Cover image for The Curatorial Avant-Garde: Surrealism and Exhibition Practice in France, 1925–1941 By Adam Jolles

The Curatorial Avant-Garde

Surrealism and Exhibition Practice in France, 1925–1941

Adam Jolles


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ISBN: 978-0-271-05939-6

288 pages
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25 color/68 b&w illustrations

Refiguring Modernism

The Curatorial Avant-Garde

Surrealism and Exhibition Practice in France, 1925–1941

Adam Jolles

“Jolles discusses the Surrealists’ own exhibitions, with which writers and artists possessing no formal curatorial training attempted to wrest control back from the high art establishment, with wild results. Exhibitions centered on Surrealism are currently having a moment, making it the perfect time to look at the way these artists displayed their own art.”


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  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
All too often, the historical avant-garde is taken to be incommensurate with and antithetical to the world inhabited by the museum. In The Curatorial Avant-Garde, by contrast, Adam Jolles demonstrates the surrealists’ radical transformation of the ways in which spectators encountered works of art between the wars. From their introduction in Paris in 1925, surrealist exhibitions dissolved the conventional boundaries between visual media, language, and the space of public display. This intrusion—by a group of amateur curators, with neither formal training nor professional experience in museums or galleries—ultimately altered the way in which surrealists made, displayed, and promoted their own art. Through interdisciplinary analyses of particular exhibitions and works of art in relation to the manner in which they were displayed, Jolles addresses this public face of surrealism. He directs attention to the venues, the contemporary debates those venues engendered, and the critical discourses in which they participated. In so doing, he shines new light on the movement’s artistic and intellectual development, revealing both the political stakes attached to surrealism within the historical context of interwar Europe and the movement’s instrumental role in the trajectory of modernism.
“Jolles discusses the Surrealists’ own exhibitions, with which writers and artists possessing no formal curatorial training attempted to wrest control back from the high art establishment, with wild results. Exhibitions centered on Surrealism are currently having a moment, making it the perfect time to look at the way these artists displayed their own art.”
“There are many valuable insights to be gained from Jolles’s richly researched study. The book also displays impressive production values, with a knowing nod towards ‘The New Typography’ and several archive images that are brightly rejuvenated through digital scanning.”

Adam Jolles is Associate Professor of Art History at Florida State University.


List of Illustrations


Introduction: The Curatorial Avant-Garde

1 Breaking the Silence

2 Denouncing de Chirico

3 Colonists by Vocation

4 The Tactile Turn

5 The Artist as Dealer

Conclusion: Looking Back on Adorno


Selected Bibliography



The Curatorial Avant-Garde

In an entry in his dream diary dating to 1925, later published as Nights as Day, Days as Night, Michel Leiris recorded a nightmare in which he visits a penal colony for women established in a municipal courthouse. Of particular interest to the poet are the potential enchantments offered by the prison’s “museum of horrors,” which he reaches after passing the inmates and their wardens. At first, Leiris claims, he is not frightened by the harrowing installations—towering darkened stands of airplanes built in the shape of birds’ heads; indeed, those about which he has been forewarned are thankfully out of order. The author’s sense of ease, however, rapidly dissipates as he penetrates deeper into the museum’s receding halls and loses his ability to distinguish between the museum’s installations and the penal colony’s inhabitants. A world of sheer terror unfolds before him: “There are,” he observes,

as in the Musée Grévin, wax figures that seem to be alive, but also living figures that seem to be made out of wax. These are the convicts. They are being submitted to atrocious tortures. Everywhere I see racks, torture boots, gibbets, corpses splayed on wheels, pillories, stairways littered with dismembered limbs, and every conceivable type of torture device or other contraption reminiscent of Piranesi’s Prisons. In the first hall, torturers wearing white smocks are engaged in human vivisection.

Leiris conflates the museum’s installations with the penal colony’s inhabitants once again toward the end of his dream narrative, when a ship he boards safely reaches shore only after foundering precariously in stormy weather. Following the incident, he is shown an engraving in a catalogue of the museum’s collection depicting a similar, near-tragic accident. His encounter with the prison museum thus comes full circle, his journey inscribed in an endlessly spiraling mise en abyme within the very objects that constitute the museum’s collection.

