Posts From March, 2009

Article on Magritte: Ceci n'est pas an artist  

Saturday, March 28, 2009 9:38:49 AM

Ceci n'est pas an artist

By Andrew Lambirth Saturday, 28 February 1998

How shall we remember Surrealism? Last month a row broke out in Belgium over the arrangements made to celebrate the centenary of the great Surrealist artist Rene Magritte. Surrealism is by its nature subversive, say those Surrealists and their followers left alive, and its protagonists would never have tolerated official recognition. Nothing could be more foreign to the true spirit of Surrealism than this kind of Disneyfication. Perhaps these veterans fear that if Surrealism is tamed, its potency as an artworld force will be extinguished, and as a movement it will be relegated to the history books. Doubtless the ghost of Magrittte watches the proceedings with a sardonic smile.

The oldest living Surrealist, certainly in England and perhaps in the world, is Conroy Maddox (born 1912, or according to some sources, 1908). Still active as a painter, collagist and object-maker, Maddox recently opened a retrospective of work by the odd (even by Surrealist standards) couple, Dr Grace W. Pailthorpe (1883-1971) and Reuben Mednikoff (l906- 1976). Charmingly titled "Sluice Gates of the Mind", this exhibition continues at Leeds Art Gallery until 8 March, and might be viewed as an appetiser to the Magritte-fest. Maddox comments on the general interest in the psychological investigations of Pailthorpe-Mednikoff, and reports that there is still great enthusiasm for all branches of Surrealism. If as an art movement Surrealism now has little political force, that is because it has been so thoroughly absorbed into the mainstream of art and life. Even if we don't realise it, we are all now a little surrealistic.

Maddox condemns the gimmickry of the Magritte celebrations, but sighs, half in resignation. "I think the real spirit of Surrealism is still there, so this kind of thing should matter - it debases Surrealism." The Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels, in cahoots with the Belgian Tourist Board, have implemented such abominations as a "Magritte Trail", visiting the artist's old haunts. The theme-park mentality is in danger of smothering the real mystery of Magritte's best work, and that cool epigrammatic wit, which is even more popular today than it was in the artist's lifetime.

What is so special about Magritte? He was the supreme modernist in that he recognised the disparity between words and their ability to describe the thing they name. He was crucially aware of the unreliability of language, of its inexactitude. Magritte distilled images of wonderful poetic resonance to illustrate this. He always maintained that "the function of painting is to make poetry visible." He was a storyteller in a style of hallucinatory ordinariness, yet produced puzzle pictures which demand a double-take. He made us think about how we decode images.

"Snapshots of the impossible" is how the art critic Robert Hughes acutely describes Magritte's paintings. Magritte had the ability to make the dream look real, to capture the overpowering dread of nightmare, to snare what Andre Breton, self- styled pope of Surrealism, liked to call "convulsive beauty". Art wasn't supposed to be comfortable like an old armchair, it was intended to shock. Nor was it meant to be too closely analysed or explained. As David Sylvester, the leading authority on Magritte, says, the artist wanted the mystery of his pictures "to be confronted, not interpreted".

Magritte originated the most extraordinary imagery, some of which has now become the stuff of visual cliche, though much retains its freshness and bite. A fleet of long loaves gliding past the window; the half-span of a bridge disappearing into nothingness; the pipesmoker whose nose curves down to plug into his pipe's bowl (shades of Monty Python). Images were born of long deliberation. Magritte, like GK Chesterton, loved paradox. Chesterton's line "One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak" would have struck a chord with Magritte. He was the supreme artist of the hybrid image - the alternative and scary view. For instance, the alternative mermaid: a fish with human (female) lower half, which the artist Patrick Hughes has slyly dubbed "a practical man's mermaid".

Rene Magritte was a naturalistic Surrealist - if such a term is not a complete contradiction for one who queried the very existence of the real. His work had all the lack of expression of a signwriter. In terms of the application of the paint, there was little overt personality, apart from two periods when Magritte attempted something different (his short-lived "Renoir" and "Fauve" periods). He made no claim to advance the technique of painting; his style derived from late Symbolism. As Conroy Maddox says: "If you look at it as painting, it's the worst kind of 19th-century academic stuff, but Magritte rises above it ... he deals with ideas beautifully." The importance of Magritte lies in him as an image-maker, as a philosopher- painter. He disliked the name of artist, saying merely that he was someone who communicated his thought through painting. This was why his style of painting was so literal; its purpose was to convey the clarity of his thought without painterly frills.

As to character, Magritte was melancholic and sarcastic, with a taste for black humour. He was a pessimist who led an outwardly ordinary life, working at home, either in the kitchen or the dining room. He lived virtually all his life in Brussels, apart from a brief interlude (1927-30) on the outskirts of Paris, He kept budgies and Pomeranians. Evidently he needed to be inconspicuous. George Melly, who met Magritte and for some years owned the major painting entitled The Rape, says, "I always thought of him as a kind of spy."

However, an old friend of Magritte's, the poet, collagist and dealer ELT Mesens (who also became George Melly's mentor), was continually feuding with the artist. For his part, Mesens wanted to pigeonhole Magritte as a model bourgeois who reserved his audacity for his work. But Magritte was too aware of the absurd for that. He posed once, straight-faced, for a photograph, wearing a tuba as if it were a bowler hat.

Marcel Marien, the Belgian writer and artist, wrote to me some years ago that "Magritte acted many times very unusually: doing fake Picassos, Braques and Chiricos. Also making (with his brother who printed the banknotes) fake money. In fact, in daily life, he acted not at all as a bourgeois, making many jokes. It is too big a matter to describe..." Marien, to whom had fallen the task of selling the forgeries, was the first of three surrogate sons to Magritte. Twenty-three years younger, he was particularly close to Magritte during the war years. Their friendship ended in 1954, and in a complex hoax of 1962 Marien accused Magritte of selling out for financial gain. (Actually, success didn't suit Magritte, and he'd never sought it.)

The Surrealists went in avid search of le merveilleux, the inner meaning of things present just below the skin of reality. They sought to startle, to disturb. Surrealism was a new language. The Surrealists, unlike most art movements, were actively political and wanted to transform the world. One of their writer-heroes was the Comte de Lautreamont (aka Isidore Ducasse, 1846-70), who was responsible for this compelling image: "As beautiful as the chance encounter upon an operating-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella". This is the order of Magritte's imagery.

How committed a Surrealist was Magritte? He was not a fully-paid-up member of the Parisian Surrealist Group: they needed him more than he needed them. Artistically, he was more of a loner. He wanted intellectual support and stimulation largely from the poets of the Belgian chapter. In 1930 he quarrelled with Breton. He dismissed what the Surrealists got up to as artificial, disliking their petty feuds and stance-taking. Later he burnt all his Surrealist possessions - though not, of course, the paintings.

There is a deep vein of humour in Magritte, though it is always delivered deadpan. In the early 1930s he painted a door with a hole in it shaped as if someone had just walked right through it, an image so effective it was soon adopted by countless film-makers. Magritte was also addicted to puns: there is a 1936 picture in which he depicts himself painting a bird, but using an egg as his model; the title is Clairvoyance.

What kind of influence has Magritte exerted on later generations? His serial imagery foreshadows Warhol - compare the four compartments of Magritte's Man Reading a Newspaper: the man is present only in one, but otherwise the four are identical. Nothing happens, as nothing much occurs in Warhol's films. Also, like Warhol, Magritte was not over-concerned with the original painting. Since it was the image that mattered, he was quite content that its message be disseminated through copies, variants or printed reproductions (in later life, Magritte shamelessly recycled his early ideas). Unlike Warhol, however, he was never particularly interested in artist prints, considering the process both too technical and too mechanical.

Although Pop was primarily a development of Magritte's vision, he hated to be called the father of Pop art. He thought Pop a joke, derided its humour as "orthodox" and "within the reach of any successful window decorator". (Perhaps this was a crack at Dali who had made quite a reputation for himself in New York by surrealising the Fifth Avenue department store Bonwit Teller's window displays.) Pop shared with Surrealism the rejection of aesthetics for its own sake, and wanted to bring together art and actual experience. Both movements celebrated the common object. But whereas Surrealism challenged the conventional and everyday, Pop deified it. This was the great difference between them.

How does Surrealism stand today? The viewing public has long lost its innocence. Just before Breton died in 1966 he lamented, "It is no longer possible to scandalise anyone." Of course that isn't quite true, as the presence of Marcus Harvey's portrait of Myra Hindley and the Chapman brothers' mannequins at the Royal Academy's "Sensation" exhibition proved. People are still shocked, but it is not by the art-form, it is by the content. Maybe it was ever thus: Magritte's imagery shook the public up, not his painting technique. Likewise, Dali's soft watches were painted with Renaissance virtuosity. Today's Young British Artists are in a direct line of descent from Pop art, which in turn developed out of Magritte's brand of Surrealism. Does that make the YBAs third-generation Surrealists?

Not really. Too many of the YBAs are strikingly lacking in inventiveness (most of their "ideas" are second-hand versions of earlier 20th-century art) and determinedly knowing and cynical. They don't want to change anything, merely to exploit it. Their fondness for outrageous behaviour does not qualify them as honorary Surrealists - if anything, they exhibit more the traits of nihilism. Too often, they don't shock in order to challenge stale conventions, or to make us think, but for the sake of publicity. (Compare the Chapmans' low-life nastiness with the revolutionary obscenity of the Surrealist Hans Bellmer's horribly mal-jointed dolls.) There is not the slightest whiff of idealism about the YBAs, but in this perhaps they epitomise the contemporary spirit. They act more like rock or film stars than artists.

From the early 1970s Magritte's images became increasingly popular. Posters of The Red Model and Golconda adorned many a bedsit. Idea-hungry advertising executives seized on Magritte, and have still not exhausted him more than 20 years later. Pastiches and adoptions continue to appear - Golconda, for instance, was the basis for one of a very successful series of tobacco adverts, the rain of bowler-hatted men exchanged for a cigarette-shower. As David Sylvester has pointed out, Magritte is "the world's most popular provider of images for the covers of paperback books, fiction and non- fiction alike".

The latest offshoot of the Magritte industry is a children's book entitled Now you see it - now you don't by Angela Wenzel (Prestel/Biblios pounds 9.95). It is a bold attempt to tell the stories behind Magritte's pictures, without dumbing them down. But at what age group is this admirable little book aimed? The illustrations include Magritte's painting The Portrait, which depicts a slice of ham with a human eye in its middle. Isn't it rather too horrible, the stuff of nightmares? Just when we think we've seen it all, Magritte comes along to refresh our jaded palates and remind us of the fundamental mystery of existence: nothing should be taken for granted

The Magritte retrospective will include some 300 paintings and gouaches, along with documents, films and examples of his commercial art. At the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, 6 March-28 June.


Maritte's Associates: Marcel Marien 

Saturday, March 28, 2009 8:46:01 AM


I'm going to do a few blogs about Magitte's friends and close associates. Marcel after seeing a painting by Magritte in 1937 decided to seek out the artist. He became an important associate in the late 1930s and 1940s. The friendship ended (and some subsequent litigation) when Marien published a pamphlet purportedly written by Magritte and announcing absurd price reductions of the master's work. Below are several bios and articles including two obits from 1993.  

Marcel Mariën (April 29, 1920, Antwerp – September 19, 1993, Brussels) was a Belgian surrealist, (later Situationist), poet, essayist, photographer, filmmaker, and maker of objects. Initiator of étrécissements. Wrote the first monograph on René Magritte. He was a close friend of Paul Nougé. His book L'Activité Surréaliste en Belgique is an account of the surrealist movement in Belgium. The appearance of his autobiography in 1983 Le Radeau de la Mémoire produced a scandal. He founded his own publisher Les Lèvres Nues in 1954 and directed his review Le Ciel Bleu with Christian Dotremont and Paul Colinet. Worked as a translator in Communist China from 1963 until 1965 but came back very disappointed about Maoism.

Biography (Edited and translated by Richard Matteson)

Marcel Mariën was born in Antwerp the April 29th 1920, to a Wallon mother and of a Flemish father. In 1933 he entered  the college of Antwerp where he had difficulty because the classes were given entirely  in Flemish. When he was fifteen years old he worked as an apprentice photographer and learned photography. The same year he attended a School for workers and saw two prints by Rene Magritte. In 1936 he discovered surrealist books and reviews, and began to write surrealist poems. While making money working for a stockbroker  in 1937 he met  Rene Magritte in Brussels and through him he met Paul Colinet then Louis Scutenaire, Irene Hamoir, and Paul Nougé. He traveled to London and took part in the September surrealist exhibit organized by E.L.T. Mesens. He exhibited his first work of art (titled "Untraceable" given by Magritte)- his eyeglasses, which had just broken, now with only one glass in the frame.

After serving in the military in Antwerp (January 1939) for seventeen months, Mariën collaborated in January 1940 in the collective works of Magritte and Ubac. During the German invasion of Belgium, he looked after the casualties at the hospital of Antwerp before being evacuated in May. He brought with him two large bags of books which he refused to leave. Whe he reached Dunkirk and Berck, He is taken prisoner, goin to Antwerp by foot then crossing into Belgium by truck. He was taken by train to Nuremberg then to camp Görlitz into High Silesia, close to Hohenelbe (Vrchlabi in Czech). In 1941, after nine months of captivity,  he was released in Antwerp, and traveled to Brussels by bicycle where he found Magritte, Nougé, Scutenaire, Ubac and met Christian Dotremont. Through the editions then called The Magnetized Needle (name given by Nougé) he published Moralité about the dreams of Paul Éluard, which included three drawings of Magritte. He met “Elisabeth” his love for the next ten years.

