The Modern is home to a world-class collection of Dada and Surrealism. When Modern Two opened its doors to the public in 1999, this was one of the most significant influences on the design of the building’s interior.
The Gabrielle Keiller Library was specially designed by the architect Terry Farrell to house two key collections of Dada and Surrealist books and papers acquired in the mid-1990s.
The Library is deliberately kept at a cool temperature and with low lighting to help us care for these collections, but it also creates an atmospheric environment for our visitors to discover the secret treasures of our archive and special collections. Changing displays are curated by the small specialist team responsible for these materials, but the spirit of Dada and Surrealism is always present, thanks to two very individual collectors.
In 1994, with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the National Art Collections Fund, the Galleries acquired the Collection and Archive of Sir Roland Penrose (1900 – 1984). This was followed soon after by the bequest of the collection of Gabrielle Keiller (1908 – 1995). Together these collections of art works, books and papers comprise an internationally significant holding of Dada and Surrealism and the Gabrielle Keiller Library was created to showcase this unique resource.
Gabrielle Keiller collected only the rarest examples of books and documents produced by Surrealist authors, poets and artists, including an unpublished film script by Salvador Dalí. The library of Sir Roland Penrose, on the other hand, is the working library of an artist closely involved in the Surrealist movement. There are rare items in this collection too, including books by Picasso and Miró containing special dedicatory drawings and inscriptions.
You will also find an array of objects which belonged to Roland Penrose and which have been arranged to mimic their display as ‘cabinets of curiosities’ in his London and Sussex homes. The Surrealists fondness for juxtaposition is reflected in the variety of objects (found and purchased) by Penrose; from Picasso ceramics to puffer fish.