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"
THE INTERNATIONALIZATION Of
The internationalization of the Surrealist movement is
dated after the purges and schisms surrounding 1929's Second Surrealist
Manifesto, acknowledging the new membership in the early 1930s and the
spread of ideas and exhibition schedules into the 1940s and '50s. Their
diaspora during World War II had a profound effect on the culture of art
and eventually there were hundreds of claimed members with Surrealist
chapters or organizations in most major European capitals, as well as in
South and North America. But Surrealism had been international from the
beginning, forged from the international
movement. Many of the original artists from the 1920s continued to be
aligned, formally or informally, with the Surrealists, and ideas continued
to develop in the so-called heroic period of 1924-29. Old or new, they
shared the desire to shift avant-garde art from pure-painting (peinture-pure)
to poetic-painting (pein-ture-poesie).
As the group moved to differentiate
it was Max
Ernst, newly arrived in Paris from Cologne in 1922, who was
working with the issues that interested them most. Before teaching himself
Ernst had been a student of both philosophy and psychiatry,
studied the works of Jean Charcot and Freud, and visited an asylum to
witness the power of images created by those judged insane. Much of his
painting constituted an unwritten manifesto with which Breton apparently
The Elephant Celebes (1921) signals the new influence of
Chirico in synthesis with his established use of collage.
had been collaging images from his own hypnagogic state, as well as images
found in the ordinary world of journals and magazines which had some
psychic resonance for him. In this work he has "found" a
Chirico mannequin, and removed the head—hence the sight of
the figure—while allowing it to "see" well enough to beckon the large
biomechanical form in the background, another "found" image. The collaged
disjunction makes little apparent sense, thus the non-sense of
But the issue of sightless sight was an important one for the Surrealists
since it stood as a metaphor for the higher internal vision. A similar
metaphor runs throughout the slightly later work of the Belgian Surrealist
Magritte, as seen in his 1928 painting of an open eye,
The False Mirror. Open eyes see the wrong world; only sightless sight
may truly see and beckon others.
Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924) extends the
idea of collage into physical construction. The distant vista owes a debt
Chirico, and the use of infinite space as a metaphor for
mental or psychical space was utilized by an entire wing of Surrealist
Carrington, among others. Here
uses a bird—a frequent symbol in his work—placed typically in a mysterious
and unnerving spatial theater on whose stage an enigmatic psychic drama
plays out. There was no difference for
between the dream and reality, a condition that made him a lifelong model
for Surrealism and
lack of formal training may be the reason he was the least bound and most
innovative of the Surrealists in applying new techniques, which he always
placed in the service of the imagination. In 1925 he began to use rubbings
("frottage"), where he acquired an image from laying paper over a textured
surface and rubbing it with pencil or crayon. For instance, his oil
painting The Horde (1927) used frottage from rubbings of strings
for an accidental discovery in the world of monsters, enhanced to show
their simultaneous existence in reality and in our unconscious.
often applied these powers to a critique of Western civilization.
Europe After the Rain (1940-42) portrays the carnage of a Europe
at war. The process used here was decalcomania, a technique "invented" by
the Spanish Surrealist
Oscar Dominguez in 1934, later
employed by many artists. Similar to frottage, the image results
accidentally from laying one sheet on another which already contains oil
or some other wet medium.
Dominguez and others were content
with their amorphous images, which were a veritable fantasy of abstract
forms suggesting minerals, fauna, aquatic life, and luxuriant growth.
however, mined these tellurian hills with his own hallucinatory vision.
Chance operated as a concrete and
integral part of Surrealist process, a form they termed "objective
chance." Here visions are found already concretized in the world rather
than created from within the artist and positioned into the world, as
would be the case with automatism. The resonance between the interior
state of the artist and the exterior condition of nature was taken as
testimony to the marvelous.
Paintings such as
these show how artificial the line is between Dadaism and Surrealism.
is likely that the poet-formulators of Surrealism learned a great deal
their own future directions from reading
paintings, prints, and collages.