Mariën along with Scutenaire and Nougé published a collection of paintings by Magritte. From 1942 he frequently went to Paris clandestinely selling forged paintings by Magritte of Renoir, Picasso, Leger, and De Chirico. Marien wrote,  “From 1942 with 1946, I sold a big number of drawings and paitnings (gouches), mostly forgeries of Picasso, Braque and Chirico, all made by Magritte." 

He can thus publish several works under the sign the inaccurate Mirror. While working on the review, "The Hand with Feather," he met in Paris Queneau, Leiris, and the painter Dominguez. In August 1943 he published the first biography of Magritte where he defended in 1947 Magritte's new style- the “Renoir" period. Along with Leuwen and Dotremont, Marien organized a conference on surrealism. In 1945 Mariën contributed to the review, the Blue Sky, along with Colinet and Dotremont, and started to publish with Magritte a series of mystifying and subversive booklets "The Imbecile," "The Bloody Nuisance" and "The Enculor." He contributed to "The Ground is not a Vale of Tears" with Breton, Char, Colinet, Dominguez, Dotremont, Eluard, Irene Hamoir, Magritte, Picasso, Queneau, Scutenaire,and Ubac. In 1946 and 1947, he contributed to the collection, The Inaccurate Mirror.

In 1948 Mariën settled as secondhand bookseller in Brussels (With the Mirror by Elizabeth), surviving by working as a typewriter. In 1951 he taveled to Rotterdam on the Swedish, cargo liner “Silver Ocean” equipped with refrigerated containers for the transportation of fruit. He traveled between the the French Antilles (Fort-de-France or Low-Ground) and the Normandy (Rouen or Dieppe), smuggling of cigarettes and perfumes. When he returned to Brussels in 1953 he spent time with a prostitute in the district of the North station and wrote articles for the cultural adviser Soviet. He collaborated with Rene Magritte and his brother Paul Magritte, to distribute 500 one hundred franc counterfeit Belgian bills which were drawn and engraved by the painter (see article in this blog elaborating on this- Magritte Forgeries by Patricia Allman). By 1954 he left Magritte and worked, along with Jane Graverol and Nougé, on the review, The naked Lips, a subversive, anticlerical and stalinist review centered on the poetic and theoretical writings of Nougé.

Marcel Mariën: Ne faites pas attention à la photographie (Don't pay attention to the photography)
By France Lejeune

Marcel Mariën was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1920, a single child in modest and rather unhappy surroundings. His mother was eager for him to leave school so that he could earn some money.

When he left school at the age of 15, he became an apprentice to a photographer for a year, doing all the menial jobs. He set up a small studio at his home, but continued to work in odd jobs.He became acquainted with Surrealist publications, and, at the age of 17, he went to Brussels to meet René Magritte. He, a youngster 20 years junior to Magritte, was welcomed into the circle of Brussels surrealists.

In 1937 he started to make collages and some photos in the surrealist tradition. In December 1937 he participated in the group exhibition 'Surrealist Objects and poems' in the London Gallery. In Paris he met Breton, Eluard, Picasso, Hugnet...

He came to art, not being able to draw or paint. However it was not a major constraint for Mariën. He made two- and three-dimensional collages, exposing the physical and metaphysical connections between things.

In 1939 he enlisted in the Belgian Army and did his military service. In the early stages of WWII, he was captured and made a prisoner of war in Germany. After his release, he returned to Brussels, where he wrote the first monograph on René Magritte. During the war, he met a young widow, Elisabeth Altenloh, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship for eight years.

In order to make ends meet during the war, René Magritte painted fakes (e.g., false Max Ernst and de Chirico paintings). Mariën was given these works to sell in Paris on commission. In 1948 Mariën opened the bookshop 'Au miroir d'Elisabeth'. The business is not a great success. In 1950 Mariën had to close it down. In 1953 he helped René and Paul Magritte to distribute false bank notes on the Belgian coast. He left Belgium and worked on a Danish cargo ship for two years.

In 1959, he directed the film 'L'imitation du cinéma' with his associate Leo Dohmen. Dohmen, Mariën and Gilbert Senecaut set up a scheme to win a contest at the newspaper where Mariën was working. With the winnings, they financed the making of the film. The film caused a scandal and was banned in France. Mariën continued to write and publish numerous books. His best known publication was the magazine 'Les Lèvres Nues', for which Guy Debord wrote a contribution.

In June 1962, a Magritte retrospective was shown in the casino of Knokke. At this point, there is general recognition and wide acceptance for Magritte. Together with Leo Dohmen, Mariën made and distributed the pamphlet 'Grande Baisse'. They pretended that the pamphlet came from Magritte himself. In this pamphlet the 'Great painter' advertised big discounts on his most successful works. These could be ordered in various sizes. A majority of supporters, intellectuals and journalists were taken in by this fake communication. The episode put an end to 25 years of friendship between Magritte and Mariën.

At the end of 1962, Mariën lived in New York. When he tried to return home, through the Orient, he ended up in communist China. He went to work for the French edition of a propaganda magazine. This was not from sympathy for Mao or China, but simply due to lack of money. The Chinese were the only ones to offer him a job and a ticket for the boat back to Belgium.

In 1965 he finally moved back to Brussels. His friend Leo Dohmen encouraged him to go back to making collages. In 1969 he had his first solo exhibition in Brussels at Galerie Defacqz. From that point on he received many solo and group exhibitions in Belgium and abroad.

Mariën was not a very practical man. His companion Hedwige Benedix helped him with the production of his works. After she died, Mariën returned to photography. From 1980 until his death in Brussels in 1993, he never stopped taking photographs.

During the last years of his life, he was also a very prolific publisher. Among his many books were two publications on his photographs. In 1984 he published “Le sentiment photographique” and in 1985 “La femme entrouverte”. The English edition 'Woman Ajar' was seized by the customs at the border and the books were destroyed. Mariën was not, like his friend Leo Dohmen, a good-looking and natural-born rascal, so he made big efforts to lead an adventurous and exciting life.

In 1988 he published his autobiography, 'Le radeau de la mémoire'. In his book Marien recounts his first visit to prostitutes, his time as a prisoner of war, his (sex) life as a sailor on a cargo ship and the schemes with Magritte to sell falsified paintings and distribute forged bank notes. But we learn very little about his more emotional and personal relationships. He was careful to hide his feelings behind stories of adventure and mischief.

"Don't pay attention to (the) photography" might seem a bizarre title for a book on photographs. It is inspired by the title of Mariën's 1974 solo show in Liège in the Galerie de l'APIAW, 'Ne faites pas attention à la peinture'. It meant that we should focus on the ideas in his work and not on the execution.

In the same way, we should not pay too much attention to the technical aspects of his photographic work. Photography for him is just another tool to cause embarrassment and pleasure, laughter and poetical emotion. He arranges intriguing scenes, usually with the body of a woman as canvas, playing with objects, toys and words. Then he records the scene by taking the photo.

Marcel Marien, 73, Associate of Magritte
Published: Saturday, October 9, 1993

Marien, a publisher, artist and writer and one of the last of the circle of Belgian Surrealists who gathered around the painter Rene Magritte, died on Sept. 19 in Schaerdeeck, a suburb of Brussels. He was 73.

Mr. Marien was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1920, into a poor family, and apprenticed to a photographer at age 15. In 1937, he encountered Magritte's paintings in an exhibition and sought out the artist. Within the year, he had his own work included in an exhibition of the close-knit Belgian Surrealist group. Although he worked as a photographer, collagist, film maker and critic, his main achievement was as a chronicler of the Belgian Surrealists' activities and a publisher of their writings.

Mr. Marien wrote the first monograph on Magritte, which was published in 1943. In 1954, he founded Les Levres Nues, a publishing enterprise that brought out the writings of such Belgian Surrealists as Paul Houge, Louis Scutenaire and Andre Souris, as well as Magritte himself, in a series that extended to hundreds of titles. In 1979, Mr. Marien published "L'Activite Surrealistes en Belgique," a chronological record of all the documents, manifestos, tracts and articles pertaining to the group that appeared between 1924 and 1950.

Obituary: Marcel Marien by SILVANO LEVY
Saturday, 2 October 1993

Marcel Marien, publisher, poet, artist, writer: born Antwerp 29 April 1920; publications include Notes 1943, Magritte 1943, Les Corrections naturelles 1947, Theorie de la revolution mondiale immediate 1958, Dix Tableaux de Magritte 1946, L'Activite surrealiste en Belgique 1979; died 19 September 1993.

WHEN I asked Marcel Marien how he perceived himself he gave the somewhat misleading reply 'Je suis editeur.' That was certainly not untrue but it was far from the full story.

As a publisher, his significance has been considerable. From its inception in 1954, his publishing enterprise, Les Levres Nues, has ceaselessly sought to bring the work of the Belgian Surrealist writers to public attention. Paul Nouge, Louis Scutenaire, Irene Hamoir, Andre Souris and Paul Colinet feature in the various issues of the series, which extends to hundreds of titles. The collection 'Le Fait Accompli', issued from 1968 to 1975 by Les Levres Nues and comprising 135 numbers, was particularly suited to the often aphoristic and incomplete texts produced by the Belgian group. Its high-quality, in-quarto format, sometimes comprising no more than four sheets, succeeded in rescuing otherwise fleeting letters, tracts and statements, which may well otherwise have disappeared.

One striking example of this mission concerns some unfinished, experimental notes made by Nouge in 1928, which Marien collated and matched with corresponding photographs and then published under the title La Subversion des images. Such was Marien's systematic documentation of Belgian Surrealist activity that it produced many thorough tomes. Les Levres Nues published Nouge's collected theoretical writing under the title Histoire de ne pas rire in 1956 and in 1972 Magritte's texts from the period 1946 to 1950 appeared in Manifestes et autres ecrits. In 1979 Marien published what he had described as 'a history of Surrealist activities in Belgium' in the form of a chronological record of all the documents, manifestos, tracts and articles which appeared between 1924 and 1950.

Perhaps of more significance to the history of Belgian Surrealism, though, is that Marien was responsible for the first monograph on Magritte, published in 1943, and for the subsequent study on the artist, Les Corrections naturelles, which appeared in 1947.

Marien was far from being a detached commentator on Surrealism, however, and well before he became a guardian of the legacy of the Belgian group, he had joined its ranks. His activities began at the age of 17 when he participated in a Surrealist group exhibition in London, Surrealist Objects and Poems, organised by ELT Mesens in 1937. Yet it was not until 1967 that he was to become consistently productive. Using a variety of media, which included collage, decoupage, drawing, painting, toys, household items and even a reproduction of a Michelangelo fresco, Marien produced hundreds of humorous, puzzling and provocative tableaux which challenge and mock our preconceptions and taboos. These can never be said to constitute direct criticism but are rather ways of defying the intellect. For instance, The Houdini Memorial (1977), Marien explained, began with two hands clasped as though in prayer, which had to be wrenched from their symbolic servitude. The addition of handcuffs underlined the subjugation and humiliation implicit in the gesture. By giving the piece its title, which invokes the master of escapology, Marien reverses and defies the initial situation: the devotion is neither voluntary nor will it be insurmountable.

That Marien should urge his spectator to react against time- worn social conventions and beliefs is not surprising since his thinking is motivated by a desire to deride the norms of society, the Church and Capitalism. In a blatant attempt to challenge traditional opinions and attitudes, he produced and directed a film, L'Imitation du cinema (1959), which combined sexual outrage with religious affront. This work caused a scandal in Belgium and was banned in France. It proved impossible to have the film shown in the United States even though it had the support of the Kinsey Institute.

But Marien was not content with a detached, artistic form of mischief. He proved to be equally subversive in life. At the time of the Magritte retrospective at Knokke-Le Zoute in 1962, Marien anonymously issued a tract announcing Magritte's apparent decision to reduce his prices. This infuriated Magritte. Georgette, Magritte's widow, told me that she could never forgive Marien for his troublemaking, even 20 years later.

If Marien appeared intent on continually disrupting and questioning the reality in which he found himself, it was because he had little faith in it. As he once put it, 'Have you ever been alive? Curious sensation isn't it?'

Artist:  Marcel Mariën 
From an early age, surrealism and photography were intertwined in the life of Marcel Mariën. Born to a modest family, he left school at the age of fifteen to become apprenticed to a photographer in Antwerp. From 1936 until 1937, Mariën earned a living with menial, unrewarding jobs at photographic laboratories. It was during this time that he discovered the work of René Magritte in an exhibition in Antwerp and read the Manifeste du Surréalisme by André Breton. Mariën set up a small studio at home and embarked upon his first surrealist images, but with little result. Retreating to the darkroom allowed Mariën a chance to escape his monotonous family environment and indulge his passion for reading, writing poetry and producing collages.

Marcel Mariën corresponded with Magritte, twenty years his senior, and the two artists met in July 1937. The young man was warmly welcomed into the circle of Belgian surrealists where he forged friendships with Paul Colinet, Paul Nougé, and Louis Scutenaire.
In December 1937, Mariën took part in the group exhibition “Surrealist Objects and Poems” in the London Gallery.

His travels take him further than Antwerp and Brussels and, in 1942, after exchanging letters with René Char and Paul Eluard and, the artist meets Eluard, Picasso, Oscar Dominguez and Georges Hugnet during his first visit to Paris.