The dream narrative is a curious piece of writing, at once fretful and inquisitive about the museum experience, both deeply personal and self-consciously public, much like his later, more renowned ethnographic essays. As Leiris struggles to make sense of his disturbing nightmare, he acknowledges that it has been overdetermined by his own experiences. The “museum of horrors” is an amalgam of spectacular installations he had either witnessed in Paris or read about, including the Grévin wax museum, with its dramatic effigies of famous historical personages; the extensive dioramas recounting French history at the Musée Carnavalet; the amusement park at the Exposition des arts décoratives, which enthralled the capital during the summer of 1925; an air show he had visited as a child; and, finally, the Chinese Garden of Horrors envisioned by Octave Mirbeau in his chilling fin de siècle novel The Torture Garden (1899).

Leiris’s oneiric museum tour occurred amid a sea change in the European avant-garde’s understanding of the character, composition, and function of exhibitions. Only a few years earlier, in two installations that went unmentioned by Leiris, the Berlin and Paris Dada groups had initiated a groundswell of interest in the exhibition as a subject deserving of critical scrutiny, with the opening of the First International Dada Fair at the Galerie Otto Burchard in Berlin in 1920 and the Salon dada at the Galerie Montaigne in Paris the following summer. Aggressively antiestablishment, shrill, and chaotic, these exhibitions shared much in common both formally and conceptually despite their geographic distance from one another. Each had been curated in highly idiosyncratic fashion, with broadsheets, photographs, and objects (many designed expressly for the exhibitions) mounted dizzyingly at varying heights along the gallery walls. No uniformity or respect for the individual items was evident in these installations, reflecting in large part the movement’s wish to overturn the “cult of art” with “dadaist pictures and products.” Indicating their shared antipathy to entrenched notions of high art, both exhibitions featured “corrected masterpieces,” including defaced reproductions of the Venus de Milo, over whose headless body artists had montaged their own faces. Evoking the uncanny atmosphere of Leiris’s dream, mannequins presided over each exhibition, serving as figures through which the Dadaists might vent their disgust with proponents of ultranationalist politics. In Berlin, John Heartfield and Rudolf Schlichter clothed one in the uniform of a German officer and replaced its head with that of a pig (fig. 1). Dangling from the ceiling and surrounded by Dadaist images of fragmented veterans’ bodies, the so-called Prussian Archangel signaled the costly ruin into which the German military-industrial complex had led the empire in World War I. Its porcine face further embodied the animal condition to which Hohenzollern subjects had been reduced as they hurled themselves toward destruction. Similarly, in Paris, a dapper surrogate for Maurice Barrès, the poet whom the French Dadaists had mockingly sentenced to twenty years hard labor earlier that spring, was positioned at the edge of the second-floor balcony, where he epitomized the kind of fervent nationalism his antagonists sought to purge from contemporary literature (fig. 2). If they were satirical effigies at which Dada directed its ire, these figures served equally to bring the exhibitions to life in much the same fashion as the wax figures Leiris imagined animating the penal colony.

Although the Dada exhibitions preceded the great period of dialogue on the subject of exhibition practices to which the latter half of the decade bears witness, they nevertheless attest to the museological experimentation that would shortly sweep across the Continent, ranging from Paris to Moscow. Beginning in 1925 and continuing up through the outbreak of World War II, curatorial activity was subjected to a heightened amount of critical scrutiny as increasingly sophisticated display strategies displaced the novelty of artistic technique, as interpretive text challenged the privileged status of the object, and as the figure of the curator challenged the creative predominance of the artist. In the 1920s and 1930s, debates over the museological treatment of objects and the political and aesthetic properties of exhibitions were just as central to the development of European modernism as questions of style and artistic practice, and in certain contexts more so.

