Critics’ Picks

Cover of Documents (issue 1, 1929).

Cover of Documents (issue 1, 1929).


“Undercover Surrealism”

Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road
May 11–July 30, 2006

Guided by Georges Bataille’s avant-garde journal Documents, Dawn Ades has orchestrated an exhibition that hews close to the publication’s diverse range of playful, often subversive content. Published in Paris from 1929 to 1930, Documents juxtaposed reviews of contemporary art, music, and film with academic studies of numismatics and linguistics. Ades has picked up on the political resonance of the journal (expressed by the dissenting voices of Bataille, Robert Desnos, and Joan Miró, among others). For example, André Masson’s painting The Abattoir, 1930—reproduced in the journal and included in this exhibition—plainly reveals the brutality from which modern society was beginning to hide. In a more playful challenge to traditional hierarchies, Bataille also printed Pauvre Girafle (Poor Giraffe), 1930, a drawing by Masson’s young daughter Lili. At the Hayward, this sketch rests in a vitrine alongside primitive artifacts that exude the same studied nonchalance as Bataille showed in his publication’s layout. Meanwhile, the sharp, almost aggressive figures in Picasso’s The Three Dancers, 1925, a work by the only artist to whom an entire issue of Documents was devoted, also feature prominently. Films, looped in a darkened viewing room and shown full-length in an attendant program, and audio recordings, including a Stravinsky composition for strings and sounds from a voodoo ritual, are likewise present. However, the journal’s text remains the focus. Laminated facsimiles of each edition, often in both French and English, are splayed across a long reading table in the final room—a celebration of the original project’s energy and initiative.