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Eva Sulzer, Pyramid of the Magicians, Uxmal, 1939, gelatin silver print, 8 1/8 x 7 3/4". From “Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico.”

Eva Sulzer, Pyramid of the Magicians, Uxmal, 1939, gelatin silver print, 8 1/8 x 7 3/4". From “Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico.”

“Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico”

The Getty Research Institute

Eva Sulzer, Pyramid of the Magicians, Uxmal, 1939, gelatin silver print, 8 1/8 x 7 3/4". From “Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico.”

Dyn was a little-known journal published in Mexico City between 1942 and 1944 by a group of émigré artists, thinkers, and poets previously affiliated with Surrealism. As the Getty Research Institute’s recent small but absorbing show demonstrated, the artists associated with the publication shared a fascination with the precontact cultures of the Americas as well as with advances in physics, and, through their work, sought a meaningful language with which to animate their disparate sources of inspiration, from ancient petroglyphs to modern science. Taking its name from the Greek dynaton, meaning “the possible,” Dyn may have published only six issues, but it included a vast array of material in its attempt to forge a link with the past while at the same time prefiguring the future: photographs of totem poles, drawings of archaeological excavations, scholarly anthropological essays.

For Dyn’s inaugural issue, Austrian artist Wolfgang Paalen penned an essay titled “Farewell to Surrealism,” clearly announcing the journal’s intention to become a mouthpiece for those disenchanted by André Breton’s dogmatic approach and exclusionary tendencies. Instead of creating a tightly closed circle, Paalen and his cohorts—including Swiss photographer Eva Sulzer, French painter Alice Rahon, and Peruvian poet César Moro—embraced emerging artists and trumpeted a diverse array of innovations. In some of the exhibition’s most illuminating sections, for example, comparative material from Breton’s journal Minotaure (1933–39) was placed alongside work from the pages of Dyn. Such juxtapositions highlighted several key ideological and political differences between the two projects, not least their varied approaches to the Mexican landscape and its inhabitants. Both publications included works by the Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo, for instance, but while Breton’s journal featured images that conform to the French artist’s stereotype of the Mexican macabre, those published in Dyn capture a range of affective stances that resist being reduced to cliché.

Drawing extensively on the Getty-owned archives of Moro, who wrote passionately about his relationship with a married man, the exhibition also presented a textured (if not always explicit) analysis regarding gender and sexuality. Notably, Dyn featured a substantial number of female artists, including photographers Rosa Rolando and Doris Heyden (both of whom were represented here), and appears to have been far less interested in depicting naked women than was Minotaure, to further compare. What is more, Dyn revolved around the polyamorous threesome of Paalen, Rahon, and Sulzer, their non-normative trio, alongside the same-sex desire that propelled Moro’s practice, makes this milieu a fascinating chapter in the history of queer artistic practices in the twentieth century. Moro was the first Latin American poet to be accepted into Breton’s orbit, but the issue of queerness is what (at least in part) catalyzed Moro’s break with Surrealism: Breton’s disapproval of homosexuality ended their friendship.

With its confessional letters, personal postcards, and photographs of the Dyn artists in casual situations, “Farewell to Surrealism” proposed that the backstory of rivalries and relationships occurring off the page is as revealing as the content within the journal’s covers. The show also included a small handful of abstract paintings, a film of Paalen, Rahon, and Sulzer’s 1939 trip through British Columbia to view First Nations art, and several marvelous prints by the Guatemalan artist Carlos Mérida, among other materials. At the same time, the exhibition traced the journal’s reception and distribution (Robert Motherwell was an influential champion of Dyn in New York), positing that it signaled a transitional threshold between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Even more, the works and ephemera on view suggest a broad, rich network of artistic production in Mexico during the 1940s that was fueled as much by local intimacies as by the international affinities, clashes, and politics that it channeled.

Julia Bryan-Wilson