This book focuses on one central aspect of this phenomenon: the emergence of an amateur class of curators in France composed of writers and artists who actively sought to contribute to current curatorial discourse despite possessing no formal training in or substantial exposure to either museum or gallery work. In addition to their association with surrealism (although several of them either carefully distanced themselves from or publicly broke with the surrealists), what links them together is an interest in the manner in which art and historical artifacts were being presented to the public and a burgeoning skepticism in the ability of entrenched institutions—either public museums or private galleries—to address their concerns.

As early as 1923, André Breton bemoaned the inordinate power dealers were exerting over the contemporary art scene:

Criticism is no longer up to the task. Long jealous of the apparent sanction conferred on its judgments by the noisy announcement of certain sale prices, criticism now seems to be no more than the shifty agent of those transactions, which have nothing whatsoever to do with art but which still threaten to devalue it. . . . I see no way to keep silent about such a grave danger. Art is, I repeat, currently under the sway of dealers, and this to the great shame of artists.

It is already unfortunate that so few opportunities exist for a painter to bring his work to public attention, apart from art galleries. His presence in those evil places almost always leads him to make compromises that I am not prepared to forgive. I do not understand how someone who loves painting can stand to make the rounds of exhibits every week, and still less how he usually looks no further than that.

This skepticism would lead Breton to forge close alliances with a new generation of dealers willing to cede at least temporary curatorial control of their galleries to his coterie of artists and poets.

What was at stake for Breton and his contemporaries varied to some degree, but I think it is safe to say that all were concerned with the continued viability of a politically informed, self-critical artistic praxis in relation to the increasingly doctrinal institutions (museums) with which it had been in competition since the late nineteenth century and the world market for art (dealers and collectors) that both supported and threatened to subsume it. The curatorial avant-garde that emerges in France between the wars is thus borne from and intimately tied to the historical avant-garde with which it is associated. It offers its audiences models of artistic production, distribution, and viewership that simply cannot be reconciled with those models advocated by the museums and dealers with which it is locked in competition. These models should not be construed, however, as mere alternatives or abstract critiques of either established conventions or venerable institutions. They are rather templates for meaningful engagement, self-criticism, and cultural identity. By the same token, in designating this group the curatorial avant-garde I do not aspire to exclude a wider range of candidates from being considered by other historians (Herbert Bayer, Frederick Kiesler, and El Lissitzky, among others, immediately spring to mind). I wish simply to distinguish those colluding with museums and established dealers from those seeking to develop alternatives to these normative institutions and the parties (private and political) whose interests they implicitly represented.

The chapters that follow place the activities of this group within the broader context of curatorial practice in France, Germany, the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent the United States. The broad argument that this book advances in favor of recognizing a curatorial avant-garde is not intended to isolate it from these other developments, but rather to identify certain shared conventions and points of significant divergence. Indeed, the formation in the late 1920s of a class of professional curators in the Soviet Union fully devoted to the task of critiquing the concept of art as autonomous makes such an intellectual endeavor a prerequisite for any meaningful debate concerning the curatorial avant-garde.

In November 1925, the same year in which Leiris transcribed his nightmare, the surrealists mounted their first group exhibition in Paris. Seeking to quell doubts about whether this novel literary movement would take pictorial form, the group presented works in a wide variety of media under the title Surrealist Painting at the Galerie Pierre, a new venue run by an ambitious young director. Much like Leiris’s dream, Surrealist Painting was structured around a dramatic stream-of-consciousness narrative in which the viewer served as principal protagonist and each work played a supporting role. This curatorial intrusion proved unwelcome among many critics, who perceived it as a distraction from the ostensible subject of the exhibition, the work itself. “What do the paintings think of this noise?” asked one, disdainfully alluding to the raucous crowd on opening night as much as to the literary infrastructure of the exhibition. “Let’s count,” he continued, “among the evil services rendered to painting by literature that of having broken its silence.” Over the course of the next decade, however, that “noise” would only amplify as the surrealists continued to curate exhibitions in which they increasingly dissolved the conventional boundaries between visual media, language, and the space of public display. By 1938, the year in which the sprawling International Exhibition of Surrealism was mounted at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, some critics continued to object to what they perceived as the eclipsing of art by “accessories for presentation.” Others, however, were quietly resigning themselves by this point to the emergent reign of the exhibition apparatus, “so voluminous and provocative,” according to one, “that painting plays no more than the role of a vague accessory.”

