Art of the 20th Century
A Revolution in the Arts
in 20th century Art Map
The Great Avant-garde Movements
Surrealism - 1924
"A Week of Kindness"
(A surrealistic novel in
"Thought rendered visible"
Surrealism "The Dream of Revolution"
March, 1942 in New York: (l. to r.) Matta,
Ossip Zadkine, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst,
Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger.
(back row:) André Breton, Piet Mondrian,
André Masson, Amédée Ozenfant,
Jacques Lipchitz, Pavel Tchelitchev,
Kurt Seligmann, Eugene Berman.
In the United States
Surrealism burst on the United States
between 1941 and 1946. In America the surrealists redefined their course
of action and established a climate of opinion which had an influence on a
number of native American artists. The American public had in fact an
opportunity of becoming aware of the surrealist experience before this,
when a touring exhibition - 'Fantastic Art,
Surrealism' - was organized in 1936 by the New York Museum
of Modern Art. This eclectic collection of almost seven hundred works went
beyond its chosen theme by including work by many abstract or
constructivist painters, such as
the show was essentially an evocation of avant-garde art in general. But,
at all events, it was the first exhibition in which any attempt was made
to form a section devoted to the 'Forerunners of Surrealism'. This was a
rather random selection ranging from the Grotesques by Wenzel
Jamnitzer (1563-1618) to the fantasies by Grandville (1803-47), from
architectural drawings by Oronce Fine (1494-1555) to costumes by Larmessin
(who died in 1694), and which included allegories, rebuses, and paintings
Despite the merits of the range of 'Fantastic
Surrealism', which gave an important place to
and other major pioneers, it could be no substitute for an exhibition
arranged by the surrealists themselves.
had indeed come to the United States as a surrealist ambassador, but his
only influence had been on publicity. He was asked to arrange one
show-window for a store, and in 1939 at the New York World's Fair he was
allowed to stage only a part of The Dream of Venus, an underwater
ballet performed in an aquarium with girl swimmers incarnating symbols of
pre-natal life. So it was only the presence in America during the war of
artists in exile, among them
which allowed surrealist art to establish a firm foothold.
Man Ray, Juliet and Max
Ernst and Dorothea Tanning
arrived in New York in August 1941, and two months later the magazine
View, run by the poet Charles Henry Ford, brought out a special number
on surrealism. This was followed by several instalments which were
evidence of the movement's newsworthiness. The surrealist review VVV
was founded in 1942. The three Vs of the title represented the triple
Victory, 'over everything which stands in the way of the emancipation of
the spirit, for which the first precondition is the liberation of man',
the triple View, which results from a synthesis of the view of the inner
world with the view of the outer world to create a 'total view' which
should interpret all the reactions of the eternal on the actual, of the
psychic on the physical, and take into account the 'myth' which is being
formed under the veil of events. The chief editor of VVV was David
Hare, who made strange photographs using a technique which consisted of
warming up negatives after development so that the gelatine melted. When
he later became a sculptor, Hare moved from the fantastic to abstraction.
The New York Surrealist
Exhibition, in October and November 1942, held under the sponsorship of
the Coordinating Council of French Relief Societies, was designed by
Marcel Duchamp. Throughout the
exhibition halls he stretched a network of white cord covering the works
on show, which could only be glimpsed through the meshes. This also formed
a kind of labyrinth which constantly obliged the visitor to stop and
retrace his steps, passing work which he had already seen.
The front cover of the catalogue,
First Papers of Surrealism, showed a wall with five bullet holes,
and the back a piece of gruyere cheese.
wrote in the catalogue : 'Today more than ever to speak abstractly in the
name of freedom or to praise it in empty terms is to serve it ill. To
light the world, freedom must become flesh and to this end must always be
reflected and recreated in the word.'
outlined the repertory of myths which he believed to be significant, and
illustrated them by associating each of them with a surrealist painter :
the Philosopher's Stone with
: the Artificial Alan with
the Soul-Sister with
Carrington; The Regicide with
etc. The difficulty of getting hold of photographs of some of the
exhibitors inspired the idea of 'compensation portraits', in which the
names of painters were placed under anonymous photographs chosen for a
real or imagined likeness to their nominal subjects.
The activity of the surrealists brought to light the
work of some painters who would probably otherwise never have been
discovered. The most outstanding of these was Morris Hirshfield, a
naive painter who had started life as a shoemaker in New York. Then in
1902 he had established a shoe factory, the E.Z. Walk Manufacturing
Company, which eventually had almost three hundred employees. Ill health
forced Hirshfield to retire from business in 1917, and in 1937, at
the age of 65, he took up painting; from then on until his death in 1946
he painted naked women surrounded by flowers or animals. Less often, he
did landscapes from picture postcards. Hirshfield was adopted by
the surrealists because of the extreme ingenuousness of his inspiration,
and the luxuriant imagination with which he embroidered exterior reality.
