The City of Marseilles and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais are organizing Surrealism in American Art, a major exhibition to be held at the Centre de la Vieille Charité in Marseilles, a renowned place for major international exhibitions organized by the Musées de Marseille, in an impressive 17th-century landmark building by Pierre Puget. The exhibition will take place from June 25th through October 25th, 2020.
The focus of the exhibition is not the well-rehearsed and misleading story of how New York was inspired by Paris but rather an alternative history of the survival of a surrealist trend in American art. It will begin with the same starting point, i.e. the arrival in the United States of a group of surrealist artists who had first regrouped in Marseilles around Breton and were able to flee from war-torn Europe thanks in particular to Varian Fry. It will immediately confront the works created in Marseilles with those of Surrealist artists already active in the United States since the early 1930s, and then proceed to what happened on the East and West coasts when American and European met up to create a new form of Surrealism, a new adventure of the mind which yielded major works, both by American and European artists, forming the basis for Abstract Expressionism, presenting the core group of this movement as well as lesser-known figures. It will then survey how surrealist methods and strategies remained vital among American artists up till the end of the 1960s, even if only a limited number of artists acknowledged it. Instead of aligning a succession of separate movements (Pop, Minimal, Postminimal, and Conceptual), it will cut through oppositions that were largely due to a few critics, in order to favor a more comprehensive trend that united well known and underappreciated artists, presenting what critic and curator Gene Swenson called in 1966 “the other tradition”.
Our exhibition aims at proposing an alternative history of postwar American art by looking at how American exile was more like a new beginning than the end of Surrealism and constituted a new way to approach surrealist art in the 1950-1960s, and how Surrealism continued to evolve through American abstract and figurative works. With this purpose in mind, it will confront American works from the 1940s to the 1960s with significant examples of Surrealist works from the 1920s and 1930s.Download PDF (258.7 KB)