Surrealism gave the Spanish painter
(1893-1983) the confidence to go back into the roots of his life and draw
from them a rich amalgam of imagery and fantasy. Like his close friend and
fellow traveler in the development of an abstract form of Surrealism,
converted the shallow space of
into a kind of mental laboratory. There, he loosed his automatism to
create biomorphic forms which inhabit that most Surrealist of sites, the
region that partakes of both reality and dream. The Harlequins Carnival
(1924-25) invokes the richness of a childhood imagination—a literal
carnival of doll-like masqueraders cavorting in the animated
workshop-studio of their creator. The combination of children's fantasy
and the deeper psychological resonance derived from these biomorphic forms
touch us as we both witness and participate.
Not given to argument or interest in the
politics and theory that preoccupied the Surrealists in the early 1930s,
drifted away from the official movement while retaining contact,
relationships, and collaborations. He also continued his own, highly
personal development which oscillated between the imagery of the fantastic
and that of pure abstraction. In 1925 he began to work less realistically
and more automatically, deriving images from his paint on the canvas.
Finally, in synthesis, he began with found images in the world—such as
animals and machine parts—and transformed them into abstract biomorphs
Arp. His series of paintings from the
early 1930s portray biomorphs that seem somehow alive, floating in an
infinite space. For
Miro, the process of transformation,
now hidden from the viewer, embodied the Surrealist relationship between
the real and poetic worlds.
Miro's ability to give himself up
entirely to the recreation of a new and private world through
Breton to call him "the most Surrealist
of us all."
The abstract automatist art practiced by
Masson was the dominant form of art in the 1920s and into
the early 1930s.
Masson (1896-1987) consistently
worked with the automatic processes as never ending sources for images.
Wounded and traumatized by the trench fighting in World War I, his images
and titles eventually embodied a mythological world of primal passion and
conflagration. His Battle of Fishes (1926) pictured the
world as the battleground of the oceanic unconscious, where blood is
figuratively spilled across real sand.
but reconciled in the late 1930s,
was allied more with the Bataille group of Surrealists. His work developed
an open eroticism, one of forces more than forms.
was among the many who came to the United States during the war years. His
continued use of mythological figures, such as in There is No Finished
World (1942), reference both ancient monsters and the primal
unconscious—a point of interest that members of the New York School of
Abstract Expressionists found significant. In the 1940s they,
too, were trying to develop a sense of the primal power found in mythology
but located in some alternative to European traditions, an alternative
indicated for them by
Masson's images and belief in
automatic creative processes.
Battle of Fishes
developed a personal mythology throughout his life,
frequently using the automatic dripping of glue covered with sand as a
source for his images.
His world was one filled with the hostility and battles of primal forces
Magritte & Tanguy
The other major pole to Surrealist
painting consisted of an almost academic style utilizing clear contours
and forms designed to convince the viewer of their three-dimensional
reality. Their sense of illusionism, however, was part of a Surrealist
agenda to present the tangibility of the unreal. Artists such as
and many more, presented images in a highly realistic style to establish a
purposeful contradiction—a believable presentation of unreal images.
from the works of
de Chirico, the Belgian painter
Magritte (1898-1967) remained committed to creating
recognizable images, though ones designed to question the nature of images
and imaging. In pitting "illusionistic" against "real" space, he reminds
us that this is, after all, painting. For instance, The Promenades of
Euclid (1955) is a late version of a lifelong theme: how painting is
assumed to be a spatial extension of this world. With his incredible
spatial illusion and reference system,
offers painting as an extension of the dream or the marvelous in the
world. In short, he is able to use traditional systems to give a new
function to painting. His few paintings that combine words and images also
rely on confounding the relationship between systems of seeing and
The French painter
(1900-55) turned to painting after seeing a
Chirico in a window. Self-taught, his early works have a
loose, airy quality to them, as evidenced in The Storm (1926),
whose lush grottolike setting has fragmentary images embedded like
floating bits of irrational mental debris. By 1927
began construction of deep spatial settings populated with tightly painted
biomorphic forms, a typology he followed for the rest of his life and can
be seen in The Furniture of Time (1929). Unlike
forms carry no overtones of narration or literalness. His sense of the
poetic comes not from the forms themselves but rather from the way they
are embedded within a deep, atmospheric space.
The Furniture of Time
by the spatial settings of
Tanguy merged his abstract objects with the setting, relying
less on disjunction and more on absorption.
