Revelatory Drawings: Morgan Shows Basic Drafts of Surrealism

Disturbing Grotesquerie, Nightmarish Dreams, Varying Techniques

Stunning, Rich Collection, Launched by LA Museum, A First for New York

The Morgan Library is the supreme treasure house and exhibitor of the finest drawings in the US, but it seems that Leslie Jones, curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was apparently the first to come up with the idea of an important show of the drawings of the surrealists, which played a major role in the development of the strikingly provocative movement of the early 20th Century.

Whether that curatorial priority be the case or not, the Morgan’s Isabelle Dervaux, Acquavella Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings, has fortunately brought the LACMA show (which ran from October to early January) in all its variety to New York with only a few changes. It is a stunning and rich exhibition. The 175 works form a revelatory account of how the seeds of Surrealism sprang up in the minds of its major practitioners. Drawings clearly took the lead in pushing the boundaries of conventional art and essaying new approaches and techniques in this Freudian, mystic, symbolic movement exploring the unconscious.

Love or loathe it, or both, at first sight, or simply find it as we do, after extended acquaintance, simultaneously intriguing and uncomfortable (and remarkably lacking in sanguinity – were these Parisians and others self-censorious in publicly excavating their innermost responses? there are not many provocative images of eroticism or lust in this collection), but always fascinating in its attempt to let the unconscious speak first without controlling mediation, this viewing is seminal.

One of its striking revelations is how far and wide the movement spread from Paris. Sheets from Eastern Europe, Tokyo, the US and Latin America are included. Works from the Morgan, LACMA, Tate Modern, the Pompidou Center and the Menil Collection join a number of items from private collections rarely accessible to the public.

There are over 160 works by Dali, Ernst, Magritte, Miro and many others in this must-see show which will run only from tomorrow till April 21 this year. Just how intriguing these are can be gathered from the pics in this post (either from the Morgan or from our Panasonic FZ35 in low exhibition light) which can be clicked to enlarge, or double clicked to super-enlarge for enormous detail. Additional pictures may be seen at Talk In New York Photo Calendar – Fabulous Morgan Surrealism

Meanwhile the Times today calls the show “sensational”, as indeed it is, repaying close attention endlessly with its extraordinary variety store of unexpected, stirring, often alien dissections of the strange unconscious visions which these artists might persuade us are always informing our emotional life:


The New York Times (Pics added by AL)

January 24, 2013
Squiggles From the Id or Straight From the Brain

Surrealism was very, very good to drawing. Or maybe it was the other way around. In any case, shortly after a young poet named André Breton issued his first Surrealist Manifesto in 1924 the movement and the medium — aided and abetted by a large cohort of talented artists and writers — joined forces, to extraordinary mutual benefit. That art continues to reap the fruits of this union is one of the many lessons of “Drawing Surrealism,” a sensational exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum.

Drawing was an ideal art form for the Surrealists, with their initial opposition to painting as bourgeois, cumbersome and requiring too much skill. (Nearly anyone, after all, could make a decent drawing, or a few; several by the writer Georges Bataille, possibly scratched out during therapy sessions around 1925, are among the show’s high points.) And being the art medium connected most directly to the brain, it also fit with and furthered the Surrealists’ wide-ranging interests in the id, dreams and language; chance, speed and fun; and disturbing juxtapositions.

The Surrealists, like this show, defined drawing very broadly. They invented or breathed new life into drawing techniques like frottage (pencil rubbings) and the game of exquisite corpse. They commandeered collage and took it places the Cubists never dreamed of. They also tended to crossbreed such techniques (as well as photography) in all sorts of enriching ways.

But despite drawing’s centrality to Surrealism’s many explorations, there have been very few exhibitions devoted exclusively to Surrealist drawings. The Morgan’s survey is the largest yet, and also the most international. Organized by Leslie Jones, curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it had its debut last fall, and Isabelle Dervaux at the Morgan, the show is somewhat smaller than the Los Angeles version, with several substitutions because of the fragility of paper. Even so, it contains 165 works by 70 artists from 15 countries, and is accompanied by a handsome catalog with an especially informative essay by Ms. Jones.