In 1943, Mariën publishes the first monograph on Magritte, which marked the official debut of a long and prolific career as author and publisher. De Sade à Lénine , the first widely known emblematic photo work by Mariën, was included in the “ Surréalisme “, exhibition at Galerie des Editions La Boétie, Brussels, between December 1945 and January 1946. The image shows a woman cutting a slice of bread, the loaf gripped tightly against her naked torso, the sharp tip of the blade pointing at left breast. With this piece, the artist was commenting: ‘the knife passes from de Sade to Lenin ».

In the vein of purest surrealist tradition, two distinct themes recur in Mariën’s photographic work: everyday objects stripped of their traditional function, and the female body as instrument of creation.

Between this short period in the 1940s and early 1980s, Mariën largely abandoned photography to pursue other media - collage, decoupage, drawing and object-making. However, from the 1950s to early 1960s, Mariën produced little plastic work; always an adventurer, his wanderlust impelled him to sign up as a sailor on Swedish cargo ship (late 1951 to early 1953), spend time living in New York (in late 1962) before deciding to live and work in Communist China. Rather than being inspired by ideological reasons, the move east had purely financial motives; Mariën had been offered a job working in Peking as corrector for the French edition of the magazine La Chine en construction (October 1963 to February 1965).

In between the periods spent abroad, Mariën managed to find the time to distribute the fake banknotes printed by René and Paul Magritte throughout the Belgian coast (May to June 1953), and to write and publish numerous works, among which his best-known magazine, Les Lèvres Nues (from 1954 onwards). The artist also directed the film L’imitation du cinéma in 1959 which caused a scandal in Belgium and was prohibited from being screened in France. In July 1962 Mariën and his collaborator Leo Dohmen wrote and circulated the tract “ La Grande Baisse”, for a major retrospective of the work of Magritte at Knokke Casino. Presented as written by Magritte himself, this pamphlet announced dramatic discounts on some of Magritte’s major pieces, and the chance to order them in different sizes. Intellectuals and art critics including André Breton in the newspaper Combat failed to grasp the joke, and praised the great Magritte.

However, the distribution of this tract brought twenty-five years of friendship between Magritte and Mariën to an end.
After his stay in China, Mariën returned to Brussels in 1965. His friend Leo Dohmen encouraged him to start making collages again and, in 1967, Mariën’s first solo exhibition was held at Galerie Defacqz in Brussels. Numerous solo and group exhibitions were to follow, in Belgium and abroad.

Throughout these years, Mariën also continued to write and publish prolifically. Publication of Lèvres Nues ceased in 1975, but was recommenced in 1987 and continued until 1993.

The bulk of Mariën’s photographic work was produced between 1983 and 1993. During this time, he also published two books dedicated entirely to his photography: Le Sentiment photographique, in 1984, and La femme entrouverte, in 1985.
Not a very practical man, Mariën’s companion, Hedwige Benedix, assisted him in the production of his works. After her death, he returned to photography, which proved an eloquent medium for expressing his ideas. Mariën’s images required rudimentary technical knowledge, relying neither on sophisticated lighting nor complex backgrounds. Nor was he intent on depicting the ideal body, or constructing the suggestive poses typical of erotic photography.

In his mise en scene of the female body with objects, Mariën eliminated technical and aesthetic aspects so as not to distract the spectator: “Ne faites pas attention à la photographie” (“Don’t pay attention to the photography”).

What we see in La banlieue is the Eiffel tower, balanced on a woman’s navel, gazing at her pubis. Mariën’s choice of title makes the elements of the image immediately legible, thus reinforcing the narrative of the photograph.

In La géante , a miniature toy horse rests on a woman’s pubic triangle. In a free association of ideas, we establish a harmonious link between the vast forest and the little animal that, with his right foreleg, seems to caress this inviting resting place.

But what is the focus of Le Mire ? Is it the Giaconda to which our eyes are drawn? Or is our gaze lured towards the untroubled valour of Mariën’s model who, between her parted legs, conceals the smile of the Mona Lisa? Setting aesthetic judgement aside, we are out-smarted by Mariën’s storytelling games.

4La mire page of the catalogue

By Matt Damsker

Catalogue accompanying the recent exhibition of the same name at France LeJeune Fine Art, Battelse steenweg 67, 2800 Mechelen, Belgium. 63 pages; approximately 40 black-and-white plates; ISBN-10 No. 90-9021382-1. Available for $25 from Vintage Works, Ltd. ; email ; phone 1-215-822-5662 and France Lejeune Fine Art ; email: .

One of surrealism's standard bearers, the Belgian art scholar and provocateur Marcel Marien (1920-1993) produced most of his photographic work, which is very rarely seen, between 1983 and his death a decade later, and this catalogue affords a broad glimpse of a playful, inelegant style that evokes the odd objectifications of such mentoring figures as Magritte and Man Ray. Marien's Man Ray-esque nude images dominated his photographic oeuvre, in fact, as he indulged a series of photographic jokes--such as a "bearded" Mona Lisa glimpsed in relation to a nude model's unshaven pudendum, or a miniature model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa held from a female crotch as if it were a penis.

These and other such mockeries of the female form, the voyeuristic gaze and the sanctity of photo-portraiture are intentionally flat and seem amateurish, but the more one looks at them, the more evident it becomes that Marien was very much in control of his medium and his point of view. On one hand, he sought to pay homage to his surrealist inspirations, while on the other, he, as a true Dadaist, was intent on painting a childlike moustache on the fine-art tradition, and he did so with a mixture of deadpan bravado and disarming glee.

It is not surprising to learn, as this catalogue tells us, that Marien's long friendship with Magritte resulted not only in the first important monograph on the great surrealist painter (published by Marien in 1943) but also the end of the friendship (and some subsequent litigation) when Marien published a pamphlet purportedly written by Magritte and announcing absurd price reductions of the master's work.

Marien did produce at least one great photograph in his youthful surrealist heyday: 1945's "De Sade a Lenine," in which a nude slices a loaf of bread with a knife that precariously edges her left nipple. The evocative photo blends political/sexual subtext with sheer compositional panache--and is a fine legacy of Marien's mischief and mastery.



Magritte: his life, his work by John Paul FOSTIER 

Friday, March 27, 2009 12:48:46 PM

Here's an interesting bio, some of the facts are wrong:

Magritte: his life, his work ...
by John Paul FOSTIER, history teacher in athénée Royal René Magritte.
translation : Christian DESERRANO, modern language teacher in athénée Royal René Magritte.

Birthplace and Family:
René Magritte was born in Lessines - home to lots of quarrymen - on November 21, 1898. But it is in "le Pays Noir" ("the Black Country" : an area of coal mines and tips) that he spent most of his childhood and adolescence, particularly in the city of Châtelet, where he studied in our school. His father, Léopold, born in Pont-à-Celles in 1870, was a tailor while his mother, Régina Bertinchamps, born in Gilly in 1871, was a modiste till she got married in 1898. After living in Lessines for a few months, his parents decided to settle in Gilly where his younger brothers, Raymond and Paul were born, respectively in 1900 and 1902. Paul who died in 1975, was a poet, a musician and a humorist; he was always very close in mind to René.

Early Years:
The whole family lived in Chatelet from 1904 to 1917, except for two temporary stays in Charleroi and Brussels in 1913 and 1916. They successively stayed at numbers 79 and 95 in the "rue des Gravelles" in Châtelet. We know very little in fact about René Magritte's youth, for this great artist was loath to look into his past. Thanks toPaul, we know that Léopold, the father, was a successful businessman who gave his family the opportunity of living handsomely and could even afford a small staff of servants. Léopold certainly had a sense of humour but must have been rather ill-natured. The tragic end of Régina Magritte, whose body was recovered in the Sambre in 1912, raised a lot of questions. No doubt she deeply influenced her son's work, in which water is omnipresent along with veiled characters (when Régina's body was taken away of the water, her face was covered with her dressing gown). After Régina's death, the education of the three brothers was entrusted to servants.

Châtelet retains the memory of boisterous and mischievous kids, who were not particularly brilliant at school. In Charleroi, where he studied at the present "Athénée Ernest Solvay", he is remembered as a student who showed very little interest in Latin and many other branches.

It is at the 1913 Fun Fair of Charleroi that he first met the one who would become his wife in 1922: Georgette Berger. René felt an artistic calling in Châtelet where he took his first lessons in art; Eugène Paulus, the well-known sculptor, must have been one of his teachers. In 1911 already, René completed his first great oil painting: "Chevaux dans une pâture" (Horses in a pasture) which filled his father's heart with pride. Magritte's early impressionist works date back to 1915.

The very first exhibition of works by René Magritte was held in the summer of 1915, in the "Château Bolle", rue de Couillet in Châtelet. This exhibition with a philanthropic goal also displayed, among others, works by Albert Chavepeyer. Between 1917 and 1919, he attended classes at the Fine Arts Academy of Brussels but took far less interest in what he was being taught than in the friendly encounters he could have there.

First steps in the art world:
In 1919, Pierre-Louis Flouquet, a French artist living in Brussels, shared his workshop with René Magritte that he introduced to cubists and futurists; Magritte also got acquainted with the Antwerps avant-garde.

In 1920, the "Centre d'Art de Bruxelles" displayed paintings by Flouquet and Magritte who, around the same time, also met Eduard T. Mesens, a Brussels artist with various talents, who was giving piano lessons to his younger brother Paul. In the first half of the 1920s, René Magritte drew some abstract pictures.

Then Marcel Lecomte made him discover "Le Chant d'Amour" (The Love Song), a metaphysical painting by Giorgio De Chirico. We can now assert that Magritte was definitely under the influence of De Chirico's use of space and metaphysical mysteries. Like him, Magritte eventually used a deliberately academic technique but his loyalty to traditional images is only apparent, the artist's wish being primarily to stress what is new and strange about daily, common images. His vivid and original contribution to the surrealist movement.

René Magritte discovered surrealism around 1925 and in 1926, he painted "Le Jockey perdu" (The lost Jockey), which, according to Magritte himself, was his first successful surrealist painting. The following year was organised in Brussels the first personal exhibition of works by René Magritte: sixty-one paintings on display at the gallery "Le Centaure".

It is in 1927 too that the first important article about Magritte's works was published by P.G. van Heecke in "Selection". That same year Magritte met Louis Scutenaire who was to become one of his main friends and collaborators. And, still in 1927, he and his wife Georgette left Brussels to settle in Le Perreux-sur-Marne, in the suburbs of Paris. They spent three years there and took an active part in the activities of the Parisian surrealist group.

But near the end of 1929, René Magritte's relations with André Breton became difficult, which partly accounts for his final comeback to Brussels in the summer of 1930. That same year proved to be financially hard for René and Georgette, although he sold Mesens some of his books and eleven of his latest works. Magritte was obliged to resume painting adverts while carrying on his pictorial work.

In 1932 he became a member of the Belgian Communist Party, which he left and joined again twice before his final withdrawal in 1945. In the years 1942-1943, René Magritte was a real ambassador of the surrealist movement; he painted and travelled a lot, giving lectures and contributing to several reviews. In 1943 he adopted a new style, painting several works in the impressionist way of Auguste Renoir for his first exhibition in Paris, in the "Galerie du Faubourg".

In 1948, Magritte took up a "vache" or "Fauvist" style which aroused anger among his best friends; but no work was sold and the artist gave up expressing himself in that style. In 1953, Magritte got an order from the Casino of Knokke, asking him for a panoramic decoration of the walls of the large gaming room, and so was "Le domaine Enchanté" created.

In October 1957, René and Georgette went to live in Schaarbeek, rue des Mimosas, 97. Personal exhibitions and retrospectives followed upon one other at a quick pace in Charleroi, Liège, Paris and New York. In 1963 his health began to decline, which brought him to spend some time in Ischia, Italy, in the course of april 1965. In spite of that, in 1965, the Magrittes took their first trip to the U.S.A. on the occasion of the retrospective held at the Museum of Modern Art of New York.

In early 1967, after a personal exhibition in Paris, René Magritte undertook the making of eight sculptures. But he didn't have the time to see his works cast into bronze; he indeed died at his home on August 15, 1967, eleven days after the opening of a retrospective of his works at the Boijmans-van Beuningen Museum of Rotterdam.



The Persistence of Mystery: René Magritte as a Regional Artist  

Friday, March 27, 2009 10:26:47 AM


Here's another great article from Online Magazine of the Visual Narrative:    
Issue 13. The Forgotten Surrealists: Belgian Surrealism Since 1924
The Persistence of Mystery: René Magritte as a Regional Artist  
Author: Janet Stiles Tyson Published: November 2005

Abstract (E): The aspect of Réne Magritte's oeuvre that best fits into conventional definitions of surrealism is that of unrelated objects brought into juxtaposition, such that they provoke a realization of mystery in the midst of daily life. However, this writing proposes that the mystery in Magritte's pictures stems from an older, Low Countries tradition of simulated, mysterious encounters - namely that of the private devotional painting. In order to link painters and paintings from the fifteenth century with an artist and pictures from the twentieth century, "The persistence of mystery" cites cultural traits - notable among them, a fondness for home life - that would establish continuity between the two groups of work in respect to their intentional conception and potential reception.