(1904-89) was one of the important new members heralding the 1930s
expansion of Surrealism. He and fellow Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel had
been directly influenced by the movement while making, in 1929, their
renowned art film Un chien Andalou ("An Andalusian Dog"), followed
in 1930 by L'Age d'or ("The Golden Age"). The Surrealists were avid
film fans and the magic fantasy of the bright screen in the dark room gave
an invigorating metaphor for their own program. But aside from a few
examples, in the 1930s Surrealist film as a genre awaited Bunuel's further
development in the 1950s. The early works were generally a compendium of
visual scenes, often unrelated or arranged along a broad theme and derived
films. But their emphasis on the issues of desire and its psychological
burdens or, more pointedly, on the outrageous erotics of love in the face
of middle-class restrictions, were pure Surrealism.
more than any figure in the public eye who has come to embody Surrealism
in art, act, and even appearance, all testimony to his true
genius—publicity. Aside from his personality,
is best known for his realistic style of painting images which are
recognizable but generally resistant to rational interpretation. The
combination is disruptive and provides a surreal moment of interplay
between the reconcilable and the irreconcilable, between a base in reality
and a dreamscape. In this
Dali is one of many, but he is
certainly one of the best physical and academic painters of the group, and
his work is more consistently outrageous, matching exactly his public
persona and distinctive philosophy.
introduction to Freudianism through the Surrealists solidified a lifelong
personal struggle with a powerful dream world and allowed him to accept
more openly the erotics and anxieties he found there.
rejected the "sleep" of the Surrealists to produce art from an agitated
psychological state of self-induced paranoia, a process he called a
"paranoiac-critical activity." This he first defined as a "spontaneous
method of irrational knowledge based upon the critical and systematic
objectification of delirious associations and interpretations."
Early paintings such as Illumined
Pleasures and The Great Masturbator, both from 1929, are
typical small-sized paintings of images that seem to be solidified dreams
set within the Surrealist infinite space. Highly realistic in style,
portraying what appear to be unreal images, they are actually "real"
embodiments of not just
Dali's own fantasies but of the
psychological, and often psychosexual, issues which many deny or wish to
avoid. Although Freud, whom
Dali met in 1938, chastised the
artist for his conscious rather than unconscious imagery, Dali's
art does resonate on a personal level to reinforce public communication.
His Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil
War (1936) embodies the horror of the Spanish Civil War. The
evocation of monstrosity is made powerful precisely because the artist
uses the biomorphic organicism of the boiled bean to elicit a primal
sexuality which resonates on a personal level. The open phallicism,
implied castration, and impotence marshal his personal male fears through
a blatant but shocking Freudian understanding into a history painting.
in 1934 for his commercialism,
Dali moved to the United States in
1940 to participate in its commercial culture. By 1950 he turned to
Christian and mystical subject matter—such as The Sacrament of the Last
Supper (1955)—works whose stature in the history of art is still the
subject of much debate. These late works, though, do remind us that
Dali's paintings often assert a psychological alienation,
there is at the root of his art, as with many Surrealist artists, a desire
to communicate a fuller sense of life.
Soft Construction with Boiled Beans:
Premonition of Civil War
Dali's private repressions and dreams
could be marshaled into a powerful account of
as in this painting devoted to the
Spanish Civil War.
Giacometti & the Unseen
The Swiss sculptor
Giacometti's (1901-66) bronze "figure" Spoon Woman
(1926-27) illustrates the application of a modernist simplification of
form to a highly personalized and playful use of African wood carving. The
combination of woman and spoon, produced several years before
Giacometti joined the Surrealists, was the type of
disjunction and visual metamorphosis that appealed to their aesthetic.
His 1932 cast bronze floor piece,
Woman with Her Throat Cut, confronts us uncomfortably with the
problematic aspects of violence and sexuality within the heterosexual and
primarily patriarchal orientation of Surrealism. True, the figure is more
insect than woman, a type of anthropomorphizing revered by many
Surrealists, and it is more thorax than throat that has been cut. But the
title moves us purposefully to "woman" and the death throes are
cannibalized into a fairly blatant psychosexual eros typical in sadism.