(b Russian Poland, 10 April 1872; d New York, 26 July
American painter of Russian–Polish origin. He claimed to have carved
wooden ceremonial objects as a young boy, but ceased to create until
he retired from his clothing manufacturing concern and began to paint.
When Sidney Janis was arranging an exhibition of American folk art for
MOMA in 1939, he saw Hirshfield’s naive works in a gallery in New
York. He exhibited two in the show and organized a one-man show for
the artist in 1943; he also purchased two works, including Beach
Girl (1937). In such paintings Hirshfield based large areas of the
overall design on the fabrics with which he worked during his years in
business, and his outlined forms on the art of patternmaking. In this
and slightly later works, such as Inseparable Friends (1941),
an ambiguous treatment of young female sexuality is played off against
the patterns and the repetition of forms.
Artist and His Model
with water fountains
stand and birds
Two Women in Front
of a Mirror
Cat With Kittens
Max Ernst, who had arrived in New York in July
1941, now began to make paintings by using the 'decalcomania' technique;
then he invented 'oscillation', which consisted of swinging a pierced can
of liquid paint on the end of a string over a canvas laid on the ground,
and interpreting the trace of the paint marks so obtained. He showed this
Jackson Pollock, who turned it into the 'drip'
Dorothea Tanning, whose
artistic personality was to blossom as a result of her contact with him.
Dorothea Tanning had come to New York from Chicago in 1935, set on
making a career as a painter. She had been deeply moved by an exegesis of
Picasso's Guernica which she had heard
deliver in a New York gallery. The influence of Max Ernst hastened her
development towards surrealism. She held her first one-man show in New
York in 1944, and in 1945 designed
the sets and costumes for Night Shadow, a ballet by Balanchine to
music by Rieti.
Dorothea Tanning were married in
1946, and went off to live in Sedona, a small township in Arizona.
Initially her painting showed a universe of little girls in revolt against
a puritanical education, a prey to nocturnal fears, or unleashed in wild
A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil,
New York: George Braziller 1982
Originally published in Paris in
1930, translated by Dorothea Tanning.
Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning
Beyond the Esplanade
Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning
Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning
Her memories of her own childhood with her two sisters
in Illinois helped her to give these scenes a feeling of authenticity. Her
perverse little heroines tear drapes off a wall, while the inanimate body
of a companion lies nearby (Children's Games, 1942); they watch a
giant sunflower creeping towards them in a corridor (Eine Kleine
Nachfmusik, 1946, London,
Roland Penrose collection); and yet
again they form themselves into a human pyramid by climbing on one
another's shoulders right up to the ceiling (Palaestra, 1947, New
York, William N. Copley collection). Always they move in an atmosphere of
anguish and pleasure.
Max Ernst acquired a bitch,
who soon became the main character in
Dorothea Tanning's paintings.
She made it into the Beast which has become divine, and who embraces
Beauty for a symbolic Waltz (The Blue Waltz, 1954). The
surreal power of animals is exploited also in the perverse 'Annunciation'
Navajo Indian Kachina Doll.
Dolls are carved to represent men who dances in costume, mask
and paint as Katchina spirit. Katchinas are the essence
of animated and in animated objects who are of great benefits of the
Hopi. They bring moisture and the fertility of crops, animals and man.
Arizona katchina doll.
In Hopi culture, a katchina is an ancestral being who
comes to the village to assist with crop growing, fertility, and
health. There are hundreds of different types of katchina.
They are represented during dances by costumed men, and are also
depicted as carved dolls, which are given to children.
It was only on his arrival in the United States that the
Matta came to its full brilliance, and burst like a
storm into a world which he constantly thereafter explored.
