The text of this section is taken from
Surrealism
(The Dream of Revolution)
by Richard Leslie TIGER BOOKS INTERNATIONAL, London, 1997



 


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Men Adoring Beast with Two Horns.
From  Commentary on the Apocalypse.
Belgium, 3d quarter of 15th century.
The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York


 

The Fifth Trumpet.
From  Lambertus, Liber Floridus.
Flemish, c. 1448
Musee Conde, Chantilly, France


 

Herman, Jean and Paul Limbourg
active 1400-1416
Netherlands
Hell.
C. 1413
Musee Conde, Chantilly, France


 
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Spain
Laocoon.
1610



 

Francisco de Goya
1746-1828
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Witches Sabbath.
1798




Surrealism



 


The Dream of Revolution
 

      
 

 

Surrealism  (The Dream of Revolution):

INTRODUCTION

BEFORE SURREALISM THERE WAS...

THE EUROPEAN AVANT-GARDE

THE SURREALIST REVOLUTION

THE INTERNATIONALIZATION OF SURREALISM

POSTSCRIPT: LEGACIES

 


 


INTRODUCTION
 


 

Surrealism officially emerged as a movement in art, although not necessarily a movement in the visual arts, with the 1924 publication of a manifesto by the French poet Andre Breton. Breton's sensibilities, like those of Surrealism in general, were sharply denned by the broad and preceding development of ideas in the European art world.

 But Surrealism embodied a contradiction. Like the avant-garde, their dream of revolution was a radical break from the past into something new. At the same time, they argued that their moment of "revolution" was heralded by history—if one selected the right history! Surrealism was to be the heir of a new, modern spirit at the same time that it was also an historical accretion, slowly emerging from broader, older streams of human creativity. The broad tapestry provided individual threads to be rewo-ven—from the naturalism of the Italian Renaissance to the ideas of the major avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism, Metaphysical art, and Dadaism. So important are these multiple fibers that the first two chapters of this book are given to them.

 The central shaping force was the energy of the nascent century, the feeling embodied in the coming of electricity,the airplane, and the motorcar. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the First World War, a conflagration that began on horseback and ended with tanks. The Second World War served as a bracket to energies that defined the European avant-garde before, during, and after the Surrealists.

 One thread begins, ironically, with Pablo Picasso and the Cubists in Paris. Little could seem further from the rebellions of the Surrealists than this art, with its clean, almost machinelike edges of flat "cubes." But not only was Picasso Breton's favorite artist, Cubism was also the origin of a basic pictorial language and attitude for the avant-garde of the new century. The techniques developed by Cubism during the years 1912 to 1914—such as the use of collage and the inclusion of found objects— were applied by many artists and movements throughout Europe to ends quite different than the Cubists had envisioned. Nowhere was this more true than among the German Expressionists, many of whom became members of the Dada movement after 1916. By 1919, collage in the hands of an artist like Max Ernst was considered to be proto-Surrealist. Thus Surrealism drew upon the earlier elements in Cubism and Expressionism. And there were other sources.

 The young hellions of the Italian Futurist movement began in 1909 to develop an art and philosophy of energy and dynamism to force their classically laden past to merge with the future of a speeding automobile. Much of the nihilism and many of the tactics they developed were picked up several years later by the Dadaists, whose cabaret's drums and performances beat steadily against, or perhaps in tune with, the drums of war.
 By 1919, Andre Breton and his group of French poets were direct heirs to Dadaist ideas that had developed across Europe and were beginning to congeal in Paris. By 1922, they began to break away from the Dadaists to form a less negative program. Breton, especially, turned to the ideas of Sigmund Freud to establish a psychoanalytic foundation for the Surrealist dream of revolution. Two years later, Breton published the "First Surrealist Manifesto." Within one year the Surrealists mounted their first exhibition of visual art in Paris, and by 1926 they opened their own art gallery. In 1929 dissension in the Surrealist ranks broke into an open schism against Breton's authoritarian leadership and political alignment with the French Communist Party. This period of crisis in the movement opened a second branch of Surrealism associated with the more radicalized ideas of Georges Bataille. Ironically, new members arrived in the early 1930s, and the movement became known worldwide with a series of international exhibitions that lasted into the 1950s.

 By 1939, with Franco's Fascist victory in Spain, the Russo-German pact, and the beginning of World War II, the Surrealists, already international in membership and orientation, spread away from the Continent. Many arrived in the United States by 1941 and their presence profoundly affected the development of art in New York. By the end of World War II, the Americans had accumulated sufficient information from the Europeans to begin their own synthesis of ideas, culminating in Abstract Expressionism. But the impact of Surrealist ideas did not end there.

 Many of the Surrealists continued to work into the 1950s and '60s, and they provided a focus to two more generations of artists. Young Americans, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, exhibited with them in the 1950s. Other artists in the late 1950s and 60s involved in Happenings and the beginnings of performance art felt the shaping force of the Surrealists. Assemblage artists, such as Lee Bontecou, and those using organic shapes and psychological motifs, like Louise Bourgeois, owed much of their aesthetic to the first systematic explorations of the psyche employed by Surrealism.

 A book on Surrealism also becomes a book addressed to the avant-garde spirit, a span of time and ideas which forms a large part of the most stimulating art and ideas in the twentieth century. It was a period of great promise, a Utopia, where they dreamed the dream of revolution.


Pieter Bruegel the Elder
1525-1569
Netherlands
The Triumph of Death.
1562

   

   
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