Biological sexual instincts are, of course, at the base of Freud's theory
of the psyche and served the Surrealists as a metaphor for creativity in
addition to being another way to shock the middle class. However, a work
like this brings more than sexual drive and creativity to the foreground.
The debate, like that over the libertine
French author Marquis de Sade, the mentor of much of the later Bataille
wing of Surrealism, is not resolved even today. It is maintained between
those who interpret such images as testimonials to a blatant misogyny in
much of Surrealism and others who see them as constructs to confront the
public with its uncomfortable truths. The doll constructions (La Роuрeе),
which are Freudian fetish-objects, and the drawings and photographs of
them by the German Surrealist
Hans Bellmer, place this question
directly: What are the problems and the consequences of latent sexual
fantasy now made manifest? Most Western cultures wrestle unevenly with the
issue of the repressed, though public interpretations often differ from
the intentions of the artist. The latter also raises a question central to
much of modern art—the strategies, role, and function of
consciousness-raising by intellectuals. Dreams of liberation, sexual or
political, most frequently remain latent for a variety of reasons.
Several interpretations of
works are valid to varying degrees but they rarely encompass the sum total
of their richness. The sculptor's wooden table-top structure The Palace
at 4 AM. (1932-33) is considered a masterpiece in sculpture of the
Surrealist dream tableaux found in paintings. More baffling is his 1934-35
Hands Holding the
Void (Invisible Objects). Like his "Palace" but
less objectified, the "primitivized" figure, whose face derives from a
World War I gas mask, holds that which cannot be seen—the object and
central contradiction of the Surrealist program: The invisible is the
marvelous and it may be manifest anywhere in the world. In the following
decade the quest to "truly see" will turn
work in another direction and he will renounce these works as useless
Woman with Her Throat Cut
Fully informed by Surrealist and Freudian
theory, with a penchant for the Kafkaesque anthropomorphising of insects,
created a disturbing construction from his private fantasies of
death and passion.
developed late in Surrealism, likely because its solidity seems
antithetical to their psychic experiments. It developed after the Second
Manifesto in the 1930s as interest in automatism faded, in tandem with the
rise of the illusionistic painting of
Magritte, and others. Although none of it can be called
traditional sculpture, there did develop a new, important category of
"objects." With some, like
sculptures appeared late in life as extensions of the fantastic biomorphs
already created in painting. For others, like Arp, sculptural form was to
be a by-product of the principles embedded in both nature and the artist's
psyche. Max Ernst frequently developed a more concrete subject
matter that associates references to mythological or "ancient" presence
and the psyche. His The King Playing with the Queen (1944) is a
variation on a work whose central image, the horned king, emerged from
automatist painting, much like
Sculpture and Objects
Perhaps the more important domain, one
that became the predominant vehicle for the Surrealists, was the
"Surrealist object." The Surrealist object is a three-dimensional collage
of found objects chosen for their poetic meaning or psychic resonance
rather than for aesthetic values.
Giacometti were the first to make
titled "Objects of Symbolic Function." In a sophisticated argument the
Surrealists placed a primacy on real objects that maintain their
integrity. Old art relied too much on the artist as manipulator of
materials; Surrealism, like the analyst, was more "objective" in the
discovery of the marvelous in the world. At the same time, in
psychoanalytic terms of dream analysis, they recognized that objects,
inclusive of body parts or
Duchamp's ready-mades, by choice or
chance, were repositories of personal desire made objective.
and others were inveterate flea-market habitues, since finding "things" of
objectified desire, they believed, was akin to poetry.
1936 Lobster Telephone is less poetic, more designed to
startle through incommensurate objects in the same way that his paintings
Breton's "poem-objects" and
"Poetic Objects" are closer to the visual complexity and multiple levels
of association necessary to be poetic. Perhaps the best examples come from
an American who was too reclusive to join the Surrealists but was greatly
influenced by them.
Joseph Cornell's little boxes of
found objects, often with movable parts designed to make noise and
including music boxes—such as the 1945 construction The Hotel Eden—are
poetic recreations of moments, places, and meanings in his life.
