Strange Sensations: The Startling and Surreal in PAFA’s Permanent Collection

Exhibition Info
Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building
Curated by
Christiana Cruz-Council, Museum Coordinator
The artists featured in this exhibition draw inspiration from surrealism, magical realism, and vanitas to reveal the enchanting nature of the unknown.

The group exhibition Strange Sensations: The Startling and Surreal in PAFA’s Permanent Collection brings together 20th and 21st-century works of art that consider mysterious and otherworldly energies through a post-Surrealist lens. 

Each artist explores the uncanny through the macabre, deliria, phantasms, or unnerving truths. These realms are intrinsically linked by the intertwining of the absurd and mundane. The works of art presented disturb hidden or suppressed questions about the natural world and the human psyche. Collectively, the works highlight the human experience of finding beauty and humor amongst death and pain.  The strange sensations evoked by the 34 artists, including Peter Dean, Nancy Grossman, and Andy Warhol, invite viewers to consider how unearthly presences, hard truths, and fantastic imaginations influence our lives, with or without our cooperation.

Absurdity...can transcend immediate frustration by asking the viewers to question, not only what they are seeing and feeling, but more importantly, why they are questioning their uneasiness. Hopefully, the dichotomy only increases when one is seduced by the richness of the painting's surface and the enticing vividness of color; beauty as an art language to complement the darkness and humor. – Arnold Mesches

Artists include: Gertrude Abercrombie, Nicolas Africano, Darrel Austin, Manuel Ayaso, Huma Bhabha, Phyllis Bramson, Kenneth Callahan, Barbara Carrasco, Sue Coe, Fred Danzinger*, Peter Dean, Michael Shelby Edwards, Martha Mayer Erlebacher, Joy Feasley, Natalie Frank, Sidney Goodman*, Nancy Grossman, Simen Johan, Russell Keeter*, Linda Lee Alter, Rico Leburn, Michael Mayor*, Arnold Mesches, James McGarrell, Kate Moran*, Bernard Perlin, Seymore Rosofsky, Kurt Seligmann, William S. Schwartz, Julie Speed, Judith Taylor, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, George Tooker, Andy Warhol, and Frederic Weber.  

*Affiliated with PAFA 

Banner image: Kenneth Callahan (1906-1986), The Tides1948-49, Oil on gessoed plywood, John Lambert Fund, 1950.4

Exhibition Highlights

Tooker
George Tooker (1920-2011)
Voice, 1977
Lithograph on Rives gray paper
John Lambert Fund, 2007.11
Mesches
Arnold Mesches (1923-2016)
Coming Attractions II, 2006
Acrylic on canvas
Gift of Jill K. Ciment, 2012.21
Lee Alter
Linda Lee Alter (b. 1939)
Pain, Pain. Fear, Fear, Fear., 2006
Acrylic on birch plywood
Gift of the artist, 2011.17.1
William S. Schwartz
William S. Schwartz (1896-1977)
De Profundis, 1947
Oil on canvas
Gift of the artist, 1967.11.1
Lebrun
Rico Lebrun (1900-1964)
The Listening Dead, 1957-58
Oil on cardboard
Gift of the Ford Foundation, 1962.5.2
Peter Dean
Peter Dean (1939-1993)
Studio Portrait with Mask and Advisor, 1976
Oil on board
Gift of Lenore and Alvin Weseley in memory of Jonathan Weseley, 2012.8.2

Exhibition Support

Special exhibitions at PAFA are made possible thanks to leadership support from Emily and Mike Cavanagh, and Dorothy and Ken Woodcock. Generous support is provided by Bill and Laura Buck, Ralph Citino and Lawrence Taylor, Ro and Martin King, Robert E. Kohler, the Lau Longsworth Charitable Fund, Sueyun and Gene Locks, Maggie and Brien Murphy, Donna Ostroff and Carl Capista, and Howard Sacks and Vesna Todorović Sacks. Additional support is provided by Jonathan L. Cohen, Marilyn Fishman and James MacElderry, Linda Seyda and Robert Boris, and donors to the PAFA Special Exhibitions Fund.
 Donor Lists as of June 1, 2022