had first joined the surrealists in 1937, when he arrived in Paris from
his native Chile to study architecture with
Le Corbusier. He showed
some work to
Breton at the Galerie Gradiva;
Breton bought two
drawings from him and invited him to take part in illustrating Les
Chants de Maldoror, published by Editions G.L.M. In 1938
painted six big canvases, Psychological Morphologies, which were
the point of departure for his whole development. These spaces choked with
matter in fusion show the interior of the conscious mind as a vitreous
mass, full of glaucous glows and sparkling brilliance. As a result of his
stay in the United States from 1939, with the added advantage of some
travelling, particularly a visit to Mexico in 1941,
Matta was able
to broaden his experience, and to bring it up to the scale of the
civilization which he found before his eyes. He unfolded huge galactic
panoramas, and studied the life of the psyche as if he were prospecting
the surface of a planet, in The Earth is a Man (1941, New York,
William Rubin collection), The Disasters of Mysticism (1942),
Elinonde (1943), The I'ertigo of Eros (1944, New York, Museum
of Modern Art), Space and the I (1944). His paintings became
screens on which he projected his mental film. Monstrous, tentacled,
clawed figures, like giant anthropomorphic insects soon moved into his
crackling universes. In The Players of Heart (1945), The Pilgrim
of Doubt (1946) and To be with (1946), a mythical, cruel and
anxiety-ridden people engages in panic brawls and scuffles.
In New York
Matta became a disciple of
Duchamp, whose imperturbability was the opposite of
Matta formed an intellectual
attitude based on word-plays. As he believed that the reconstruction or
disintegration of the world was connected with a reconstruction or
disintegration of language,
Matta invented a vocabulary of
neologisms to stimulate his pictorial inspiration. He claimed to be
engaged in 'Conscienture' (the painting of the consciousness), and
said, in his own idiom : 'I am going to make a tour of the I, from the
South to the Rmis'. To show that some of his pictures were explorations of
the depths of the ego he entitled them Je m'honte and Je m'arche
(punning titles, turning je monte, 'I ascend', or je marche,
'I walk', into reflexive verbs). There is a temptation to see his
pictures in terms of science fiction, with extraterrestrial battles and
galactic flights, but this is too simple an interpretation. There was a period in which
launched into fantastic epic; in his Paris exhibition in May 1949 he
showed a mythology which
included Ermala the Scepticide, Marzana the Llium of envy, the Oigu of
peace, Atyarth insolent, Icrogy fecundated, Rghuin monstrous triumphs,
episodes of a chronicle worthy of the novels of H.P. Lovecraft.
Matta had another aim : the destruction of
Duchamp had called 'retinal painting'. At this time,
said to me, in a private conversation, 'I want to make pictures which leap
to the eye'. And with his hands raised like a tiger's claws, he made as if
to seize an invisible spectator. The figures in his paintings are not
necessarily inhabitants of a parallel universe; they are men, or rather
the distorted reflections of men in the mirror of a disturbed, frightened
or aggressive unconscious mind.
Matta is a cosmic painter, who
tries to interpret the human condition face to face with infinity, and not
as it nestles in the bosom of day to day reality.
In 1942 and 1944,
Wifredo Lam had two exhibitions
at Pierre Matisse's gallery in New York, exhibitions which
definitively established his personality.
Lam, a Cuban, had worked
for a long time in Spain, where he had painted tragic Mother with Child
Paris in 1938,
Picasso gave his pictures a warm,
Lam can indeed be regarded as the only true
Picasso's work; he was not an imitator, for he was
able to re-create the Spanish master's freedom of form for his own use.
Lam left France in 1941, on board the ship which was taking
Martinique, and returned to Cuba. The mastery of technique which he had
acquired enabled him to confront the world of nature which he found there
without any fear that his hand would betray him.
Helena Lam with Fish in Head and Breasts
totemic landscapes, where amid the luxuriant bush, trees uproot
themselves, plants come to life, lianas stretch or contract, and
divinities of light or shade come and go.
In Melembo (1943, New York, Pierre Matisse
collection), The Jungle (1943, New York, Museum of Modern Art),
Song of the Osmoses (1944, Indiana, J. Cantor collection), and The
Watching Spirit (1946), he formed the obsessive style to which he was
thereafter to remain faithful. His art is a visual incantation; he
acclaimed the jungle as if it were a person, giving plants the appearance
of animals, and animals a lapidary form. In his painting, plants have
breasts like women, fruit is a round head with horns, bamboo has feet
which look like hands, the insect blossoms, the wild beast has roots, and
man is hewn from wood or from the rock of the earth which gave him birth.
During a stay in Haiti,
Lam studied the Voodoo cult, drew
inspiration from the vevers, the symbolic patterns drawn in flour around the central pillar where the rites take
place, and began to make allusions to deities such as Ogoun Ferraille,
the god of war, or Papa Legba, master of the crossroads. Yet there is no
geographical limitation. Although he was a passionate observer of the
jungle and the rituals which he evokes in his paintings, they do not
remain in their aboriginal form. The primitive earth as a whole, the
primeval world, with its virgin forests, arises in his paintings like
a challenge to the civilization of the cities.
