporary twist, creating a highly-unique environment which will bring the mystery of the dreaming mind into the reality of everyday life.”

Visitors will be able to see iconic Surrealist works such as Dalí’s Mae West Lips Sofa (1938), a playfully subversive couch shaped as a lush pair of red lips, and René Magritte’s La maison de verre (The glass house) (1939), an uncanny masterpiece in which a man’s face looks out from the back of his head.

Courtney Johnston, Te Papa’s Tumu Whakarae | Chief Executive, is delighted that New Zealanders will get this rare opportunity to see some of the world’s most important Surrealist works.

“Surrealist art has created many of the most defining images of the last 100 years. The exhibition will highlight the creative, influential and revolutionary nature of these artists and their work,” Ms Johnston says.

Surrealist Art | He Toi Pohewa will be the largest Surrealist exhibition ever shown in New Zealand. None of the works have been seen in New Zealand before. The last significant Surrealist show toured to the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1972.

Surrealism was launched by manifesto in Paris in 1924 and brought together a group of artists and writers who saw their work as a political act. Surrealist Art | He Toi Pohewa includes artworks from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Te Papa Head of Art Charlotte Davy says that Surrealism sought to disrupt, unsettle and provoke.

“Surrealist artists tried to create a new kind of reality which was centred around dreams, the unconscious and the irrational. They used playful, subversive techniques and materials to shock and surprise their audiences,” Ms Davy says.

“Visitors will be struck by the power of Surrealist ideas which are still incredibly relevant today – both politically and as an influence on contemporary artists.”

The exhibition includes work by all of the major Surrealist artists. The most prominent artist in the exhibition is Salvador Dalí. His works include exquisitely fine paintings and printmaking, playful sculptures and design, and unsettling film.

Te Papa Kaihautū Dr Arapata Hakiwai says Te Papa is honoured to host this significant exhibition.

“We are proud to host an exhibition of this calibre and give New Zealanders the chance to experience art from one of the great galleries of Europe,” Dr Hakiwai says.

Find out more and register interest at