Oppenheim's famous Object, a cup, saucer, and spoon
covered in fur, invokes a primordial pun whose open reference to the
sexual congress wittily applies in an everyday oral activity. The
Surrealists made hundreds of such "objects" work on many levels.
A favored Surrealist object was that of
the mannequin. These proliferated in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, and
appeared most famously in multiplication along a constructed "Street of
Surrealism" for the 1938 international exhibition in Paris. The precise
meaning of the mannequins varied. In early 1959
Oppenheim attempted such a definition, apparently serving a
banquet at her home and utilizing the body of a woman on a table as a food
service tray. When
Breton heard of this event he asked
her to reproduce it at their 1959 International Exhibition on the theme
"EROS," using mannequins of men and women.
Dali was likely the first Surrealist to
introduce objects in the place of sculpture, but his
intention was not, as was
Duchamp's, to challenge the
meaning of art;
Dali wanted Surrealist objects to
The Surrealists brought a new category
of object into existence, alongside "sculpture."
on locating poetic moments in the world demanded a serious sense of
the "objective" world.
The dislocation through unreconcilable
objects was the new surreality.
The Hotel Eden
Trotsky and Breton
Women and Surrealism
and Surrealism both made promises that could not be fully kept regarding
the role of women and the emerging feminist consciousness in the early
twentieth century. Unrestricted freedom against control and domination was
the dream of Surrealism and in the acceptance and celebration of the
nature of instinct lay the supposed power to subvert repression.
The Surrealist celebration of love, of
an open sexuality, mostly heterosexual, and the great weight they placed
on the concept of "woman" helped advance the acceptance of women as
independent and powerful creators. But accepting woman as an ideal rather
than real construction (la femme)—muse, mystery, fantasy—along with
the play of objectification of women and sexuality inherent in Freudian
psychology, and, the culturally established sexism that men could not
personally escape, all these worked as a reduction. However, the degrees
of liberation and repression are relative to the viewer.
Oppenheim accepted the "male-centered-ness" of Surrealism
as a standard historical attitude. To her liberated perspective, there was
only full and equal acceptance of women in Surrealism. The female "muse,"
a role she played in front of
Man Ray's camera, could be seen
simply as the male attempting to deal with the female side of his nature.
Leonor Fini, born in Buenos Aires and
an international traveler and artist by her late teens, reportedly hated
Breton's authoritarianism. Despite her many good friendships with the
group and occasional exhibition she refused to join. Nor was the most
famous woman "Surrealist,"
Frida Kahlo, a member. Despite being
Breton, who stayed with
Diego Rivera, and Trotsky in Mexico
Kahlo rejected Surrealism as a Europeanized overlay. She
was heir to Mexico's magic realism, an indigenous tradition, and there
remained a divide between those of
Tellingly, the photographic portraits of
women Surrealists appear only in informal snapshots and are missing from
the official group portraits. Yet more women exhibited with the
Surrealists with more open exchange between men and women as creators than
in any other modern art movement.
In some cases, personal relationships
were established between male and female Surrealists, but it was not the
traditional causal relation of artistic influence as usually assumed. For
instance, the American painter
Kay Sage went on to marry
in 1940 but had established a career with a one-woman exhibition years
prior their meeting. It was an admiration for her work that drew the
Surrealists to her, especially
Typically among Surrealists there was the affinity of shared aesthetics.
cool, smooth-surfaced vistas, as in her Danger, Construction Ahead
(1940), certainly paralleled
Tanguy's work but speak to a quite
different architectural and psychological world.
Carrington, an English painter and writer, met
in 1937 and returned to Paris with him. By 1940 they were separated, and
in 1942 she was living in Mexico, where she went on to make a life as a
writer as well as painter.
Carrington's atavism certainly
Ernst's but her purposeful mixture of
animal passion, alchemy, and the feminization of the creative spirit wove
a magical ground at once powerful and unique in experience.
Tanning, an American, met
in New York and they married in 1946, the year they settled in Arizona.
Her works share with
Ernst a feel for
Chirico's space and a general air of strangeness filled
with strong forces, but her imagery and her rather ferocious energy are
the results of a serious exploration of no other but her own psyche.
