This exhibition presents an approach to the evolution of the surrealist movement in the context of the exile and emigration of most of its members to the United States which happened following the German occupation of France. During the period encompassed in the exhibition, artists such as André Breton, André Masson, Max Ernst, Roberto Matta and Wilfredo Lam contact American artistic groups and meet the young artists that a few years later, play an important role in the renewal of American art.
The chronological frame of the exhibition is set by international Surrealist exhibitions held in Paris in 1938 and 1947. The central theme that structures the exhibition is the reciprocal relations established within the new infrastructures that Surrealism in exile creates, renewed in regards to that which existed in Paris and where two galleries play a leading role: Julien Levy Gallery and Art of this Century, directed by Peggy Guggenheim. In this regard the process of reception, assimilation and transformation of the poetic and surreal languages stand out, mainly from the practice of abstraction and automation.
A prologue states, on one hand, the impact of the Civil War as a trigger of the positioning of the artists before the dramatic political situation that is beginning to overshadow Europe. On the other hand, the validity of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró’s model is considered, in the sense that emigrated artists present in America through exhibitions and whose work sets the tone of modern art, as seen in some paintings by Americans Arshile Gorky, William Baziotes or Jackson Pollock.
In the thematic and chronological journey important milestones are recreated, such as the exhibition First Papers of Surrealism (1942) set up by Marcel Duchamp, and the exhibition rooms of the Art of this Century gallery designed by Frederick Kiesler. In addition, special attention is given to Atelier 17, the printmaking workshop founded by Stanley William Hayter in 1940 in New York which becomes a design centre of reference. Also worth mentioning is the celebration of the International Exhibition of Surrealism in Mexico (1940), organised by Wolfgang Paalen -also founder of the magazine Dyn (1942), instrument of a renewed surrealist art. It confirms the existence of an active and important Mexican surrealist core composed of, among others, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Esteban Francés.
The interests of the surrealist André Masson and Kurt Seligmann converge with the young American artists Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, Richard Pousette-Dart, Pollock and Robert Motherwell in the recognition of American Indian art -both of Mexican origins and the northwest coast- as a source of inspiration. Primitive nature is presented as a reference for the construction of a new genealogy and a new national language. To conclude the exhibition, an epilogue shows the work of these artists from the late forties and early fifties, both by those that return and those who remain in the United States or Mexico, along with different examples of new and modern Abstract Expressionist painting.
Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg (May 12 - August 20, 2000)