The Belgian painter René Magritte "comes from a specific artistic climate," that nurtures a "tradition of transcendent quietists - painters such as Van Eyck and Memling." Thus Dore Ashton wrote in a 1959 New York Times review of two gallery exhibitions for the artist, who died in 1967. Ashton further noted a "strange Flemish personality" that exerts a "persistent, hallucinating power." In Magritte's art, "the viewer has the feeling that something takes places that he cannot name." (Ashton 28) Ashton's reference to a regional climate that nurtures a persistent mystery or, perhaps, surrealism in fifteenth-century Netherlandish pictures and, five hundred years later, Magritte's art is not unique. Many articles on Magritte, written during the mid-twentieth century for a broad swath of educated American readers, linked his images to a region whose linguistic, religious, artistic, and political culture is far more complicated than such articles could admit.

Perhaps because of this complexity and her modernist scorn of easy interpretation, another critic summarily dismissed any such connection between Magritte's art and the region in which it was made: in her 1970 landmark monograph on Magritte, Suzi Gablik tersely stated that attempts to situate Magritte's oeuvre in a Flemish artistic tradition "cannot be pursued to advantage." There is "in some of Magritte's pictures that sense of eternality, of time suspended, which recalls the hermetic quietism associated with Memling, Van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden," Gablik conceded. "Present also is an analogous interest in ordinary objects and domestic interiors. But these tracks do not lead very far." (Gablik 13) Gablik, whose research on Magritte included an eight-month stay with the artist and his wife, Georgette, paired her own opinion with a quote she had obtained from Magritte, himself, effectively aligning their views. Magritte stated: " 'Grouping artists . because they are "Walloons" or because they might be, for example, "vegetarians," doesn't interest me at all . .' " (Gablik 13)

Thus, on one hand, stands an example of reception of Magritte's work that embraces him as heir to a regional tradition of mystery and, on the other, two authoritative and rather autocratic dismissals of the possibility . Situated between these two opinions, however, is another possibility - a case for considering Magritte as a regional artist. How can Magritte be addressed as an artist who worked within some parameters associated with the culture of a particular geographical location? How can pictures made during the fifteenth century and pictures made during the twentieth century fruitfully be compared as manifestations of regional culture? Or, can the work of one of Belgian's foremost painters be situated within a context other than that of Parisian surrealism - which continues to be perceived as definitive of the international practice? This essay will situate Magritte's work within a regional context, by demonstrating that both Magritte and the Netherlandish painters used visual motifs and strategies that would affect their viewers in comparable ways, consistent with certain characteristics of regional culture - in spite of five hundred years elapsing between the occasions of their conception. However, demonstrating such comparable means and intentions requires consideration of some related issues, among them, Magritte's resistance to classification as a regional artist. Magritte's comments about "vegetarian" artists suggest that, even after he had achieved international renown, he was concerned about any categorization that could limit appreciation of his art. Placing his art in a regional context would have become one more way of explaining its meaning - psychoanalysis would be another - and Magritte considered any attempt to decipher the mystery of his art as wrong-headed.

In light of Magritte's protests, then, a regional framing of his art seems to call for especially careful definition of the region in question - which is that part of Western Europe variously known as the Low Countries, the (Southern) Netherlands, and, since 1830, Belgium - in terms that establish continuity between cultural conditions of the fifteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. Are there aspects of visual, material, domestic, and urban culture that have persisted over the centuries in spite of hundreds of years of externally provoked political, economic, and religious upheaval, as well as internecine conflicts between the peoples of Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels? Continuity in these areas of culture makes it possible to compare artists and artworks of the fifteenth century and the twentieth century, and to compare the intentions and the visual procedures of Flemish artists who painted Christian devotional images and Magritte, a Walloon artist who lived in Brussels and painted a wide variety of secular pictures.

One cultural trait that spans the centuries and links Magritte's work with the Netherlandish pictures is an intense appreciation of domestic comfort and privacy. Since at least the fifteenth century various sources, ranging from the popular to the scholarly, have recognized this region's culture as pervasively, persistently bourgeois and focused on the rights and rites of domestic life (Elliott 65) - a trait Magritte ironically mirrored by insisting on working at home. In the exhibition catalog for Flemish and Dutch Painting: from van Gogh, Ensor, Magritte and Mondrian to Contemporary Artists , Rudi Fuchs wrote that "Flemings" keep close to their "home ground": "There, at home, on their own patch, . they encounter marvellous adventures - melancholy, absurd, lyrical, wistful, surrealist adventures." Fuchs further observed: "In his Brussels parlour Magritte conjures up fantastical anecdotes and apparitions. The windows in his paintings are the windows of the house he lives in, and the hat is his own hat." (Fuchs 25)

The region's longstanding devotion to the privacy and comforts of home has mirrored what could be called an insistence on spiritual privacy. Catholicism has endured, as the majority religion in what now is called Belgium but, for centuries, pragmatic, local respect for privacy and individual conscience continually has prevailed over dogma. (Elliott 59) In the fifteenth century, mounting discontent with much Church policy and practice prompted widespread regional resistance to centralized Roman authority and priestly pronunciations about God's word. Instead of attending church, the faithful increasingly relied on individualized, spiritual experience in the setting of the home . Devotional pictures that illustrated examples of domestic observances of religious faith would have been appreciated deeply by home-loving, fifteenth-century viewers.

Another important consideration is that of 'mystery', the word most commonly employed to describe the effect of Magritte's imagery. What is meant by this term, which often has been used to describe the effect of works by Magritte and the Netherlandish painters? Can mystery be defined in such a way as to establish a basis of comparison between the two groups of pictures? As the OED states, 'mystery' has two kinds of definition. Theologically, it is "usually, a doctrine of faith involving difficulties which human reason is incapable of solving." Non-theologically, it is "something beyond human knowledge or comprehension; a riddle or enigma." The two kinds of mystery differ in their origins, yet both resist reason and comprehension; mystery is to be accepted and experienced as necessarily and rewardingly unknowable. If mystery is thus defined, why has it been employed as an effect in these bodies of work? One possibility might be that all of the artists in question, in spite of diverging religious and secular motivations, sought to make pictures that would evoke mystery in the midst of everyday life. In doing so, they might stimulate wonder in viewers tempted by or preoccupied with domestic comfort, security, and privilege. The means they chose for achieving this end was the realistic painting of ordinary objects and/or everyday settings - in ways that eluded rational explanation. As such, focus is shifted from what pictures are supposed to mean to how pictures are intended to operate. For decades, meaning has informed reception of Magritte's pictures and the Netherlandish paintings. But recent scholarly writing about both bodies of work supports the potential for fruitful comparison of their functional operation.

In her doctoral dissertation, Lisa K. Lipinski has argued on behalf of function by applying theories of affective simulation to Magritte's pictures. On the part of the Netherlandish pictures, assertions about their affective purpose and operation have been made by Craig Harbison and Reindert Falkenburg. For all three of these writers, the viewer is neither the passive recipient of a painted fait accompli nor a layperson lacking the specialized information required for valid understanding of recondite imagery. Instead, persons who engage with the images in question participate in an exchange that is animated by both their own stores of individuated experience and by the carefully structured visual simulations set forth by various artists. As such, viewers' responses - and the idea of multiple encounters and receptions should be emphasized - contribute to the works' open-ended meanings.

One example of ways in which pictures simulate mystery is found in a traditional theme of Christian art, the Annunciation, which engages certain motifs and formal strategies common to Magritte's pictures and the Netherlandish paintings. As narrated in the Gospel of Luke, the Annunciation story is one of many Biblical accounts that situates religious and spiritual experience in mundane time and space. In it, the archangel Gabriel appears to a young Hebrew virgin named Mary, and tells her that God that has chosen her to bring his son into the material world. Not all of the pictures considered here have that specific title, and those by Magritte have no immediate visual correspondence to the Biblical story. However, it may be argued that they all have been constructed to operate in comparable ways.

The gospel narrative provides only a subtle indication of Mary's specific situation when the angel appeared. In the King James account: " . the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail! Thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee . !" Mary "was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be." The angel tells her not to be afraid and, telling her who her son will be, explains that she will conceive by the Holy Ghost. Luke 1:38 records that Mary responds by embracing the mystery: " . Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." The central panel of the Merode Triptych (c. 1375-1444) generally is accepted as the first picturing of the Annunciation in a domestic setting. Earlier, known pictures have the encounter between Mary and Gabriel outdoors or inside a church. Attributed to Robert Campin, possibly assisted by Rogier van der Weyden, the Merode panel simulates a moment shortly after Gabriel has uttered his greeting and pronouncement of Christ's significance for humanity. The materially circumscribed, everyday actuality surrounding the angel's extraordinary appearance and announcement is emphasized by two pragmatically designed pieces of contemporary furniture - a reversible bench and a tilt-top table - that are given notable prominence. The bench brackets Mary's head and shoulders. The table, set between the angel and the virgin, bears a smoking candle and a book whose pages are fluttering - both taken as evidence of Gabriel's abrupt landing.

The simulated space for Campin's proposal of everyday privacy, disrupted, is made even more intimate in van der Weyden's own Annunciation (c. 1435), which features a bench similar to that in the Merode panel, but also is furnished with a richly draped bed. The angel touches down, his knees flexed to steady his landing and/or to presage his kneeling in homage, and Mary's hand is held up in an open gesture that may indicate surprise. But, although van der Weyden imparts to his figures a greater sense of emotion than Campin's, the great drama in van der Weyden's picture is in the situation overall. As would be common in 15 th -century Bruges, a young woman from a respectable and prosperous family is reading and praying in the security of her home. Almost on top of her and quite unexpectedly, a creature in resplendent robes drops in, his wings shimmering.

But Mary is not alone in this extraordinary confrontation with the angel. The picture clearly engages the viewer, as well. While Gabriel's gaze is cast toward Mary, his body partially, invitingly, is turned toward the viewer, extending his greeting outward. Mary, even more so, is outwardly turned, as if to model gracious acknowledgement and acceptance of the angel's presence. The gentle concert between the two figures, along with their open poses, tacitly shares the situation and invites viewers to be taken into the possibility of that which is simulated. The viewer's positive embrace of the unknown is an internalization of life-giving mystery.

Harbison has cited other themes - primarily the Passion of Christ and the Sorrow of the Virgin - as simulated to encourage active reception, while Falkenburg has discerned a somewhat different function than that above for Netherlandish pictures of the Annunciation. Harbison has written about paintings that encourage viewers to "think on, envision, participate imaginatively in the life and Passion of Christ." (Harbison 95) Harbison also has emphasized the ways in which fifteenth-century artists simulated visionary experience in ordinary, everyday terms and has contrasted this quotidian quality to that of contemporaneous Italian pictures, which generally featured holy persons experiencing visions amidst dazzling light and fringes of clouds. (Harbison 99) In his essay in Early Netherlandish Painting at the Crossroads , Falkenburg, too, has noted the everyday surroundings in the Annunciation panel of the Merode Triptych . Active reception would describe this simulation of Mary's bourgeois Netherlandish house as a different sort of demonstration than the one I have proposed. Viewing the picture in relation to contemporary devotional texts, he has suggested that the room Mary occupies is a visual model for the pious viewer who wished to metaphorically furnish a wholesome and welcoming interior space - an analog, that is, for the individual heart or soul - for Christ to enter and dwell within. (Ainsworth et al 6) Without dismissing Falkenburg's reading, it seems to me that fifteenth-century pictures of the Annunciation also could serve the function Harbison has described - as inviting models for empathic, active reception.

In its turn, Magritte's L'Anonciation (1930) contains no explicit reference to the passages in Luke's Gospel. Nor would Magritte have conceived the picture to operate on a theological level. Yet Paul Nougé, who likely titled the picture after Magritte sent him a sketch of it (Whitfield 55), understood its potential in those traditional terms. Magritte often asked for or permitted his friends to suggest titles for his pictures. His solicitation and acceptance of their ideas indicates the extent to which Magritte acknowledged his pictures' affective operation and the importance of reception as a vital contribution to the meaning of his art. In the case of L'Anonciation , it furthermore indicates Magritte's awareness of the Biblical narrative as an established and oft-illustrated subject for visual artists.

Taken apart from its title, however, Magritte's painting retains the potential to startle and mystify. As an example of Magritte's anachronistic realism, L'Anonciation is painted so that each detail is asserted with equal lucidity and imminence. A large portion of the painting's surface is occupied by the cluster of strange, vertically oriented elements that comprise its central focus. Hemmed in by shrubs and ragged boulders, these elements are obviously artificial, and may be taken as architectural (the grelots-adorned, metallic-looking screen), figural (especially the pair of bilboquets), and/or a combination of both (the pierced-paper screen). Dominant by dint of its scale, placement, and bold contrasts of light and dark, this bizarre cluster suggests a ruin akin to an ancient temple in the jungle (Whitfield 55). Another possibility is its resemblance to an abandoned commercial/industrial site, the sort stumbled upon in most urban areas. In any case, its monumentality and immediacy, beneath a muted, Netherlandish sky, stimulate wonder.

It also seems that Magritte's painting extends an invitation akin to that of the fifteenth-century pictures - without the anticipation of a specific religious response. Magritte, himself, spoke of his "faith in the unknown possibilities of life" and said that human happiness depended on "an enigma inseparable from man and that our only duty is to try to grasp this enigma." (Lipinski 321) Citing Magritte's own writing, among other sources, Jacques Meuris posits that "a latent idea of the existence of an immanent deity" might inform the mystical experience Magritte sought to evoke for viewers. While acknowledging that pursuit of such a possibility is fraught with some peril, Meuris asks if the enigma in Magritte's paintings might indicate "remnants from an upbringing marked by mystification . ". (Meuris 70) And Lipinski has written that, by employing simulation, Magritte sought to "bring about an encounter, an affective experience, of wonder, surprise, disbelief, confusion or bewilderment." (Lipinski 211) Regardless of their spiritual or secular aim, such statements propose that the experience of mystery provoked by Magritte's pictures was intended to be accepted without rationalization, as such attempts would neutralize a mystery that, in Magritte's case, was secular rather than religious in nature.

