|Courtesy of www.ReneMagritte.org|
In the year he died, Magritte painted The Art of Living for Alexandre Iolas. It is composed of familiar features from his oeuvre: full-face portraits of "ready-made" citizens, decapitated and ranged in front of a stone balustrade against a background of mountains. As so often in Magritte's works, there is also something new. Here an enormous balloon is floating above the decapitated body, and the balloon is the head. It is pink, a color Magritte was already using before 1930 and remained fond of for certain situations. Inside the balloon is a very small complex of eyes-nose-mouth which seems mysterious yet is not, for it is the expression of normalized vacuity, like the ready-made suit, which nevertheless represents a human being and hides everything that must remain secret - the small sins which convention prescribes, the major sins which society forbids. It is the image of the unremarkable which strikes us by being so very unremarkable.
Undeniably present in this representation of the bourgeois citizen is an element of that "objective humor" which Andre Breton opposed to "subjective humor" in his lecture "The Surrealist Position of the Object." Breton found this objective humor to be triumphantly present in the work of Alfred Jarry, the playwright, and also in the work of the Futurists and Dadaists. Magritte's devastating criticism of the average citizen manifests itself once more in this late work, in the objective humor of the enormous balloon in a striking pink, the color representing the charm of the good life, which is here the skin that covers self-satisfaction and vacuity.