Leiris’s overwrought account of the “museum of horrors,” before whose frightful installations his sense of self threatened to dissolve, is hardly unique within surrealism, although it is perhaps the most anxious of the group’s numerous ruminations on the museum. Georges Bataille, surrealism’s self-proclaimed “enemy from within,” sought to associate the emergence of the public museum with the modern practice of autocratic political bureaucracy, observing that the Musée du Louvre in Paris had been converted from a royal palace into a national museum only during the Terror. “The origin of the modern museum,” he argues, “would thus be linked to the development of the guillotine.” In noting that metropolitan museums have always functioned as centrifugal forces in modern society, attracting large crowds of urban visitors seeking leisurely diversions, Bataille compares them to “the lung of a great city: every Sunday the throng flows into the museum, like blood, and leaves it fresh and purified.” The anatomical analogy seems fitting for Bataille, whose conception of the museum as a focal point for the civic populace was, as Denis Hollier has shrewdly suggested, implicitly bound up with his categorization of the slaughterhouse—the architectural emblem of modern, urban repulsion—as its inverse. For Hollier, these two edifices are inexorably linked in Bataille’s thought, museums “following in the footsteps of slaughterhouses, like their shadow, as if some strange destiny condemned [them] to rise up on the site of abandoned slaughterhouses.” Between these extreme states of ecstatic abandon—the complementary poles of attraction and repulsion—metropolitan subjects must negotiate their public paths.

If both Leiris and Bataille were drawn to the carnivalesque and spectacular aspects of the museum—to its affective power and its status as a locus for archaic social rites—then André Breton, the self-proclaimed founder of the surrealist movement, saw in such a public forum the opportunity for a displacing and decentering experience of a different sort. At an early point, he dismissed outright the collection of French painting amassed at the Louvre: “I must confess that I have stalked furiously through the slippery-floored halls of museums: and I am not the only one. In spite of a few marvelous glances thrown in my direction by women looking exactly like those of today, I have never been taken in for a moment by the purportedly unknown which those subterranean, immovable walls had to offer me. I have abandoned some adorable suppliants without compunction.” The problem, he went on to specify, was that such work (which followed “beaten” and “circuitous paths”) simply failed to engage him:

There were too many theater stages available on which I did not have the heart to act. Faced with all those religious compositions and pastoral allegories I completely forgot the meaning of the part I was supposed to be playing. The enchantments that the street outside had to offer me were a thousand times more real. It is not my fault if I cannot help being overcome by a terrible weariness when confronted with the endless procession of this gigantic prix de Rome in which nothing, neither subject nor style nor manner, retains any element of spontaneity.

Despite his reluctance to consider the museum a meaningful site for contemporary aesthetic engagement, Breton remained equally cognizant of the museum’s ability to generate profound sexual anxiety: “The discovery of the Gustave Moreau Museum when I was sixteen,” he writes, “conditioned ever after the way in which I loved. It was there that through certain faces and female poses I had a revelation of beauty and love.” While Moreau’s repetitive reproductions in his canvases of the same attenuated ecstatic female characters epitomized for Breton some notion of a perfect feminine model, the Moreau Museum, by contrast, embodied both the model temple in which such a specimen should be housed and a seedy den of iniquity—a brothel—in which its opposite could congregate: “The museum appeared to me as the perfect image of a temple, both the ideal image of what a temple should be . . . and the other image of the ‘place of ill repute’ which it might also become.” The image of the museum that emerges in Breton’s surrealism, then, is conflicted. On the one hand is the rigid institution (with its “subterranean, immovable walls”), entrenched in the past, that is unable to engage viewers and artists sympathetic to the goals of the historical avant-garde. On the other is a site that, like the city street Breton professes to prefer, amplifies the carnality of its visitors, encourages their sensual abandonment, and gives rise to an enthusiastic loss of self before the spectacle on display.