Thus, in respect to both the religious and the secular images addressed herein, the viewer is challenged to relinquish logic and forego attempts at explaining the vision in familiar terms. In Magritte's painting and in van der Weyden's, the question's urgency is underscored by its being brought into the material world. The desolate site depicted in Magritte's painting may seem more alien than the room in which van der Weyden situated Gabriel and Mary. But, consistently in Magritte's pictures, what is simulated is the physical world, no matter how disrupted it may be by his fragmentation of the sky, as in Les marches de l'ete (1938 or 1939), or his use of grisaille, found in Souvenir de voyage (1951) - two examples of several paintings by Magritte that may have been informed by Netherlandish precedents. Van der Weyden and his peers generally accomplished this disruption through rather subtler means, by such visual strategies as compression and fragmentation of space. But in both bodies of work, the simulated reality is destabilized and rendered more personal and private as the instability is received and experienced by each viewer. Such an experience is all the more valuable for individuals in affluent cultures, who may insulate themselves from mortality, loneliness, and suffering (their own and that of others) by surrounding themselves with things. Magritte understood that humans possess an interior mystery, a profound realization of the possibilities of mortal existence that could be numbed by material surfeit or stirred by encounter with his mysterious pictures. The Netherlandish pictures operate within a comparable realm of intentionality. They too, are made to stimulate viewers' engagement with the mystery that is embedded within familiar, material reality.

Les Valeurs Personnelles (1952) is another painting by Magritte that arguably shares an even closer relationship to the fifteenth-century pictures discussed above. Like the setting for van der Weyden's Annunciation , the room Magritte painted in Les valeurs personnelles constitutes a crowded stage whose compressed space is enlivened by the play of gentle light and shadow. Space further is opened up or loosened by inclusion of fragmentary additions or extensions. There is the window light's reflection from pale and shiny surfaces, including the wardrobe mirrors, those mirrors' reflection of the window and the outdoor space it reveals and, of course, the blue sky and puffy clouds of the walls. Magritte's spatial strategy recalls the ways in which van der Weyden and his peers employed views through windows and exterior doors, glimpses into other rooms, areas beneath bed canopies, and reflections in mirrors to add to and complicate the definition of simulated space. Other similarities between Magritte's picture and many of those from the fifteenth century include the neatly draped bed and the attention to detail in the floor, with its casually overlapped Oriental rugs. The pencil, the shaving brush stop the armoire, and the large pill or pod are placed with the matter-of-fact informality of details typical to Netherlandish pictures - from intricately tiled floors to smartly plumped pillows. And, although Mary is not sitting on her bed in the Annunciation paintings, Magritte's leaning comb suggests an acquiescent, Mary-analogue - while the looming, centrally situated goblet exhibits the imminence and aplomb of the angel, Gabriel. This reception is not an attempt to rationalize or interpret Magritte's picture in iconographical terms, but to describe what contributes to its mystery. The bed and wardrobe suggest peace and privacy, security and order. The goblet is a precipitous presence in their midst, along with other elements one might not expect to find in a bedroom - not on such a scale, at any rate. The effect of this picture is unsettling and the viewer, in accepting the possibility of being unsettled, experiences mystery.

The ideas proposed above probably would not have persuaded van der Weyden, Jan Van Eyck, Hans Memling or any of their fifteenth-century peers that they could share conceptual intentions with a secular artist who lived five hundred years in their future. And Magritte's dismissal has been duly noted. Would those skeptics be more likely to accept another artist's opinion? In 1998, the Belgian conceptualist Wim Delvoye participated in an exhibition devoted to contemporary artists whose work was seen as kindred with Magritte's. Writing in the book that accompanied the exhibition, Delvoye observed: "We are all children of a Low Country tradition of surrounding the most obvious with a mystical or fantastic aura . . Does not the so-called Magritte-feeling of many artists exist more in a line going back to Jan Van Eyck . ?"


Ainsworth, Maryan W. et al. Early Netherlandish Painting at the Crossroads . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001.

Ashton, Dore. "Art: Magritte's work at 2 galleries." New York Times . 4 March, 1959.

Elliott, Mark. Culture Shock! Belgium . Portland: Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, 2001.

Fuchs, Rudi et al. Flemish and Dutch Painting . New York: Rizzoli, 1997.

Gablik, Suzi. Magritte . Greenwich: New York Graphic Society, 1970.

Harbison, Craig. "Vision and meditation in early Flemish painting." Simiolus 15

Lipinski, Lisa Kim. "Rene Magritte and Simulation: Effects beyond his wildest dreams" Ph.D. dissertation., University of Texas, 2000.

Meuris, Jacques. Rene Magritte: 1898-1967. Cologne: Benedikt Taschen Verlag, 1997.

Van den Bussche, Willy. René Magritte and the contemporary art . Ostend: Museum for Modern Art, 1998.

Whitfield, Sarah. Magritte . London: The South Bank Centre, 1992.

Janet Stiles Tyson is a second-year graduate student in art history in the School of Visual Art, the University of North Texas . Her essay, "The persistence of mystery," originated as a paper presented at the 2004 annual conference of the Association of Art Historians. 

René Magritte: The Anti-Surrealist, Surrealist 

Thursday, March 26, 2009 2:32:02 PM

René Magritte: The Anti-Surrealist, Surrealist

By William M. Noetling (November 26, 1997); For Art History 109: 19th and 20th Century Art
San Diego Mesa College Professor Beate Bermann-Enn

René Magritte, while an integral part of the Surrealist movement, really shouldn’t belong in the surrealism category of painters. Though the majority of his work is surrealistic in nature and theme, the painter himself didn’t really enjoy interacting with the rest of the surrealists. In addition, Magritte, like many artists, shifted styles several times throughout his career.

Magritte was born during the last few years of the 19th century, on November 21, 1989 in Lessines, Belgium, the oldest of three boys. In Suzi Gablik’s invaluable biography of Magritte’s work and life, he is quoted as saying:

I detest my past, . . . and anyone else’s. . . . I also detest the decorative arts, folklore, advertising, voices making announcements, aerodynamism, boy scouts, the smell of mothballs, events of the moment and drunken people. (Gablik 16).

The seeds for his dream-like themes were most likely planted in his childhood. Gablik points out that:

Magritte’s recollections of early childhood were few, but they were all bizarre. What he remembered especially, as in a kind of vision, was a large wooden chest, which had stood enigmatically near his cradle. He also remembered how, when he was a year old and his family had moved from Lessines to Gilly, two balloonists arrived suddenly one day, dressed in leather and wearing helmets, and dragging down the stairs the deflated envelope of their balloon, which had somehow become entangled on the roof of the house where he lived. (Gablik 21).

Both of these images will later be referenced in Magritte’s work.

Magritte’s mother drowned under mysterious circumstances when he was very young, and their father brought up the boy and his brothers. He met his future wife Georgette at the age of fifteen. At the age of eighteen Magritte enrolled at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, here he began his professional artistic career in a style that was similar to the early Picasso Cubist works. A short time later he began to write Surrealist and Dadaist poetry under the influence of E.L.T. Mesens. It was in the magazines co-edited with Mesens that Magritte would first encounter the work of Man Ray, Arp and other important members of the Dada movement.

In 1920, at the age of twenty-two Magritte endured several months in the military outside of Antwerp. During his military service he continued to design posters and utilized his free time to paint. It was during this time that Magritte’s search for his defining style would take a turn to Futurism.

While lecturing to students at the Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp in 1938, Magritte said of Futurism:

In a state of real intoxication, I painted a whole series of Futurist paintings.

Yet, I don’t believe the lyricism I wanted to capture had an unchanging center unrelated to aesthetic Futurism (Torczyner 214).

Gablik suggests "his Futurism was never orthodox, in that it was always combined with a certain eroticism, as in the picture Youth, where the diffused figure of a nude girl hovers over the image of a boat (Gablik 23).

In a letter to Andre Bosmans written in April of 1959, Magritte himself said:

I’m neither a "Surrealist" nor a "Cubist" nor a "Patawhatever" (‘a philosophy invented by Alfred Jary, which was taken up by the Surrealists and Dadaists’) even though I have a fairly strong weakness for the so-called Cubist and Futurist ‘schools.’ Were I really an artiste-paintre, I would waver between these two disciplines. Were I an innocent intellectual, I would be content with what Surrealism entails in a large, very large part of unimportant matters. . . .

The elements that entered into the compositions of my paintings were represented by means of flexible shapes and colors, so that those shapes and colors could be modified and shaped to the demands imposed by a rhythm of movement (Torczyner 184).

In an earlier essay Magritte explained the artist’s penchant for new styles thusly:

So painters, misunderstanding the problem of painting, cast about for new techniques, and through them managed to restore to painting a few fleeting moments of superficial vitality. The Impressionists, Cubists, Futurists, all experiences moments of agitation and excitement due to original techniques, but they were futile, since these same moments of agitation and excitement could be achieved, and better, through other means than those related to painting (Torczyner 218).

Magritte would soon abandon all these styles for fully realized Surrealism. Gablik says "In 1925 Magritte painted what he considered his first ‘realized’ picture, in that it introduced a poetic idea. This was the presence of something more than what can actually be seen – something mysterious and unknown" (Gablik 25). This monumental painting would be called The Lost Jockey, and while the piece was painted in many versions, it would mark the first piece done in the style that Magritte would continue in for the remainder of his career.

Magritte had been influenced by Girogio de Chirico’s The Song of Love, which revealed to him "’the ascendancy of poetry over painting’" (Gablik 25). Gablik further states that de Chirico’s work "could be made to speak about something other than painting. . . " (Gablik 25). Magritte avidly explored this style during this period, often painting a piece a day. He had his first solo exhibition in 1927 in Brussels, and while it carried very little success, it did bring him the financial support that he needed to devote himself entirely to painting.

Somewhere in this time period Magritte found himself meeting other Belgian Surrealists, including Marcel Lecomte and Louis Scutenaire. Soon after he jointed the Surrealist crowd in Paris. Gablik describes:

The Surrealists under Breton were fanatical activists, and many of them were politically involved on the extreme left. . . . Magritte himself avoided all political affiliations, with the exception of a short-lived and nominal membership in the Belgian Communist Party in 1945 (Gablik 43).

Magritte spent only three years in Paris with the Surrealists. He left in 1930 after an altercation with Breton in which the subject of religion became the crux of an argument. Though Magritte would continue to correspond with Breton for quite some time to come, he would continue to distance himself from the Surrealists and their leader. Gablik says "Magritte burned all the possessions which recalled to him his Surrealist period, including letters, tracts, and even an overcoat, in the gas heater" (Gablik 66).

Magritte would write in 1946:

Surrealism always meant Breton, and we never did anything to make the public connect us with the word. When Breton lectures in Brussels, we let him go ahead without interfering, etc. Perhaps it is too late for us to get this venerable term back and make use of it, and we will probably have to work hard if we want the public to understand the term differently. Wouldn’t it be simpler to use a new word and direct our energy elsewhere? New ideas call for a new vocabulary, and a new name would avoid confusion.

I have laid Surrealism to rest – my own for some time now, and Breton’s with even greater reason (Torczyner 68-69).

Gablik further points out the difference between the two men:

Breton saw in Surrealism the possible resolution of two states, contradictory in appearance, dream and objective reality, in sort of absolute reality which he called ‘suréalité. If dreams are a translation of waking life, equally waking life is a translation of dreams. For Magritte, references to unconscious activity only satisfy the persistent habit of explanation. The world does not offer itself up like a dream in sleep; nor are there waking dreams (Gablik 71).

Gablik writes that "His feelings about Surrealism, as we have seen, were rather ambivalent" (Gablik 72).

During the post-war years, Magritte exploited Impressionism, in what he called "Surrealism in full sunlight" (Torczyner 186). These oils are very reminiscent of Renoir’s works. He soon abandoned this style for a style that was derivative of the Fauves. He called this style "l’epoque vache" which when translated is a direct response to the name "Fauve." If a Fauve is a wild animal, the a "Vache" is a sort of domesticated beast.

Magritte would return to his previous Surrealist style, accidentally "fathering" pop art in the process. A parentage that he would disdain. He would say:

Yes, I know I’m called the father of Pop Art, Op Art, and all kinds of other "arts". . . . But Pop Art is nothing but another vision -- an infinitely less audacious one – of the good old Dadaism of fifty years ago! Modern painting went through an evolution that ended with Picasso. Everything touted today as novelties is only a variation on what was already done many years ago.

. . . And Pop! Let’s just say that it’s not very serious, and that it’s probably not even art? Or perhaps [it is] poster art, advertising art, a very temporary fashionable art. It is effective enough in the streets, I admit, on young girls’ dresses (Torczyner 68).

He simply wasn’t interested in being known as the founder of this modern art movement, no would he have been interested in being associated with any art movement.

Towards the end of his life Magritte ventured where most Surrealists feared to tread; sculpture. He had several bronze pieces cast of his most famous works. Unfortunately he died on August 15, 1967, without ever seeing one of these pieces.

