Surrealism: Crossing the Atlantic to the New World

Danger, Construction Ahead (5).jpg
Photo: MNBAQ

Danger, construction ahead - Kay Sage, 1940. Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, gift of M. et Mme Hugh J. Chisholm Jr, B. A., 1936

NoteThe exhibition, Au Pays des Merveilles:  Les Aventures surrealists des femmes artistes au Mexique et aux Etats-Unis, presently at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, in of such importance that it has to be taken into account in more than one commentary.

Surrealism is a post World War I experience that concerned literature, at first, but soon encompassed the visual arts. Having lived through the devastation of the war, writers and artists involved in the movement sought to explore the irrational and all that was disconcerting and irresistible in their surroundings as well as in their own mind.  Often referred to as a "revolution in consciousness" extolling the irrational and  expressing particular political view, Surrealism gained momentum in Europe, particularly in Paris, supported by publications, manifestos, exhibitions and manifestations of all kind.  The lack of conscious control, the rejection of traditional modes of perception, the shocking images and the odd combination of elements as in a dream, were characteristics elements of Surrealism.   Considered «degenerate» by the Nazis invaders, expressing their anti-fascist and anti-military position, many surrealist artists and poets were forced into exile and observers of the time believed that the movement had seen its last days.   The fact of the matter is that the move from Europe in the early forties to the New World (North and South America, the Caribbean) turned out to be a positive action for Surrealism as a whole, in terms of mutation and influences.

In the context of the time and from a psychological point of view, exile could be seen as a chaotic dream, terrible and irrational, a dream that carries its load of insecurity and possible denial.  From a political point of view, exile, far from an exhilarating experience, took on a form of resistance. In the Americas, the surrealist responded creatively to the cultural and political landscape and their political, philosophical and aesthetic concerns were appropriated by local artists, writers and filmmakers each one according to their specific geographic and historical contexts. 

The various American interpretations of Surrealism demonstrated in the  paintings, sculptures, assemblages, works on paper and photographs exhibited Au Pays des Merveilles (In wonderland)  bears witness to this fact..

Next chronicle:  Surrealism in Mexico.