The retrospective show of the work of
Calder at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1943 established his
role and his importance in modern art. Since 1933
Calder had lived
on a farm at Roxbury in Connecticut. In 1938, he built, next door to the
house, a huge studio where he tamed metal into geometric shapes, doing it
all by kindness. Like
Calder belongs to abstract art as
much as to surrealism, and he is attached by bonds of friendship to both schools. His wit, which always retained a
child-like freshness, his humour, and his longing to give life and
movement to the inert and non-figurative, assured him a place of honour
among the surrealists. It is easier to understand what
about if one knows that as a young man, after he had got his engineering
diploma, he spent every evening for a year at Barnum's circus, making
sketches of the show. He was enchanted by the animals, and the quality of
his observation of them is proved by his collection of drawings Animal
Sketching (1926) and his illustrations for Aesop's Fables (1931).
Calder conceived the idea of making a circus in miniature from pieces
of wire, corks and scraps of wood. His dual talents as engineer and artist
enabled him to create a miniature world of acrobats, jugglers and
tightrope-walkers, who ran, jumped, and performed tricks. In Paris in
1926-7, he gave highly successful private shows of his circus to audiences
of writers and artists.
moved on to geometrical sculptures - the 'stabiles' - made of discs and
spheres painted black, white, blue and red in the spirit of neo-plasticism.
Next he did animated sculpture; in his 'mobiles', which in their initial
form were put into motion by hand or by a motor, several elements are set
moving in a burlesque way, almost like an animated cartoon. His first wind
mobile dates from 1932-3. From this time on, contraptions with metal
leaves, trembling and spinning at the slightest breath of air, flowed from
him like joyful songs. 'My dear old Sandy, the tough guy with the soul of
a nightingale', was
Miro's affectionate description of him. He was
always to be a man of the circus, but on the scale of the Universe,
abstract circus turns with lyrical toys.
returned to the stabiles in 1942 with Morning Star, and gave them
the lightness of his mobiles. Then he did Constellations, stabiles
fixed to the wall or ceiling. These were arrangements of elements of
different materials, colour and shape. Thus, during this period in his
Calder established all the factors in the evolution which
he was to pursue after the war in France, in his studio in Touraine.
born July 22, 1898, Lawnton, Pa.,U.S.
died Nov. 11, 1976, New York City
U.S. sculptor best known as the originator of the mobile, a type of
kinetic sculpture, the delicately balanced or suspended components of
which move in response to motor power or air currents; by contrast,
Calder's stationary sculptures are called stabiles. He also produced
numerous wire figures, notably for a vast miniature circus.
Calder was the son and grandson of sculptors, and his mother was an
accomplished painter. Despite growing up in an atmosphere of American
academic art, he seems to have had little inclination to become an artist
himself. Aside from an unusual amount of travelling and moving around,
necessitated in part by his father's health, Calder's youth and interests
were typical of middle-class American boys growing up in the early years
of the century. His reminiscences of his early activities—which are
remarkable for their completeness—have to do largely with family affairs,
sports, and relations with his classmates. Perhaps the only indication of
his subsequent career lay in his facility for making things and his
enjoyment of gadgets.
After study at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., he
was graduated in 1919 with a degree in mechanical engineering. For a time
he travelled widely and held various engineering jobs. In 1922 he took
drawing lessons at a night school in New York City and in 1923 entered the
Art Students League, where he was influenced by painters of the New York
scene, the so-called Ashcan School, of which the painters John Sloan and
George Luks were among the leaders. At this point, his aspirations, like
those of many American artists of the time, did not extend much beyond
securing a well-paying job in illustration or commercial art. In 1924 he
began doing illustrations for the National Police Gazette, for which he
covered prize fights and the circus.
After several other routine commercial illustrating jobs, Calder decided
in 1926 to go to Paris, the world centre for modern art. In Paris, while
working on sculpture, he began, for his own amusement, to make toy like
animals of wood and wire. Out of these he developed a miniature circus
(Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City), performances of which
were attended by many of the leading artists and literary figures in
Paris. The little circus figures, as well as his interest in continuous
line drawings, led Calder to the creation of wire sculptures, such as the
figure of a woman seven feet high, entitled “Spring,” and “Romulus and
Remus,” a group that included a she-wolf 11 feet long.
Among the artists he met in Paris through his circus exhibitions, perhaps
the most crucial for his subsequent career was the Spanish Surrealist
painter Joan Miró. AlthoughSurrealism was reaching its first major peak in
the late 1920s, Calder does not seem to have been conscious of the
movement; in fact throughout his career he isolated himself from the “art
world.” With Miró, however, he established an immediate rapport, and a
lasting friendship was formed.
