Why do we dream? Where do dreams come from? Do they live in our mind, our soul, or are they an esoteric bridge to an alternate reality? Artists have forever attempted to render this immaterial world visible. The exhibition Le Rêve in Marseille invites us to delve into the realm of dreams, to the heights of its sublime beauty and its most frightening depths.
While Freud concluded that dreams are the fulfillment of a desire, in antiquity dreams were seen as a gateway to the great collective myths, a premonitory vision, or a warning from the gods. In our contemporary sensibility, the representation of dreams in art could be taken as a metaphor of art itself.
“In our world today, reality is almost impossible to bear,” says Chief Curator Christine Poullain, “the dream is still possible.”
In a sensational effort, the exhibition the dream at the Cantini Museum in Marseille  brings together 200 works, on loan from major museums and from private collections. Breaking up the chronology the visit is arranged into seven sections: sleep, nocturnes, dreams, nightmares, fantasies, hallucinations, and awakenings. From the floaty dreamscape of Marc Chagall ’s Moonlight Lovers to Louise Bourgois’s unsettling Spider II, or René Magritte ’s ominous Cap des Tempêtes, the exhibit unfolds in the random manner of a dream. It is a rich and nourishing eyeful – best approached with plenty of time and focus, as each one of the works has been carefully chosen and demands our full attention.
One of the many bonuses of such a well-curated mosaic of art is that there is always an exciting new discovery among the well-known masterpieces. In my case it was Alfred Kubin’s delicate ink and pencil Nachtwandler, a gentle whisper amid the louder voices in the room, and another highlight was the striking choice of colours in Hans Richter’s Visionäres Portrait that seemed to want to burst right out of its frame.
The show effectively blends classic icons with contemporary emerging stars, ending with the wake up call of Pierre Huygues’s Le Carillon where each chime is one of the notes from John Cage’s Dream composition (just a fragment is shown, the complete work would be too big for the space), and film excerpts including the surreal experimental film Dreams that Money Can Buy by Max Ernst with collaborations by Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Darius Milhaud and Fernand Léger. On the top floor there is yet another treasure in the Jeu de Marseille, a unique collection of illustrations in the form of a set of cards which attests to the Surrealist’s fascination with dreams.
Dreamers of the world thrive and unite, as the exhibition curators remind us with this quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,
“Let your dream devour your life, so that your life won’t devour your dream.”
Le Rêve is organised by the City of Marseille and Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais. Curated by Christine Poullain, Chief Curator and Director of Museums in Marseille and Guillaume Theulière, co-curator and Deputy Director of Museums in Marseille.
Until January 22, 2017
19 rue Grignan, Marseille
Métro: Estrangin / Préfecture
+33 (0)4 91 54 77 75
Open daily 10am to 6pm. Closed Monday.
Tip: Make sure to get the audioguide in English as the legends beside the works are written solely in French.