What Was Surrealism?
Eugenio Granell: The Magical Blazons of Tropical Flight, 1947, oil on linen, 25 1/4 by 28 3/4 inches. FUNDACION EUGENIO GRANELL, SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA/©2022 ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK.
SURREALISM RECEIVED THE MUSEUM TREATMENT early in its history—early enough that André Breton, the movement’s charismatic ringleader and chief evangelist, was aggrieved at learning that he would not be allowed to dictate the selection and presentation of works, as he had for virtually every other Surrealist exhibition since the group’s 1925 debut at Galerie Pierre in Paris. Organized by Alfred H. Barr Jr., at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936, the show, “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism,” was conceived as a companion to “Cubism and Abstract Art,” held at the museum earlier that year, both part of a series of exhibitions that would, according to Barr, “present in an objective and historical manner the principal movements of modern art.” Yet if Barr recognized that Surrealism must be reckoned with, he was nevertheless equivocal about its significance, in a way that he was decidedly not about Cubism’s: “When [Surrealism] is no longer a cause or a cockpit of controversy,” he writes in the catalogue, “it will doubtless be seen to have produced a mass of mediocre and capricious pictures and objects, a fair number of excellent and enduring works of art, and even a few masterpieces.”