"Magritte was the most paradoxical of all the Surrealists." Gablik explains: "Where the others deliberately created scandal in life, he tried to remain outwardly inconspicuous" (Gablik 154). She also references a point that Louis Scutenaire made in a monograph simply entitled "René Magritte". Scutenaire says that "Magritte had the ideas of everyone else on matters where we might expect singularity, and extraordinary ideas in realms where we would be unlikely to expect them" (Scutenaire 16). For Magritte these ideas, though rooted in Surrealism existed in an artistic category of his own, one that, like many other artist’s styles, cannot easily be defined.

Magritte’s imagery and iconography are not soon forgotten. Perhaps his greatest achievement in artistry is that his work is still viewed and appreciated, as well as appropriated. Magritte’s bowler hatted men are continually being utilized in print advertisements as well as video and film. Though his primary artistic style is clearly Surrealistic in nature, Magritte would never characterize himself as a Surrealist. In fact, he went to great lengths to disassociate himself with that group. It is a testament to his skill that he is recognized as a great Surrealist, despite this admonition.

Works Cited

Chilvers, Ian. Ed. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Arts and Artists, 2nd Ed. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1996

Gablik, Suzi. Magritte, Connecticut: New York Graphic Society Ltd., 1970

Noël, Bernard. Magritte, New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1977

Paquet, Marcel. René Magritte 1989-1967: Thought Rendered Visible. Köln, Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag, 1992

Torczyner, Harry. Magritte, Ideas and Images, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1977


Meeting Magritte: An Interview with Ed Ruscha 

Thursday, March 26, 2009 9:59:27 AM

Here's an interview of Ed Ruscha about his meeting with Magritte in 1967, the year of his death:

Meeting Magritte: An Interview with Ed Ruscha

Thirty-five years ago art critic David Bourdon described Ed Ruscha as "a sort of cowboy Magritte gone Hollywood," but Ruscha has resisted the connection as too simplistic. In excerpts from a conversation with Curator Lynn Zelevansky, Ruscha talks about influence, Magritte, and a meeting between the two artists in Venice in June 1967.

LZ: You never said Magritte was a source for you. You said that you were sympathetic to certain aspects of his work.

ER: Well, that's a good word, "source," because he wasn't a source for me. You know, I've painted pictures with light blue skies, and people would say, "Oh, that must have come from Magritte or it could have been influenced by Magritte," and I find that hard to believe myself; it's just too pat. I was more influenced by Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters and Max Ernst, but I recognized Magritte as a powerful figure. I first saw his work in a book on surrealism in the Oklahoma City library. I just sort of stumbled across it. I guess I didn't respond to his work as much as I did to the other artists. Only later on did I see something simpatico there, something that I might have shared with him. And you know, I don't feel like he's an outsider at all.

LZ: No?

ER: I think he was definitely part of the surrealist movement. They even photographed him, and documented him. He was never sidelined, but he lived out of the sphere of surrealism because he didn't live in Paris. And he had a habit of not appearing to be a bohemian character in the sense that he would dress up in a suit and tie and paint his pictures in his home. He looked more like a banker than an artist. Of course we all appreciate that, too.

 Hotel Cipriani, Venice, Italy, June 1967: Left to right, Alexander Iolas, Ed Ruscha, René Magritte, Georgette Magritte, Paniotas Skinnas. Edward Ruscha Studio, photo by Danna Ruscha.


“We went to the Cipriani to have lunch and they said, ‘I'm sorry, you can't bring dogs in here.’ And he said, ‘Well, then that's it. Wherever I go, LouLou goes.’”


LZ: You mean that kind of contradictory stance also has its appeal?

ER: Yes. Duchamp did the same thing. He dressed that way. I subsequently met Magritte shortly before he died. It was in Venice, Italy. I spotted him in a gondola — he was with his dog LouLou and his wife Georgette and his dealer, who also happened to be my dealer at the time, Alexander Iolas. We waved and met up and had lunch together. We went to the Piazza San Marco and Magritte had his camera with him. He'd never been to Venice before.

LZ: Really?

ER: Never been to Venice. He was a little-traveled person. I asked him if he had ever been to the U.S. and he said, "Yes, Houston."

LZ: (Laughs)

ER: It's the only place in the states he had ever been besides New York.

LZ: Did he speak English?

ER: A little bit, yes. We went to the Cipriani to have lunch and they said, "I'm sorry, you can't bring dogs in here." And he said, "Well, then that's it. Wherever I go, LouLou goes." And then there was a little bit of chatter, and they ended up finding us a nice table outside in the garden. So we had lunch in the garden with LouLou and Georgette and Iolas and another man who worked for Iolas and my wife and me. In the Piazza San Marco he was photographing artists who were painting pictures of the Basilica. So he was actually photographing scenes that he had painted before—you know, a canvas on an easel with somebody in front of the painting and the scene continues behind the easel. Talk about irony—there it was.

LZ: What was Magritte like?

ER: His demeanor was that of a total gentleman, a kindly man, and that was really impressive to me, knowing this man's work. I hadn't done an intensive study of it, but so many of his images by that time were known to the world, although actually he didn't become really popular until after he died. His work was well known and well collected before he died, but I think the main thrust of his exposure came afterwards. That's my opinion.

* * *
Ed Ruscha, Lion in Oil, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 162.6 x 183 cm, Fisher Landau Center for Art, © Ed Ruscha, photo courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York.

ER: You know his painting Time Transfixed  — the one with the train coming out of the fireplace.

LZ: Yeah, that's an amazing picture.

ER: I have always held that to be maybe my favorite image of his.

LZ: Do you know why?

ER: No, I don't, except that there is the unlikeliness of it. In our daily lives we don't see trains coming out of fireplaces. So that's a number one good thing for that picture. There's an unreality, or a misreality there. And then there's the reality of the exhaust that the train is pushing out. The smoke that comes out of the engine is going back up the fireplace, and that brings you to some sort of rigorous truth. I mean, isn't smoke supposed to go up fireplaces?

LZ: Yes, it is.

ER: The struggle between the unreality and the reality of the painting is the right kind of struggle to make a great picture, and I think maybe that's why it could be my favorite.

LZ: I think it's often interpreted in Freudian sexual terms.

ER: I hope it is. It better be. It is sexual. It is all those things. And there is the titling of the work, which leaves you somewhat baffled. Time Transfixed.

* * *

This excerpt is from the catalogue for Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, an exhibition on view at LACMA from Nov. 19, 2006, to March 4, 2007. The catalogue is copublished by Ludion and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Birth of Dada 1917 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 10:51:00 AM


The next fours blogs are a series of articles on Dada and Surrealism. Enjoy!

Zurich: The Birth of Dada

Documents of Dada and Surrealism: Dada and Surrealist Journals in the Mary Reynolds Collection by IRENE E. HOFMANN. Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, The Art Institute of Chicago

In February 1916, as World War I raged on, Dada came into being in Zurich in a small tavern on Spieglestrasse that became known as the Cabaret Voltaire. Founded by the German poet Hugo Ball and his companion, singer Emmy Hennings, Cabaret Voltaire soon attracted artists and writers from across Europe who fled their countries and went to neutral Zurich to escape the war.[2] Ball's cabaret provided ideal conditions for artistic freedom and experimentation and an atmosphere that supported the fomenting of revolt. A press announcement for the cabaret declared:

Cabaret Voltaire. Under this name a group of young artists has formed with the object of becoming a center for artistic entertainment. The Cabaret Voltaire will be run on the principle of daily meetings where visiting artists will perform their music and poetry. The young artists of Zurich are invited to bring along their ideas and contributions.[3]

Jean Arp, Richard Huelsenbeck, Marcel Janco, Sophie Taeuber, and Tristan Tzara were among the artists and poets who responded and began gathering in Ball's Zurich tavern. From this diverse and passionate group, the Dada revolution was conceived and fueled. As German artist Hans Richter recalled, there was a highly charged atmosphere at the cabaret that united this diverse group in a common goal: "It seemed that the very incompatibility of character, origins and attitudes which existed among the Dadaists created the tension which gave, to this fortuitous conjunction of people from all points of the compass, its unified dynamic force."[4]

United in their frustration and disillusionment with the war and their disgust with the culture that allowed it, the Dadaists felt that only insurrection and protest could fully express their rage. "The beginnings of Dada," Tristan Tzara remarked, "were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust."[5] As Marcel Janco recalled: "We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the tabula rasa. At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking the bourgeois, demolishing his idea of art, attacking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order."[6] Through uproarious evenings filled with noise-music, abstract-poetry readings, and other performances, Dada began to voice its aggressive message. While Dada evenings soon became notorious for insurrection and powerful assaults on art and bourgeois culture, it was through Dada journals that the news of this developing movement reached all corners of Europe and even the United States.

Hugo Ball was also responsible for the first journal directly associated with Dada. Launched in 1916 and named after his Zurich tavern, Cabaret Voltaire featured a conservative format with many illustrations and carried contributions by the Dadaists, as well as writings by Futurists and Cubists.[7] Literary works appear in either French or German, and in the case of a Huelsenbeck's and Tzara's poem "DADA," the two languages are interwoven. Through this review, published by the anarchist printer Julius Heuberger, Ball sought to define the activities at the cabaret and to give Dada an identity. In what turned out to be the first and only issue of Cabaret Voltaire, he wrote: "It is necessary to clarify the intentions of this cabaret. It is its aim to remind the world that there are people of independent minds—beyond war and nationalism—who live for different ideals."[8]

In 1917, after a year of Dada evenings and Dada mayhem, Cabaret Voltaire was forced to close down, and the Dada group moved their activities to a new gallery on Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse. Shortly after the closing of the cabaret, Ball left Zurich and the Romanian poet Tzara took over Dada's direction. An ambitious and skilled promoter, Tzara began a relentless campaign to spread the ideas of Dada. As Huelsenbeck recalled, as Dada gained momentum, Tzara took on the role of a prophet by bombarding French and Italian artists and writers with letters about Dada activities. "In Tzara's hands," he declared, "Dadaism achieved great triumphs."[9] Irreverent and wildly imaginative, Tzara was to emerge as Dada's potent leader and master strategist.


Dada 1, ed. Tristan Tzara (Zurich, July 1917), cover, and Dada 2, ed. Tristan Tzara (Zurich, December 1917), cover.

Attempting to promulgate Dada ideas throughout Europe, Tzara launched the art and literature review Dada. Although, at the outset, it was planned that Dada members would take turns editing the review and that an editorial board would be created to make important decisions, Tzara quickly assumed control of the journal. But, as Richter said, in the end no one but Tzara had the talent for the job, and, "everyone was happy to watch such a brilliant editor at work."[10] Appearing in July 1917, the first issue of Dada, subtitled Miscellany of Art and Literature, featured contributions from members of avant-garde groups throughout Europe, including Giorgio de Chirico, Robert Delaunay, and Wassily Kandinsky. Marking the magazine's debut, Tzara wrote in the Zurich Chronicle, "Mysterious creation! Magic Revolver! The Dada Movement is Launched."[11] Word of Dada quickly spread: Tzara's new review was purchased widely and found its way into every country in Europe, and its international status was established.


Dada 3, ed. Tristan Tzara (Zurich, December 1918), cover.

While the first two issues of Dada (the second appeared in December 1917) followed the structured format of Cabaret Voltaire, the third issue of Dada (December 1918) was decidedly different and marked significant changes within the Dada movement itself. Issue number 3 violated all the rules and conventions in typography and layout and undermined established notions of order and logic. Printed in newspaper format in both French and German editions, it embodies Dada's celebration of nonsense and chaos with an explosive mixture of manifestos, poetry, and advertisements—all typeset in randomly ordered lettering.


Dada 3, ed. Tristan Tzara (Zurich, December 1918).

The unconventional and experimental design was matched only by the radical declarations contained within the third issue of Dada. Included is Tzara's "Dada Manifesto of 1918," which was read at Meise Hall in Zurich on July 23, 1918, and is perhaps the most important of the Dadaist manifestos. In it Tzara proclaimed:

Dada: the abolition of logic, the dance of the impotents of creation; Dada: abolition of all the social hierarchies and equations set up by our valets to preserve values; Dada: every object, all objects, sentiments and obscurities, phantoms and the precise shock of parallel lines, are weapons in the fight; Dada: abolition of memory; Dada: abolition of archaeology; Dada: abolition of the prophets; Dada: abolition of the future; Dada: absolute and unquestionable faith in every god that is the product of spontaneity.[12]

With the third issue of Dada, Tzara caught the attention of the European avant-garde and signaled the growth and impact of the movement. Francis Picabia, who was in New York at the time, and Hans Richter were among the figures who, by signing their names to this issue, now aligned themselves with Dada. Picabia praised the issue:

Dada 3 has just arrived. Bravo! This issue is wonderful. It has done me a great deal of good to read in Switzerland, at last, something that is not absolutely stupid. The whole thing is really excellent. The manifesto is the expression of all philosophies that seek truth; when there is no truth there are only conventions.[13]


Dada 4–5 (Anthologie Dada), ed. Tristan Tzara (Zurich, May 1919), cover.

Dada 4–5, printed in May 1919 and also known as Anthologie Dada, features a cover designed by Arp, a frontispiece by Picabia, and published work by André Breton, Jean Cocteau, and Raymond Radiguet. This issue also includes Tzara's third Dada manifesto and four Dada poems Tzara called "lampisteries." Design experiments continue in this issue with distorted typography, lettering of various sizes and fonts, slanted print, and multicolored paper.