In 1930 Calder met the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and visited his studio,
an event that made him suddenly aware of the modern movement in painting
and that influenced his work in the direction of the abstract. In the
winter of 1931–32 he began to make motor-driven sculptures, consisting of
various geometrical shapes. The name mobile was given to them by Marcel
Duchamp. Aesthetically, movement, because of the changing relationships
among the various elements, gave the sculpture a continually changing
composition. The following year, when Calder exhibited similar works that
did not move, Jean Arp described them as stabiles, a term that Calder
continued to use. Beginning in 1932 most of his mobiles were given their
movement by air currents.
In 1931, while fashioning a wedding ring for his marriage, Calder formed
an interest in making jewelry. Also in 1931 he produced illustrations for
an edition of the Fables of Aesop. Illustrations for a number of other
books followed in the 1940s.
During the 1930s Calder further developed the concept of the mobile. The
first major manifestation of his work was at the Paris World's Fair of
1937, where he created his so-called mercury fountain for the Spanish
pavilion. In this sculpture, movement was introduced by a stream of
mercury striking a plate that was attached to a swivelling rod. From this
point, Calder's reputation expanded continually through annual exhibitions
in Europe and America, climaxed by a showing at the Museum of Modern Art
in New York City in 1943.
Although Calder's early mobiles and stabiles were on a relatively small
scale, he increasingly moved toward monumentality in his later works. One
very large stabile organization was an acoustical ceiling, which he
designed in 1952 for the auditorium of the Universidad Central de
Venezuela in Caracas. In 1961 an exhibition on motion in art, which
originated at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, emphasized the work of
Calder and his followers. During the1960s his accomplishments were
recognized through major exhibitions in Kassel, W.Ger.; at the Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum, New York City; and at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la
Ville de Paris.
In 1931 Calder was married to Louisa Cushing James, and after their
marriage the Calders travelled continually, not only between France and
the United States but also to South America and Asia. In 1955 and 1956
they visited India, where Calder created 11 mobiles.
In the 1970s Calder's studio was at Saché, near Tours. Therehe designed
his major stabiles and experimented with free-form drawings and paintings.
His normal method with large-scale works was to create a small model, the
enlargement of which he supervised at a foundry in Tours. Although Calder
lived most of the time in France, he maintained a home and studio in
H. Harvard Arnason
The painter who profited most from the presence of the
surrealists in the United States was
Arshile Gorky. When he came
into contact with them, ail his genius, which had already passed through a
number of successive phases, was unleashed in a lyrical explosion.
Gorky was born by Lake Van in Turkish Armenia, and he had spent his
childhood in a landscape of mountain and forest. At the outbreak of war in
1914 his mother died, and the family lost its wealth. He went to Georgia
and became a student at the Polytechnic Institute in Tiflis. In 1920 he
emigrated to America, and completed his education by his own efforts. He
spent long hours in museums and
galleries, and attended evening classes in various
schools. In 1926 he became a teacher in New York, mainly at the Grand
Central School of Art. After a figurative period, represented by The Artist
and his Mother (1926), he was gripped by a passion for cubism, and in
1931 he said : 'The twentieth century - what intensity, what activity,
what restless nervous energy! Has there in six centuries been better art
No. Centuries will go past - artists of gigantic stature will draw
positive elements from
Gorky went through an abstract period under the influence of
Kandinsky. He carried out huge frescoes for airports in New York
and New Jersey, and for the Aviation Pavilion at the New York Exhibition
When he had assimilated the experiences which modern art
had to offer,
Gorky received from
Breton, whom he worshipped, the stimulus he needed to get
him really launched into flight. In 1943 he came back into contact with
nature. He worked in the open air in the Virginia countryside, and did a number of drawings of leaves and flowers, but in a
In The Liver is the Cock's Comb (1944, Buffalo,
Albright-Knox Art Gallery),
Gorky, with sweeping gestures which
seemed to embrace the universe, launched into the feverish monologue which
he was to continue from painting to painting until his death by suicide in
Gorky was able to adapt an abstract language to the most
subtle sensations, to the most confused psychic states, as in Agony
(1947, New York, Museum of Modern Art). The interplay of lines and signs,
punctuated by brilliant splashes of colour, on a carefully worked
background, expresses the outpouring of the unconscious, the unfathomable
mystery of nature.
Gorky's freedom of expression, which is close to
automatism, was never mere improvisation; he never reached the definitive
version of a painting until it had passed through a number of successive
preliminary versions. He was to become the master of the New York school,
to which he transmitted surrealism in a personal translation which had
retained the essence of the movement.