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Saturday, November 3 • 4:00pm - 5:30pm
8.C. Exhibition and Thingification

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PANEL. Exhibition and Thingification

“The Surrealist Agency of Things: Reversing the Subject-Object Hierarchy in the 1948 Oceanic Arts Exhibition”
Christina Rudosky
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

In Prolégomènes à un troisième manifeste du surréalisme ou non (1942), André Breton categorically rejects the idea of a telos in rationalist thinking and opposes the epistemological premises of an anthropocentric world. Breton calls for the surrealist troubling of the normative and hegemonic structure of human over animal, science over myth, and states that: “Man is perhaps not the center, the cynosure of our universe […] we should let ourselves think that above him, exists a whole scale of animal beings, those beings whose behavior is just as strange as his can be to the mayfly or the whale.” Suggesting an apprehension of the world which favors the experience of animals, unseen spirits and by extension, objects, over the human, suggests a reversal of subject-object hierarchy —a Bretonian leitmotif that is key to understanding the surrealist collection and writing of ethnographic objects in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Engaging with the field of new materialism and Thing Theory which echoes this surrealist interest in “things,” my paper will focus on reading the reversal of this hierarchy in Breton’s “xénophiles” poems and preface to the catalogue of the 1948 Oceanic Arts exhibition as a surrealist rejection of the colonial and ethnographic logos of the time.

“Ironic Imitators of Imperialism: On the Surrealist Counterexhibition ‘La vérité sur les colonies’”
Renée Volkers
Utrecht University

The relationship between surrealism and colonialism is problematic and often contradictory. The Surrealists are often treated as “primitivists”, in the sense that their attitude towards non-Western subjects is related to colonial imperialism, despite their distinct anti-colonialism and criticism of Western civilization throughout the movement. In the scholarship on the Surrealist section of the anti-imperialist exhibition ‘La vérité sur les colonies’, Louis Aragon’s deployment of so-called tribal sculpture therein is put forward as especially problematic. Postcolonial theorists have argued, quite convincingly, that by appropriating art for a communist political agenda in this exhibition, Aragon acted within the same paradigms of the ‘International Colonial Exhibition’ (1931) he intended to critique. Though the postcolonial criticism of this exhibition is not unjust, the discipline of postcolonial theory was at the time non-existent. Compared to the discourse of contemporary post-colonial theory, the morality of the surrealist anti-colonialist stance loses its integrity. We should however question the claim of the implicit colonialism in the Surrealists’ counterexhibition. Instead, we might assume that the Surrealist model of the exhibition was well thought out, for it seems that Aragon was well aware of the risks of exhibiting and thereby aestheticizing colonial sculpture, as he explains in an essay from 1931. For this reason, I argue that the Surrealists did not reproduce the paradigms of imperialism, but instead, that there are customary surrealist techniques of juxtaposition, irony, and reversal at play, through the employment of which they tried to unmask the imperialist politics of the International Colonial Exhibition.

"Breton vs. Dubuffet: Postwar Surrealism vs. Art Brut"
Kent Minturn
New York University

In 1947, André Breton “discovered” the young Algerian artist Baya, and wrote a laudatory essay for the catalog of her first solo show in November at the Galerie Maeght, in Paris. Five months prior to this Jean Dubuffet embarked on the first of three extended trips he would make to North Africa, at precisely the same time he was formulating his ideas on art brut. During his first voyage Dubuffet learned of the art and writings of Gaston Chaissac, a cobbler and self-taught artist of Arab descent living in rural region of Vendée, France. Dubuffet wrote the preface for Chaissac’s first solo show at the Arc-en-ciel gallery in Paris (June 11 to July 5, 1947). On May 28, 1948, Dubuffet, just back from his second trip to North Africa, wrote a letter to Breton and invited him to to become a founding member of the Company of Art Brut. Breton accepted, but relations between Dubuffet and the father of surrealism eventually soured, and in 1950 Dubuffet disbanded the Company after a dispute with Breton over the definition of art brut. Breton saw art brut as a continuation of surrealism, and by extension, l’art des fous; Dubuffet demurred. Also, by this time, as he explained in his essay, “In Honor of Savage Vales,” Dubuffet believed that the drive to create art brut “is more passionate in Occidental Man than in any other race, and, in other words, these 'savage values' to which I attribute more value than all others, appear to show themselves, in our worlds of Europe and America, more forcefully and tempestuously than in any other worlds.” After disbanding the Company, Dubuffet packed up the art brut collection and shipped it to America, where it was housed in artist Alfonso Ossorio’s mansion on Long Island for the following decade. I propose an in-depth analysis of this important postwar moment when Breton was in the process of expanding the geographical boundaries of surrealism and searching internationally for new examples of the “marvelous” in art (shortly before discovering Baya, he traveled to Haiti with Wifredo Lam and began collecting the work of Hector Hyppolite), vis-à-vis Dubuffet’s concomitant but opposing efforts to act as the limiting gatekeeper of his art brut collection, and consider only those artists working in Europe and North America.


Kent Minturn

New York University
avatar for Christina Rudosky

Christina Rudosky

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
avatar for Renée Volkers

Renée Volkers

Graduate student, Art History, Utrecht University


Kristen Strange

Arizona State University

Saturday November 3, 2018 4:00pm - 5:30pm EDT
Room C. Vaughan Literature: Willard Smith Library (ground floor)