Object (Luncheon in Fur),
From One Day to the Next
Kay Sage; The Upper Side of the Sky,
Trained in the United
States and Italy,
Sage's first one-woman exhibition in 1936 was in Milan.
In Paris from 1936 to 1939, she was hailed by the Surrealists. She was
in the United States in 1940, where she executed this work.
sparse expanse of isolated landscape gains tension from her sharp,
Tanning in 1948;
Ein klein nachtmusik,
The Two Fridas, 1939
first big canvas was painted for the 1940s international Surrealist
exhibition held in Mexico City,
at the time of her divorce from Diego
Rivera, represented by the bleeding heart.
Frida is Mexican,
indigenous, and loved; the other is European, as is Surrealism,
whose members admired her work, but which she never joined.
It is often argued that the introduction
of photography in the mid-nineteenth century created a problem for art,
since painting now had to find a new role outside representation.
Surrealism, though, turned the tables and problematized photography by
using its very strength, its inherent ability to create an image we assume
is factual and objective, to its advantage. Once a sense of the mysterious
could be located within and through photography, it was the perfect medium
for Surrealism and no movement employed photography so extensively.
Man Ray's rayographs
objectified or "found" another dimension of the physical world, just as
storefront and doorway reflections documented entwined and shifting
perspectives Dora Maar, a photographer
best known through her relationship with
Picasso from 1935 to
1942, was an independent member of the Surrealist movement.
Maar understood and
objectified the dark humor, or "umour," as Jacques Vache called it, of the
Surrealists. Through her photograph of Pere Ubu she gave a
strange but physical embodiment to the fictional character from Alfred
Jarry's play. Pere Ubu's appetites proved too much for himself and his
country but he was a self-contained anarchist beloved by the Surrealists
in his bestial form. The true animal nature of civilization was about to
reveal itself shortly in a more serious manner.
Under the influence of
Raoul Ubac ,
a Belgian artist, used photomontages, solarization, and "brulage," a
singeing of the negatives to melt them prior to printing. In his
Battle of the Amazons, the edges of the work physically
erupt to become the images as they move in and out of a darkened matrix of
war. It is a mythic battle which simultaneously maintains its mystery and
a sense of the factual, since the year 1939 documents the eruption of
World War II.
The insistence in Surrealism of locating
the intersection of the real and the unreal had a major impact in
documentary photography, practiced by such well known commercial
who worked for Harper's in the 1930s, as did his colleague and
Kertesz; also involved was one of the most famous of World War II
who earlier had shot for Vogue. All three were intimates of the
Surrealist circle; all three transferred what they learned, saw, and shot
into variations of their commercial and artistic work. It is perhaps
Miller, though, that
Surrealism best served, if in an oblique manner. Her photographs were the
first to record in full detail and make real to a disbelieving public the
horrors of the Nazi genocide at Dachau and Buchenwald in 1944. As a
realist, she documented the most bestial and "unreal" acts possible within
the real world. The genuine madness of the world had outstripped and given
lie to the dreams of the Surrealists.
Muse, model, surrealist and war photographer,
witnessed at first hand the best and worst of the twentieth century.
was her lover,
Pablo Picasso her friend, she danced
with Chaplin and bathed in Hitler's bath tub.
Her work includes Vogue fashion spreads and the first images of
But after the war she put away her camera and devoted herself to married
life in Sussex.
Holding Fishing Spear and
Dead Octopus, Cote d’Azur, France, August 1937
Lee Miller in Hitlers Badewanne
Photographiert von dem "Life"-Photographen David E. Scherman,
Lee Miller zusammenarbeitete,
and Roland Penrose
Lee Millerr in Picasso's
Hand reaching for umbrella fringe
The Lives of Lee Miller
Coming first to Surrealist theory then to
photography, this Belgian artist was able to develop techniques to match a
vision expressed by Bataille as "living on the edge of limits where all
understanding breaks down."
Portrait dans un miroir
Battle of the Amazons
(1894 - 1985)
Distortion # 48
Pere Ubu was a
comical/sinister hero with a pointed skull and a big nose and belly—
dictator so self-centered and anarchistic that all laws were contained in
his own belly.
The Yugoslavian photographer
Maar gives us the bestial
image of the beloved character.