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Everybody in my generation remembers chapter ten of the late great Greil Marcus’ book, Lipstick Traces, which came out my senior year of university (1989). Chapter ten dealt with the birth of the situationists, via the Easter Sunday performance at Notre Dame in 1950. Marcus wrote that the Surrealists, then ensconced figures in the art world in Europe and New York, claimed the act as that of their protégés, while the artists themselves rejected the notion. Surrealism was over.

The distinction between the situationists and the Surrealists and Dada was for us, an awesome thing to consider that way. The grandparents crowed about them and they rejected their successful grandparents. As a result of being educated from that perspective – a college kid looking at the 1950’s and learning from Marcus how this was a part of the birth of punk – my perception of Surrealism was, if not tainted, at least given greater contrast.

A bunch of us 20-year-olds in the early 90’s became fascinated by the situationists and DeBord. We were watching as they built the cities into grand stages for the Spectacle all throughout that decade. The Millennium was the Spectacle. Until it was 9/11. Everything DeBord foresaw was right in front of us. They even pulled down a few.

<<Flash Forward to 2022>> 

If you want to call Booklyn, a fine arts collective dedicated to book arts, you dial my first number in New York. I was romantic about DeBord back then and so refused traditional entry into the group (or any group), but participated in its birth and establishment in Brooklyn in its early days. Booklyn is why many artists I know are in important collections around the country and the world. The collaboration was good and became incredibly important after September eleventh.

I called Booklyn when I dropped in to NYC and Marshall Weber called me back promptly. He chastised me for coming to town to support businesses that Booklyn would be protesting. He included the MOMA and the Met and the Opera. I didn’t bother to mention I was going to the Gugg the next day.

It is to say, the Metropolitan and MOMA have a labor problem. They have a diversity problem. They have a problem reframing the collections in the era of Black Lives Matter and MeToo and LGBTQ+ rights.

The Joseph E. Yoakum retrospective at MOMA I attended the day before and the Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition I would be attending today were trying to address the issue: the Yoakum show was directly engaging a Black artist and the Metropolitan’s Surrealism Beyond Borders attempted to show how Surrealism was embraced by diverse groups of people around the world in various states of revolution. It sought to internationalize and radicalize visitors’ perception of Surrealism. It was closing at the end of the month. I went.

Armoire Surrealiste, Marcel Jean, (1941)

Sidenote: Again, I had to schedule a time for my visit as the museum attempted to encourage social distancing by timing the number of entrants. The temperature was in the 30’s and I was fully bundled up.

bundled up for freezing temps

Only trouble is there was no coat check! Yet another victim of the pandemic was a coat check for all your winter gear when visiting the museums. It was hot inside and we visitors all had to lug all this winter gear around, ha!

Of particular interest to me was the area dedicated to Black Surrealists. I did not know how deeply Aime Cesaire had embraced Surrealism. Originals of his journal Tropiques (1941)

and Retorno al Pais Natal were a thrill to see.

The influence of Surrealism was apparent.

a quote from Suzanne Cesaire summarizes the cross-pollination

was also very deeply touched by this portrait of Charlie Parker by Black Canadian-American Surrealist Ted Joans, entitled Bird Lives! (1968)

But there was so much more from around the world. This shocking work, entitled Tagliche Drangsale (Daily Torments) by the oft-forgotten German Surrealist painter Richard Oelze (1900 – 1980), was painted a year after the National Socialists assumed power in Germany, (1934)

There was this brilliant Giacometti

Cage (1930-31), Alberto Giacometti

Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian was an Ethiopian-Armenian painter and art teacher. He spent much of his life living and working in the United States. He was one of the first, and by far the most acclaimed, contemporary Black artists from the African continent to gain international attention. Here’s his Night Flight of Dread and Delight, Skundar Boghossian, (1964).

The Southern California artist, Helen Lundeberg, often credited for movement to Post-Surrealist work, was represented here in a Surrealist painting – Plant and Animal Analogies, (1934 -35).

And an early Surrealist work by the American painter, printmaker, sculptor and writer, Dorothea Tanning – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, (1943).

Roger Penrose was included with this sculpture, entitled The Last Voyage of Captain Cook, (1936-7)

It was my first time seeing the Exquisite Corpse in person.

Cadavre Exquis: Figure,  Andre Breton, et al (1928)

And this great Magritte, I was born the year he died, you know.

La Duree Poignarde (Time Transfixed), Rene Magritte (1938)

And one of my all-time favorites

Umi (the Sea), Koga Harue, (1929)

Salvador Dali’s Lobster telephone

Telephone homard (Lobster Telephone), Salvador Dali from (1938)

There was much more to consider in the exhibition, website here.

But one piece stood out amongst the many I saw in my first visit to museums since the coronavirus pandemic struck. It was an obscure sculpture made of nails and sponge by French artist Joyce Mansour and it was entitled Objet Mechant, which means Nasty Object. It looks shockingly like the nastiest respiratory virus in human history. Yet it was made 50 years before Covid-19 struck.

Untitled (Objet mechant) (Nasty Object), Joyce Mansour (1965 – 69)

Pretty good exhibition. so says I.