Issue 4–5 of Dada was the final one Tzara published in Zurich. With travel possible again at the end of the war, many of the Zurich group returned to their respective countries and Dada activities in Zurich came to an end. With the Dadaists spreading throughout Europe, the impact of the movement had only just begun. Huelsenbeck, Picabia and Tzara played principle roles in introducing Dada in other cities.


Richard Huelsenbeck left Zurich in 1917 for Germany to initiate Dada activities and reconnect with the German avant-garde community that the war had scattered. In Berlin, the devastating years following the war were marked by unrest, rampant political criticism, and social upheavals. The stage was set for the emergence of a highly aggressive and politically involved Dada group. Dada in Berlin took the form of corrosive manifestos and propaganda, biting satire, large public demonstrations, and overt political activities.

In Berlin, Huelsenbeck met up with artists Johannes Baader, George Grosz, and Raoul Hausmann. While Huelsenbeck contributed greatly to the diffusion of Dadaist ideas through speeches and manifestos, it was Hausmann who ultimately emerged as one of Germany's most significant Dadaists. A painter, theorist, photographer, and poet, he became an aggressive promoter of Dada in Berlin. To establish his position, in June 1919 he began Der Dada, a short-lived yet powerful review that reflects the revolutionary tone of Berlin Dada. Contributions in the first issue by Baader, Hausmann, and Huelsenbeck declare the left-wing political agenda of Berlin Dada, while writings by Tzara and Picabia indicate the alliance between the Berlin group and other Dada centers.

The cover of the first issue of Der Dada, which was characteristic of Dada's intentional disorder and unconventional design tactics, features varied type styles and sizes, mathematical abstractions, Hebrew characters, and several nonsense words, all randomly ordered. Among this issue's phonetic poems and several abstract woodcuts is an outrageous—and bogus—announcement that those interested in learning more about Dada could visit the Office of the President of the Republic, where they would be shown Dada artifacts and documents. Such fabrications highlight the Berlin group's interest in satire, and their delight in infiltrating official government activities. The cover of the second issue of Der Dada further proclaimed the authority of Dada with the declarations that translate as: "Dada conquers!" and "Join up with Dada." This issue contains articles by Baader and artist John Heartfield as well as several collages by Hausmann, absurd faked photographs, and satirical cartoons by Grosz.


Der Dada 3, ed. Raoul Hausmann (Berlin, April 1920), cover.

Issue number 3 of Der Dada is one of the most visually exciting publications generated by the Berlin group. Edited jointly by Grosz, Heartfield and Hausmann (who signed their names "Groszfield," "Hearthaus," and "Georgemann"), the third issue of Der Dada was the most diverse issue yet, with several references to Dada in Cologne, Paris, and Zurich. The cover features a chaotic collage by Heartfield of words, letters, and illustrations. The issue includes a drawing by George Grosz, two montages by Heartfield, and photographs of the Dadaists, as well as cartoons, poetry, and illustrations.

Known for their rebellious and political tenor, it was not long before the Berlin Dada group members soon directed their aggressions at one another. With the eruption of many ideological clashes, by 1920 Dada began to decline in Berlin. Although sporadic publications appeared for a few years, by 1923 publishing had ceased, and the Berlin Dadaists began turning their attentions to other activities.


Surrealism in New York 1940 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 10:44:52 AM


Here's an article on

Surrealism in New York 1940:

Documents of Dada and Surrealism: Dada and Surrealist Journals in the Mary Reynolds Collection

The outbreak of World War II brought many of the Surrealists to New York: Dalí, Man Ray, Matta, and Yves Tanguy had all arrived by 1940. With several European reviews suspended or increasingly inaccessible due to the war, the Surrealists in New York immediately attempted new publications. In September 1940, the first issue of View magazine, edited by Charles Henri Ford, was published. Thirty-one subsequent issues appeared between 1940 and 1947. View offered coverage of art, literature, music, and cinema—anything that was new and modern. As one of its slogans read: "You can't be modern and not read View." While the scope of this journal was broad, at times View gave particular attention to the activities of the Surrealists: Duchamp was on the advisory board, Mary Reynolds was listed as the journal's Paris Representative, and issue number 7–8 of View (October–November 1941) was dedicated to Surrealism, featuring the art of Artaud, Victor Brauner, Leonora Carrington, Duchamp, and Masson.

Another New York journal that represented Surrealism was VVV, published by the young American sculptor David Hare. With Breton, Ernst, and Duchamp as editorial advisors, VVV gave exiled Surrealist writers and artists great exposure in the United States. Modeled on Minotaure and more substantial than View, VVV's three issues feature "Poetry, plastic arts, anthropology, sociology, psychology." The first issue (October 1942) has a cover design by Ernst and includes writing by Breton. Reflecting new connections within the New York art community, this issue also featured contributions by artist Robert Motherwell and critic Harold Rosenberg. The next issue, a double number (March 1943), has front and back covers by Duchamp.


VVV 2–3, ed. David Hare (New York, March 1943), cover.

The front cover is an anonymous etching representing an allegory of death that Duchamp appropriated. The back cover features the shape of a woman's profile cut out of the cover with a piece of chicken wire inserted in the opening. The final issue of VVV (February 1944) is similarly creative and dynamic. With a bold cover designed by Matta, this issue features many fold-out pages of varying sizes, a combination of different papers, and many color images.

In addition to extending the life of the Surrealist movement, American reviews such as View and VVV provided a forum for communication between the Surrealists and a growing number of emerging American artists. For artists who later would make up the Abstract Expressionist group, the Surrealists were a significant and liberating influence. While Surrealism's potency was in decline by this time, artists of the next generation would continue to explore its tenets.

Although neither Dada nor Surrealism revolutionized society as profoundly as their proponents had hoped, they left an indelible mark on art and writing. These iconoclastic impulses of these movements remain rich sources of artistic inspiration. The remarkable journals they generated have preserved a detailed record of the revolutionary atmosphere in which they were conceived and generated. Through their journals, the Dadaists and Surrealists defined and broadcast their views of the world, and expressed their hopes to transform and liberate art and culture. For admirers of the rich and revolutionary ideas of these movements, these journals offer unique insights into the minds of their creators.


Dada and Surrealism- New York (1917) Paris 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 10:24:25 AM

Documents of Dada and Surrealism:
Dada and Surrealist Journals
in the Mary Reynolds Collection

New York

The same year Tzara introduced his review Dada in Zurich, related activities took place in New York. Not unlike Zurich, New York had become a refuge for European artists seeking to escape the war. For artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, the American city presented great potential and artistic opportunity. Soon after arriving there in 1915, Duchamp and Picabia met the American artist Man Ray. By 1916, the three men had become the center of radical anti-art activities in New York. While they never officially labeled themselves Dada, never wrote manifestos, and never organized riotous events like their counterparts in Europe, they issued similar challenges to art and culture. As Richter recalled, the origins of Dadaist activities in New York "were different, but its participants were playing essentially the same anti-art tune as we were. The notes may have sounded strange, at first, but the music was the same."[14]

The anti-art undercurrents brewing in New York provided an ideal climate for Picabia's provocative journal 391. Published over a period of seven years, 391 is the longest running journal in the Mary Reynolds Collection. The magazine first appeared in Barcelona in 1917, and was modeled after the pioneering journal 291, which was published under the auspices of the photographer and dealer Alfred Stieglitz.[15] Picabia was able to put out four issues of 391 in Barcelona with the support of some like-minded expatriates and pacifists.


391 2, ed. Francis Picabia (Barcelona, February 10, 1917), cover.

Although 391's corrosive spirit was only just emerging in these early issues, the anarchic attitude that would later define the magazine and its editor is already apparent. These first issues introduce, for example, a section devoted to a series of bogus news reports. As Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia recalled, this feature began as a mere joke and "quickly degenerated in subsequent issues into a highly aggressive system of assault, defining the militant attitude which became characteristic of 391."[16] These early issues include literary works by poet Max Jacob, painter Marie Laurencin, and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, as well as by Picabia, and feature cover illustrations of absurd machines designed by Picabia.

By the time Picabia took 391 to New York at the end of 1917, the magazine had assumed a decidedly assertive and irreverent tone. The New York editions of 391, issues five through seven, celebrate Picabia's nihilistic side and his love of provocation and nonsense. Buffet-Picabia had this to say about 391:

It remains a striking testimonial to the revolt of the spirit in defense of its rights, against and in spite of all the world's commonplaces...Without other aim than to have no aim, it imposed itself by the force of its word, of its poetic and plastic inventions, and without premeditated intention it let loose, from one shore of the Atlantic to the other, a wave of negation and revolt which for several years would throw disorder into the minds, acts, works, of men.[17]

Picabia's three New York issues feature contributions by collector Walter Arensberg, painters Albert Gleizes and Max Jacob, and composer Edgar Varèse.

While Picabia was involved primarily with the group of artists surrounding Alfred Stieglitz and with the publication of 391, Duchamp made connections with Arensberg, through whom he became involved in the Society of Independent Artists. It was this organization, interested in sponsoring jury-free exhibitions, that gave Duchamp the idea for The Blind Man—a publication that would invite any writer to print whatever he or she wanted. The inaugural issue, published on April 10, 1917 by Duchamp and writer Henri-Pierre Roché, has submissions by poet Mina Loy, Roché, and artist Beatrice Wood. Emphasizing the informal editorial policies and uncertain future of The Blind Man, the front cover proclaims, "The second number of The Blind Man will appear as soon as YOU have sent sufficient material for it." When this hastily published first issue came out, the editors realized that they had forgotten to print the address of the magazine on the cover. To remedy this, a rubber stamp was created and used to imprint this information on the front cover of each issue.[18]


The Blind Man 1, eds. Marcel Duchamp, Beatrice Wood, and Henri-Pierre Roché (New York, April 10, 1917), cover.

Since Duchamp and Roché were not American citizens, and therefore faced possible conflicts with authorities, Beatrice Wood stepped forward to assume responsibility for The Blind Man. Because her father subsequently protested her involvement (due to the periodical's content), it was decided that rather than making it available to mainstream audiences through newsstands, The Blind Man would be distributed by hand at galleries.[19]


The Blind Man 2, eds. Marcel Duchamp, Beatrice Wood, and Henri-Pierre Roché (New York, May 1917), pp. 2–3.

The second issue of The Blind Man came out two months after the first,[20] following the opening of the Society of Independent Artists' 1917 exhibition and the rejection of Duchamp's infamous entry Fountain, a urinal that the artist signed with a fictitious name and anonymously submitted as sculpture. This issue features Stieglitz's photograph of Fountain and the editorial "The Richard Mutt Case," which discusses the rejection of Duchamp's entry. Also included in this issue were contributions by Arensberg, Buffet, Loy, and Picabia, among others.

While The Blind Man had caught the attention of the New York art community, a wager brought an early end to the magazine. In a very Dada gesture, Picabia and Roché had set up a chess game to decide who would be able to continue publishing his respective magazine. Picabia, playing to defend 391, was triumphant: Roché and Duchamp were forced to discontinue The Blind Man.[21]

Following the early demise of The Blind Man, Duchamp launched another short-lived magazine. Edited by Duchamp, Roché, and Wood, Rongwrong (May 1917) carries contributions by Duchamp and others within Arensberg's circle, as well as documentation of the moves from Picabia's and Roché's infamous chess game. Duchamp intended the title of the magazine to be Wrongwrong, but a printing error transformed it into Rongwrong. Since this mistake appealed to Duchamp's interest in chance happenings, he accepted the title.

The appearance of the journal New York Dada (April 1921) ironically marked the beginning of the end of Dada in New York. Created by Duchamp and Man Ray, this magazine would be the only New York journal that would claim itself to be Dada. Wishing to incorporate "dada" in the title of this new magazine, Man Ray and Duchamp sought authorization from Tzara for use of the word. In response to their tongue-in-cheek request Tzara replied, "You ask for authorization to name your periodical Dada. But Dada belongs to everybody."[22] In addition to printing Tzara's response in its entirety, this first and only issue also carried a cover designed by Duchamp, photography by Man Ray, poetry by artist Marsden Hartley, as well as several illustrations. As with so many self-published artistic journals, this first issue was neither distributed nor sold, but circulated among friends with the hope that it would generate a following. New York Dada, however, was unable to ignite any further interest in Dada. By the end of 1921, Dada came to an end in New York and its original nucleus departed for Paris, where Dada was enjoying its final incarnation.


Although Dada did not reach Paris until 1920, figures in the Parisian literary and artistic world had followed Dada activities either through Tristan Tzara's journal Dada or through direct communication with Tzara. Stifled by the restrictions of the war, they were drawn to Dada's revolutionary spirit and nihilistic antics. Writers Louis Aragon, Breton, and Ribemont-Dessaignes had in fact occasionally contributed to Dada since 1918, and were eagerly awaiting Tzara's arrival in Paris. The voice of Dada would soon be celebrated in Paris.

By 1920 most of the initiators of Dada has arrived in Paris for what was to be the finale of Dada group activities. Arp and Tzara came from Zurich, Man Ray and Picabia from New York, and Max Ernst arrived from Cologne. They were enthusiastically received in Paris by a circle of writers associated with Breton's and Aragon's literary journal Littérature. A special Dada issue of Littérature, with "Twenty-Three Manifestos of the Dada Movement," soon appeared to celebrate their arrival.[23] Stimulated by Tzara, this newly formed Paris group soon began issuing Dada manifestos, organizing demonstrations, staging performances, and producing a number of journals.

