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Yup’ik people, Complex Mask, ca. 1890–1905, wood, paint, sinew, vegetal fiber, cotton thread, feathers, 34 1⁄4 × 22 × 19 1⁄4". From “Moon Dancers: Yup’ik Masks and the Surrealists.”

“Moon Dancers: Yup’ik Masks and the Surrealists”


This exhibition was a model of concision, an intensely pleasurable summary of the knotty moment in art history when a bunch of French artists got it into their heads to collect ceremonial masks made by the Yup’ik people, a native Alaskan tribe. “Moon Dancers: Yup’ik Masks and the Surrealists” presented seventy-four pieces, most of them paintings and sculptures by artists such as Victor Brauner, André Breton, Leonora Carrington, and Max Ernst, along with nineteen Yup’ik masks owned by these same artists.

Breton and Man Ray first saw the Yup’ik masks in 1935 in Paris, at the Galerie Charles Ratton. The masks fed into Breton’s conception of how objects worked in the “radical poetic practice” of Surrealism. In his 1935 essay “The Situation of the Surrealist Object,” Breton quotes Salvador Dalí’s definition: “an object which lends itself to a minimum of mechanical functions and is based on

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