If some of the inclusions on view serve historical clarity more than visual scintillation, the show as whole nevertheless provides plenty to occupy the eye. The stage is set with four works by important precursors of Surrealism, all from before 1920: a dreamlike drawing by Giorgio de Chirico, a poem-drawing by Apollinaire and two collages that Jean Arp arranged using chance. After these the largely chronological show is arranged according to techniques, which changed and expanded over time as more artists joined the cause and as Breton’s edicts endorsed, dismissed and reratified various methods.

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This approach makes “Drawing Surrealism” a great introduction to the movement and a valuable break with the fashion for thematic displays. It serves as a reminder that few things are more important to an artwork’s ultimate effect than the way it is made, while also giving the show a variety and briskness unusual to exhibitions of drawings.


Here’s the press release from the Library:

The Press Release (see end for Talks, Film, Dance program)(Pics added by AL or from PR disc):


Drawing Surrealism January 25–April 21, 2013
**Press Preview: Thursday, January 24, 2013, 10–11:30 a.m.**
RSVP: (212) 590-0393,

New York, NY, December 14, 2012—Few artistic movements of the twentieth century are as celebrated and studied as surrealism. Many of the works of its best known practitioners—including Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Joan Miró, and Leonora Carrington—have become touchstones of modern art and some of the most familiar images of the era.

Critical to the development of surrealism was the art of drawing. For those involved in the movement, it was a vital means of expression and innovation, resulting in a rich array of graphic techniques that radically pushed conventional art historical boundaries. Yet the medium has been largely overlooked in visual arts studies and exhibitions as scholars and institutions have focused more on surrealist painting and sculpture.

Now, for the first time in New York, the central role drawing played in surrealist art will be explored in a large-scale exhibition at The Morgan Library & Museum entitled Drawing Surrealism. The show will include more than 160 works on paper by 70 artists from 15 countries, offering important new understanding of surrealism’s emergence, evolution, and worldwide influence. The exhibition is co-organized with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and will be on view at the Morgan from January 25 through April 21, 2013.

[spoiler title=”(Click to continue)” open=”0″ style=”1″]Occupying two of the Morgan’s largest galleries, Drawing Surrealism will be presented chronologically with interwoven thematic sections devoted to the surrealists’ principal drawing techniques and to international developments. Important drawings will be shown from countries beyond the movement’s Western European geographic roots, including sheets from Eastern Europe, Japan, the United States, and Latin America.

Drawing Surrealism includes works from the Morgan, as well as from the collections of LACMA, Tate Modern, the Musée national d’art moderne at the Pompidou Center, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Menil Collection. It also includes drawings from a number of major private collections in the United States and abroad, which are rarely accessible to the public.

“Because the Morgan’s collection of works on paper is of such international renown, one of the principal goals of our exhibition program is to present new insight and fresh perspectives on the medium of drawing,” said William M. Griswold, director of the Morgan. “Drawing Surrealism is an example of just such an exhibition. The show breaks new art historical ground by demonstrating the fundamental importance of drawing to the surrealist movement on the worldwide stage.”


Surrealism emerged as a literary movement in Paris in 1924 with the publication of André Breton’s First Manifesto of Surrealism. Inspired by Freud’s theories of the unconscious, nineteenth-century mysticism, and Symbolist art and literature, surrealists sought to liberate the imagination through an art that involved chance, dreams, and the unconscious, as well as the play of thought itself.

Almost at once, the movement’s proponents realized the potential of the visual arts for expressing the imagery of dreams and the unconscious mind. The practice of drawing, which offers the advantages of immediacy and spontaneity, became the most fertile medium of expression and innovation among the surrealists, allowing them to bypass the conscious mind and produce new ways of seeing.


