New York

The Surrealists

Byron Gallery

The Surrealism show at the Byron Gallery is very hard to review: since it intends to be a broad survey of the movement, strictly speaking one would have first to say what the movement is all about and then consider to what extent the particular selection in this show reflected one’s interpretation of the movement. Here, it is hard to see what basis supports the selection—it scarcely seems to be a selection at all. There are only six or seven major works out of more than sixty, important artists do not figure in the show while peripheral ones do, some artists are represented by many works, others by only one, and the reasons for the emphasis or its lack are not always apparent; even where an artist is represented by several things, they are not chosen so as to give an idea of the several aspects of his production; whole phases of the movement are scarcely represented.

Of course part of the problem, for someone who wants to mount a show of Surrealist art, is that until the late twenties or early thirties there was no such thing as a Surrealist style in art: during that time, Surrealism was primarily political and social in its orientation and so could turn to no art style as being especially relevant. The best work of this period are the collages of Ernst, which, from a formal point of view, are entirely Cubist in conception; Jean Crotti’s Jeux Lunaires is the best example of this style in the present show, although Ernst’s own Dream and Revolution of 1938, which is also in the show and is one of its high points, harks back to this period in its style as well as its title. The predominant aspect of the succeeding phase of Surrealism in the visual arts was biomorphism, and it is less inadequately represented here: the examples of Tanguy and Dali are rather random, but Miró comes off well.

To my taste, and taking Surrealist art as only one manifestation of the Surrealist movement (rather than, say, for its contribution to pictorial procedures or for its influence on subsequent art), the most interesting vein within Surrealism is that which has come increasingly to the fore since the mid-thirties: since then, with its withdrawal from politics, and the withdrawal of the politically inclined from it, Surrealism has been a movement of estheticism and eroticism. That portion of its artistic production which has its place within this tendency is nearly always thoroughly trivial if it is considered as art (whether historically or formally), but of course it does not aim to achieve anything along these lines, which indeed it seldom even considers. In the present show, a good Dali poster of 1935 with its theatrical red and black, and work that is later but in the same vein by Bellmer and Fini represent this tendency too sparsely.

Jerrold Lanes