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New e-journal puts spotlight on Surrealism


September 19, 2008

In the 1920s, European writers and artists became fascinated by indigenous cultures – native cultures found in North and South America, Asia and the Caribbean – because of their supposedly superior ability to authentically express the unconscious.

Their interest in these cultures led to the birth of Surrealism, which is, according to Claudia Mesch, an art history professor in the Herberger College School of Art, “a literary and art movement that advocates the liberation of human society in criticizing bourgeois culture and rationality.

“The artists, poets, filmmakers, photographers and writers involved with Surrealism celebrated aspects of irrationality, the fantastic and the realm of dreams, as means that could liberate the human imagination,” she said.

The best-known Surrealist, at least to the general population, is probably artist Salvador Dalí. But Mesch said the movement was founded in France by writer André Breton in several manifestoes, the first of which was published in 1924.

Other writers, filmmakers and artists to join the movement were Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, Robert Desno, Yves Tanguy, Luis Buñuel, Meret Oppenheim and René Magritte.

Many Surrealists, Mesch said, traveled to not only the American West and Northwest coast, but also to Central and South America, Asia, and the Caribbean to study indigenous cultures.

And two of them even came to Sedona. Mesch noted that the celebrated Parisian Surrealist painter Max Ernst and his wife, the American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning, lived in Sedona for six years, from 1946 to 1952.

“The Surrealist movement continued after World War II on a global scale, and it is still pursued and referenced in the work of a number of contemporary artists,” she said.

So there is still a lot to be learned about Surrealism, and how, beyond art, it influenced indigenous cultures and has had an impact on literature, anthropology and cinema studies.

These questions are the focus of a new open-access online journal founded by Mesch, titled The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, which features contributions from scholars around the world and publishes submissions in several languages, including French, German, Spanish and English. It is currently being considered for inclusion and indexing on the ASU Library’s Web site.

The e-journal’s first issue came out in December 2007, with articles by Céline Mansanti of the Université de Nantes in France, Julia Pine from Carlton University, Canada, and Sandra R. Zalman from the University of Southern California, among other authors.

Their articles discuss the critical neglect of “A Novelette,” a lesser-known work by William Carlos Williams, the relationship between Salvador Dalí and André Breton when the two relocated to America from war-ravaged Europe in the 1940s, and the relationship between Surrealism’s art, its critical reception and its popularity in American culture.

The second issue of the open-access e-journal has just been published at http://jsa.asu.edu/. It is a special issue on “Surrealism and Ethnography,” with a French influence. One of the highlights is an article about totemic landscapes and vanishing cultures through the eyes of Wolfgang Paalen and Kurt Seligmann by Prof. Marie Mauzé of the CNRS, Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale in Paris, a noted anthropologist and senior scholar. There also are articles on Surrealism and Inuit art, and Man Ray’s lost and found photographs, plus book, art and film reviews.

The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas grew out of an international conference, “Surrealism and the American West,” that took place at ASU in October 2006.

“We hope to continue the public and scholarly momentum the conference created,” Mesch said. “To that end, in 2010 we will convene a second conference on the subject of ‘Surrealism and the Americas.’ It will take place at and be hosted by Rice University in Houston, and the program will highlight the famed Surrealism holdings of the Menil Collection.”

Mesch’s co-editors are Amy Winter, director of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, New York, and Samantha Kavky of Penn State University.

The e-journal is refereed, and published biannually, supported by a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art.