Central to the exhibition will be examples of the diverse drawing techniques that the surrealists used in their efforts to bypass the conscious mind and access the subliminal realm. The first graphic process adopted by the surrealists was automatic drawing. In this technique, inspired by André Breton’s definition of surrealism as “pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express . . . the actual functioning of thought . . . in the absence of any control exercised by reason, beyond any aesthetic or moral concern,” the artist simply allows his hand to meander across the sheet. According to André Masson, who was the first to develop the process, “the hand must be fast enough, so that conscious thought cannot intervene and control the movement.” Afterwards, however, Masson would alter his drawings according to suggestions emanating from the original web of lines. Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, and Yves Tanguy also practiced a form of automatism that combined chance with a more deliberate approach.


Denouncing the passivity of automatism, a few surrealists relied on more traditional techniques to create dreamlike images and express their fantasy. Chief among them was Dalí, who sought to materialize his “delirious phenomena” and dream imagery with the utmost detail in the academic style of the old masters.

This illusionistic mode was predominant in American surrealism of the 1930s, notably in the work of Federico Castellon, one of Dalí’s most successful followers. Artists seeking to express the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and World War II also often adopted this style to create images as disorienting and destabilizing as the atrocities they represented.


Max Ernst was the main surrealist to explore the technique of frottage, which consists of rubbing graphite or other drawing media on a sheet of paper placed over a textured surface, such as a wood floor, strings, or leaves, in order to reproduce that texture on the paper. For Ernst, frottage was equivalent to automatic writing because of the mechanical and unconscious way in which the imagery surfaces. Several frottage drawings by Ernst will be on view, including Le Start du Châtaigner (The Start of the Chestnut Tree), 1925, recently acquired by the Morgan, which belongs to the first series in which the artist systematically explored this technique. Ernst later adapted the frottage technique to canvas in what he called “grattage.”


Some of the most striking surrealist drawings were exquisite corpses, a game that involved collaboration and chance. In the game—the name of which derives from a sentence created when the surrealists first used the process to write poetry: The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine—each participant made a drawing on a section of a folded sheet of paper without seeing the others’ drawings. The resulting hybrid creatures generated by the game influenced surrealist imagery, reappearing in artists’ individual works, as can be seen, for instance, in the strange anatomy of Victor Brauner’s figures on view. While the earliest exquisite corpses were drawn in graphite, ink, or colored pencil on ordinary writing paper, later examples could be in pastel or tempera on black paper. Beginning in the mid-1930s, collage was also used.


In the mid-1930s artists developed new automatic techniques to bypass the rational mind in the creative process. One of the most popular was decalcomania, which involves applying a wet medium (ink or gouache) to a sheet of paper and then pressing it against another sheet. When the sheets are pulled apart unexpected patterns appear on the transfer image. Originally a decorative technique—used notably in nineteenth-century ceramic design—decalcomania was rediscovered in 1935 in the context of surrealism’s exploitation of chance effects by Spanish artist Oscar Dominguez. Nearly ten decalcomania drawings by Dominguez and other surrealists who employed the technique—including Yves Tanguy, Georges Hugnet, and Marcel Jean—are included in the exhibition.


Although collage was used earlier in the twentieth century by the cubist and dada artists, the technique took on particular importance with the surrealists. The odd juxtapositions and dislocated imagery it produced were particularly effective in conjuring a dream world or suggesting the irrationality of unconscious desire. Miró, Ernst, Ei-Kyu, Breton, and Arp are among the many artists whose works are featured in this section of the exhibition.


The 1930s marked surrealism’s growing internationalization. Artists outside of Paris approached and adapted surrealist drawing techniques to their respective cultural and political contexts, and active surrealist centers developed in London, Prague, Tokyo, and Mexico. Although surrealism was envisioned as an international movement, rarely have works by these artists been presented alongside their European cohorts centered in Paris.

On view will be drawings by such masters as René Magritte of Belgium, Roland Penrose and Eileen Agar of England, Gunther Gerzso and Frida Kahlo of Mexico, Toyen and Jindřich Štyrský of the Czech Republic, Federico Castellón, Arshile Gorky, and Kay Sage of the United States, Cesar Moro of Peru, and Yamamoto Kansuke of Japan.