At the height of Dada activity in Paris, Tzara published two more issues of Dada. The first, issue number 6 (February 1920), also known as Bulletin Dada, appeared in large format and contained programs for Dada events, in addition to a series of bewildering poems and outrageous declarations, all presented in the fragmentary typographical style that Tzara had begun experimenting with in Zurich.


Dada 6 (Bulletin Dada), ed. Tristan Tzara (Paris, February 1920), cover.

The many event announcements in this issue reflect the emphasis the Paris group placed on public performance. Contributors to the sixth issue of Dada indicate the range of artists who now aligned themselves with the Dadaists: Breton, Duchamp, Éluard, and Picabia are all featured in this issue. The last number of Dada (Dadaphone) came out in March 1920. This issue features photographs of the Paris Dada members and includes advertisements for other Dada journals and announcements for Dada events, such as exhibitions and a Dadaist ball.[24]


Dada 7 (Dadaphone), ed. Tristan Tzara (Paris, March 1920), cover.

When Picabia joined the Dadaists in Paris in 1919, he too brought his journal with him. In Paris, between the years of 1919 and 1924, he published issues number nine through eighteen of 391 with contributions by such figures as writer Robert Desnos, Duchamp, Ernst, artist René Magritte, and composer Erik Satie. After producing four issues, Picabia temporarily suspended 391 in order to publish a new magazine he called Le Cannibale. Although more conservative in format than its predecessors, Le Cannibale has a provocative spirit and represents the height of Picabia's involvement in the Paris Dada group. After only two issues, (April 1920 and May 1920), however, Picabia abandoned Le Cannibale and resumed publication of 391. For issue number fourteen, Picabia created one of 391's most radical design layouts, using a striking combination of font sizes, type styles, and positioning of texts.


391 14, ed. Francis Picabia (Paris, November 1920), cover.

On the cover, he issued an iconoclastic attack on traditional art. Manipulating the autograph of the classicist artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Picabia inserted his first name in front of Ingres's. As "Francis Ingres," Picabia not only sought to undermine the position of canonical figures such as Ingres, but he also challenged the value placed on an artist's signature.

The next five issues of Picabia's journal reveal turmoil growing among the Dadaists and suggestions of a shift in Picabia's allegiance from Tzara to Breton. By issue number 16, it was clear that Picabia had left the Dada movement and was focusing on the activities of a newly forming group under the guidance of Breton. In the nineteenth and final issue of 391 (October 1924), he signed off as "Francis Picabia, Stage Manager for André Breton's Surrealism."[25]

The dissension evident in these final issues of 391 reflects the Littérature group's growing disillusionment with Tzara and his program. Despite his initial enchantment with Tzara,[26] by 1922 Breton had begun to have misgivings about the Romanian's directives for Dada. His nihilistic antics and anti-art proclamations, exhilarating at first, quickly became tiresome for Paris group members who essentially sought more meaningful and productive responses to their discontent. As he started to assert himself and his own program, Breton began to collide with Tzara. Unable to accommodate Dada to their enterprises, it was not long before Breton and the Littérature group denounced Dada and broke away from Tzara. In one issue of Littérature Breton wrote:

Leave everything.
Leave Dada.
Leave your wife, leave your mistress.
Leave your hopes and fears.
Sow your children in the corner of a wood.
Leave the substance for the shadow....
Set out on the road.[27]

On another occasion, he declared, "We are subject to a sort of mental mimicry that forbids us to go deeply into anything and makes us consider with hostility what has been dearest to us. To give one's life for an idea, whether it be Dada or the one I am developing at present, would only tend to prove a great intellectual poverty."[28] Soon the world would learn of Breton's developing ideas, and the flag of Surrealism would be raised.


Paris: The Heart of Surrealism 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 3:10:42 AM

Paris: The Heart of Surrealism
From Documents of Dada and Surrealism: Dada and Surrealist Journals in the Mary Reynolds Collection

André Breton marked his definitive break with Dada with the release of his Manifeste du surrealisme; Poisson soluble in 1924. This treatise established Breton's position as the leader of Surrealism[29] and earned him the support of many who had previously participated in the Paris Dada group. Aragon, Éluard, and the writers René Crevel and Philippe Soupault were among those who aligned themselves with Breton's new movement. In his Manifeste du surrealisme, Breton officially renounced Dada and gave a formal definition for Surrealism:

SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

ENCYCLOPEDIA. Philosophy. Surrealism is based in the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected association, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.[30]

With the release of Breton's Manifeste du surrealisme, Surrealism had a name, a leader, and a direction.

Like Dada, the Surrealist program was marked by pessimism, defiance, and a desire for revolution. Under Breton's leadership, however, Surrealism sought productive, rather than anarchic, responses to the group's convictions. Exploring the subconscious, dream interpretation, and automatic writing were just some of the the Surrealists' interests. Not only did such experiments appeal to their revolutionary spirit, but they proved to be remarkable sources of artistic inspiration. Much like Dada, the history of the Surrealist movement can be traced through its many journals and reviews. On December 1, 1924, shortly after he published the first Surrealist manifesto, Breton released the inaugural issue of La Révolution surréaliste (Surrealist Revolution).[31] The cover announces the revolutionary agenda of the journal: "It is necessary to start work on a new declaration of the rights of man." With writers Pierre Naville and Benjamin Péret as its first directors, La Révolution surréaliste set out to explore a range of subversive issues related to the darker sides of man's psyche with features focused on suicide, death, and violence. Modeled after the static format of the conservative scientific review La Nature, the surrealist periodical took a pseudo-scientific approach to such themes: it published an impartial survey on suicide and detached descriptions of violent crime data taken from police reports. The sober and uninspired format was deceiving, and much to the delight of the Surrealist group, La Révolution surréaliste was consistently and incessantly scandalous and revolutionary. Although the focus was on writing, with most pages filled by tightly packed columns of text, the review occasionally made room for a few mediocre reproductions of art, among them works by de Chirico, Ernst, André Masson and Man Ray.

The third issue of La Révolution surréaliste (April 1925), bearing the words "End of the Christian Era" on the cover, strikes a decidedly blasphemous and anticlerical tone with an open letter written to the pope by the writer and actor Antonin Artaud. His "Address to the Pope" expresses the Surrealists' revolt against what they viewed as constraining religious values: "The world is the soul's abyss, warped Pope, Pope foreign to the soul. Let us swim in our own bodies, leave our souls within our souls; we have no need of your knife-blade of enlightenment."[32] Anticlerical remarks such as this are found throughout La Révolution surréaliste and speak of the Surrealists' relentless campaign against oppression and bourgeois morality.

In the fourth issue, André Breton announced that he was taking over La Révolution surréaliste. Concerned by some disruptive factions that had developed within the Surrealist group, Breton used this issue to assert his power and restate the principles of Surrealism as he saw them. With each succeeding issue, La Révolution surréaliste became political, with articles and declarations that have a pro-Communist slant.

In the eighth issue (December 1926), Éluard revealed the Surrealists' growing fascination with sexual perversion in a piece celebrating the writings of the Marquis de Sade, a man who spent much of his life in prison for his deviant writings about sexual cruelty. According to Éluard, the Marquis "wished to give back to civilized man the strength of his primitive instincts." Breton, Man Ray, and Salvador Dalí as well were among those whose writing and imagery exhibited the influence of Sade.

While Surrealist-inspired writings often were the focus of the journal, issue 9–10 of La Révolution surréaliste (October 1927) introduces a significant development in Surrealist imagery, with the first publication of the Exquisite Corpse (Le Cadavre exquis)—a game greatly enjoyed by the Surrealists that involved folding a sheet of paper so that several people could contribute to the drawing of a figure without seeing the preceding portions. Some of the best results of this game were published in this issue.

The eleventh issue further explores the Surrealists' interest in sex with the publication of the group's "Research into Sexuality," an account of a debate that had taken place during two evenings in January 1928. In this rather frank discussion, the Surrealists had very openly expressed their opinions on several matters related to sex, including a wide range of perversions. The comments of the more than a dozen Surrealist artists and writers who participated were printed in this issue.

La Révolution surréaliste 12, ed. André Breton (Paris, December 15, 1929), cover.


La Révolution surréaliste 12, ed. André Breton (Paris, December 15, 1929), p. 1.

In the twelfth and final issue of La Révolution surréaliste (December 15, 1929), Breton published the "Second Surrealist Manifesto." This declaration marks the end of the most cohesive and focused years of Surrealism and signals the beginning of disagreement among its many members. Breton celebrated his faithful supporters and spitefully denounced those members who had defected from his circle and betrayed his doctrine.

The views of this dissident group of Surrealists found a voice in the periodical Documents. The inaugural issue, published in April 1929, includes writings by ethnographers, archaeologists, and art historians, with poets Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris emerging as the principal contributors. Employing much of the conventional graphic design and thematic focus of La Révolution surréaliste, Documents, with an editorial board made up of university professors and other scholars with academic pedigrees, presents a more academic stance. Through Documents these dissidents attempted to define their directives for the future of the movement and sought to undermine Breton's claim on Surrealism. As with so many journals of the time, however, by the end of 1930, after fifteen issues had been published, the editors turned their attentions to other projects and Documents ceased to appear.

Breton's successor to La Révolution surréaliste was the more politically engaged journal Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution. Although this journal appeared only sporadically between 1930 and 1933, it made a lasting mark on Surrealist imagery. Like its predecessor, it sought to counter oppression of individual liberties with writing and imagery that celebrate blasphemy, sadism, and sexual expression. In this first issue, Dalí, who had just moved to Paris and joined the Surrealists in 1929, declared, "It must be stated once and for all to art critics, artists, etc., that they can expect from the new Surrealist images only deception, a bad impression and repulsion."[33] In subsequent issues, the Surrealists would make good on this promise with increasingly blasphemous and deviant writings. Horrific texts on suicide and murder, bizarre accounts of the macabre, and a series of explorations of the work of Sade are just some of the features that run alongside the journal's aggressive political assertions.

Perhaps due to the outrageous and militant tone of this journal, after only six issues sales of the journal dropped drastically and lack of financial backing forced Breton to cease publication in 1933. At this same time, the publisher Albert Skira had contacted Breton about a new journal, which he promised would be the most luxurious art and literary review the Surrealists had seen, featuring a slick format with many color illustrations. He promised that this magazine would cover all Breton's interests—poetry, philosophy, archaeology, psychoanalysis, and cinema. Skira's only restriction was that Breton would not be allowed to use the magazine to express his social and political views. Although the extravagance of Minotaure would be unlike any of the raw revolutionary periodicals conceived by the Surrealists, with Le Surréalisme faltering and his personal finances in a desperate state, Breton eventually lent his support to Skira. In the sixth and final issue of Le Surréalisme (May 1933), Breton published a full-page advertisement announcing the inaugural issue of Minotaure.[34]

In February 1933, four months before the first issue appeared, Skira had ambitious hopes for his new journal of contemporary art:

Minotaure will endeavor, of set purpose, to single out, bring together and sum up the elements which have constituted the spirit of the modern movement, in order to extend its sway and impact; and it will endeavor, by way of an attempted refocusing of an encyclopedic character, to disencumber the artistic terrain in order to restore to art in movement its universal scope.[35]

With eight hundred subscribers already in hand, in June 1933 the first two numbers of Minotaure appeared. With cover designs by Pablo Picasso and Gaston Louis Roux, respectively, these inaugural issues, expertly printed and designed, assert Minotaure's claim as the authority on the "spirit of the modern movement." A sumptuous review, Minotaure is indeed the most lavish journal in the Mary Reynolds Collection and was the most effective vehicle for promoting Surrealist imagery.


Minotaure 11, ed. Albert Skira (Paris, 1938), cover, design by Max Ernst.

Over the next six years, twelve additional vibrant numbers were released with rich coverage not only of the Surrealists, but of many other emerging artists as well. Through Minotaure, many little-known figures such as Hans Bellmer, Victor Brauner, Paul Delvaux, Alberto Giacometti, and Roberto Matta came to the attention of the art world. With sensational covers, high-quality photography, and the frequent use of color, Minotaure brought such artists' work to life like no other magazine had. It was Minotaure that first reproduced the sculpture of Picasso, as well as some of the most provocative of Dalí's images. For Dalí, in particular, Minotaure provided a remarkable forum: his writing appears in eight issues.


Salvador Dali: Minotaure 8, ed. Albert Skira (Paris, June 1936), cover.


Magritte: Minotaure 10, ed. Albert Skira (Paris, Winter 1937), cover.

Breton, Éluard, and writer Maurice Heine were among Skira's other most valued contributors. Not only did this group offer editorial and at times fundraising assistance, they also regularly contributed features to Minotaure. Breton's theoretical writings, Éluard's poetry, and Heine's articles about book illustration and the works of Sade all added to its eclectic and animated contents.

In addition to broad coverage of visual art, poetry, and cinema, Minotaure reported on new technologies and advances in the human sciences. As Skira had so ambitiously intended, for a brief time, Minotaure was indeed a remarkable barometer of contemporary developments in all cultural activities. Although not exclusively Surrealist in orientation, it was faithful to the Surrealist spirit, and, with its appeal to the mainstream art public, gained wider recognition for the movement. By 1939, however, with Europe in a deep economic slump and on the verge of World War II, Skira was no longer able to afford to continue his deluxe magazine. In February 1939, the final issue appeared.


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