In the 1940s automatism played a major role in the elaboration of new forms of lyrical abstraction. In Europe, Henri Michaux and Wols created fluid images in washes and watercolor in which barely recognizable shapes suggest a visionary world. In the United States, stimulated by the presence of European surrealists in exile during the war, artists such as Arshile Gorky, William Baziotes, and Jackson Pollock explored freer techniques to make drawings that fuse visions of nature and of an interior universe. These works on paper laid the groundwork for what would become abstract expressionism.

Although surrealism as a movement lost its vitality at the end of the forties, its tenets remained a springboard for several postwar developments, as can be seen in Ellsworth Kelly’s abstract compositions based on chance and Louise Bourgois’s expression of subconscious psychological states through symbolic imagery.


Inner Landscape: Martha Graham and the Surreal
Thursday, February 7, 7pm
The Martha Graham Dance Company will perform three of Graham’s masterworks that touch on surrealism and demonstrate how the choreographer made the workings of the mind visible in dance. Every Soul is a Circus (with Katherine Crockett performing the lead), Satyric Festival Song, and “Moon” from Canticle for Innocent Comedians will be featured with commentary by the Company’s Artistic Director, Janet Eilber. Drawing Surrealism will be open at 6pm especially for program attendees.
$20; $15 for Members; 212-685-0008 x560
This program is supported in part by Alan M. and Joan Taub Ades.

L’Age D’Or
Friday, February 22, 7pm
(1930, 60 minutes)
Director: Luis Buñuel
Directed by a master of Surrealist cinema and co-written with Salvador Dalí, this avant-garde surrealist comedy is a gleeful fever dream of Freudian unease, bizarre humor, and shocking imagery. Starring Gaston Modot and Lya Lys, and the famed surrealist painter Max Ernst.

Leave It to Chance: Surrealism 101 for the Family
Saturday, February 9, drop-in from 2–5pm
In a combination of games and art projects, artists and educators Nicole Haroutunian and Lisa Libicki will introduce the entire family to the most playful side of surrealism. Families will explore automatic drawing, frottage, collage, decalcomania, and collaborative chance drawing, all techniques made famous by Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Salvador Dali, and many others represented in Drawing Surrealism. This workshop is limited to families with children. There is a limit of two adult tickets per family. Appropriate for ages 6 and up.
$6; $4 for Members; $2 for Children; 212-685-0008 x560

Drawing Surrealism
Friday, February 1, 7pm
Isabelle Dervaux, Acquavella Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings, leads this casual tour of the exhibition she co-curated.
Free with admission

Between the Lines
Saturday, February 2, 11am
Saturday, March 2, 11am
Written or drawn, lines are to be read and interpreted. In this new series of interactive gallery conversations, a museum educator will lead participants in a forty-minute discussion based on a selection of works from Drawing Surrealism.
Free with admission

Stroller Tours
Wednesday, February 6, 10:30am
On the first Wednesday of each month, docents lead lively one-hour tours of the museum and current exhibitions for new parents and family caregivers and their children. In February, participants will explore Drawing Surrealism. For parents and family caregivers with children 0–8 months. Single strollers, tandem strollers, and front carriers are welcome.
Free with admission


Drawing Surrealism was organized at the Morgan by Isabelle Dervaux, Acquavella Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings. At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the organizing curator was Leslie Jones, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings. The exhibition was on view at LACMA from October 21, 2012–January 6, 2013.

Lead funding for this exhibition is provided by the Ricciardi Family Exhibition Fund and by the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, with further generous support from the Sherman Fairchild Fund for Exhibitions.
The programs of The Morgan Library & Museum are made possible with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

The Morgan Library & Museum

The Morgan Library & Museum began as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan, one of the preeminent collectors and cultural benefactors in the United States. Today, more than a century after its founding in 1906, the Morgan serves as a museum, independent research library, musical venue, architectural landmark, and historic site. In October 2010, the Morgan completed the first-ever restoration of its original McKim building, Pierpont Morgan’s private library, and the core of the institution. In tandem with the 2006 expansion project by architect Renzo Piano, the Morgan now provides visitors unprecedented access to its world-renowned collections of drawings, literary and historical manuscripts, musical scores, medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, printed books, and ancient Near Eastern seals and tablets.

General Information
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