Considered more broadly, Leiris’s metaphor of the “museum of horrors” seems wholly appropriate for encapsulating a host of similar civic spaces that engendered similar affective reactions from his surrealist colleagues: Louis Aragon’s appraisal of the passage de l’Opéra, the early Parisian shopping center, as a “big glass coffin” just before its demolition; Salvador Dalí’s musings on the atavistic power of art nouveau architecture; or, to return again to Breton, the magical discoveries, occasioned by the flea market of Saint-Ouen, of objects irrevocably shorn from their original contexts. For Walter Benjamin, the appeal of these features of the French capital that were slowly receding into the past was the opportunity they provided to mobilize an engaged leftist criticism against contemporary bourgeois society and its institutions. He famously credited the surrealists for being the “first to perceive the revolutionary energies that appear in the ‘outmoded,’ in the first iron constructions, the first factory buildings, the earliest photos, the objects that have begun to be extinct, grand pianos, the dresses of five years ago, fashionable restaurants when the vogue has begun to ebb from them.” From the domestic bourgeois interior to the first locales of early modern urban capitalism, such sites contained revolutionary power for Benjamin precisely because, having been emptied of their original functions, they foregrounded the necessity for redemptive closure with an increasingly alienated past. Following on the heels of Benjamin, Hal Foster and Margaret Cohen have more recently characterized these outmoded environments with which surrealism has engaged as “uncanny”—engendering a collapse of distinction between ego and externality and thereby threatening the cohesiveness of subjectivity. This assessment of surrealist historiography locates its materialist aesthetic at the intersection of two equally potent interwar discourses with which it was in constant dialogue—the unorthodox, Gothic Marxism in which Benjamin trafficked and Sigmund Freud’s theories of compulsion-repetition, the death drive, and primal fantasies.

Museums, of course, were in no way outmoded during the interwar era. Recognizing their continued vitality, Benjamin described them as “dream houses of the collective,” bourgeois interiors expanded to larger-than-life dimensions, thoroughly embodying the capitalist aspirations of the modern era, while underscoring and obfuscating its alienated subjectivity (as too did arcades, winter gardens, panoramas, factories, wax museums, casinos, and railroad stations). The museum in particular, as Benjamin noted, offered this collective a “narcotic historicism, . . . [a] passion for masks,” which complemented the century’s “cult of machinery” and to which Marxist materialist criticism, he believed, should direct its attention. He was not alone in making such an assessment. In 1928, in a passage singled out later by Benjamin, Sigfried Giedion identified the museum as the essential “building problem” of its era: “Almost every age, according to its own inner attitude, seems to develop a specific building problem: the Gothic the cathedral, the Baroque the palace, and the early nineteenth century with its nostalgic inclination to imbibe the past, the museum.” By the turn of the century, the increasing standardization of European museums had given rise to certain deterministic curatorial models (based on nationalism and regionalism) that conflicted with the politics of the radical artistic avant-garde. The latter’s most extreme practitioners—the Italian futurists on the political right and the postrevolutionary Russian Suprematists on the left—would go so far as to call for the destruction of the museum as an institution.

Unlike their more strident predecessors, however, the surrealists demonstrated little interest in tearing down the museum. Indeed, for the most part, the historical avant-garde of the interwar period did not so much reject the modern museum and gallery as challenge the professional class of trained curators and the privileged community of exclusive dealers. As much as the surrealists lamented the current state of both the museum and the gallery, by late 1925 they had decisively committed themselves to the practice of curating. Such an approach provided the avant-garde with a new critical outlet through which to interact with a broader public. This historic transition within the avant-garde—from passive museum critic to active exhibition curator—begs the question, How might we rethink surrealism and, by extension, the late historical avant-garde through its curatorial practices? Given the close association of technical proficiency of any kind with the archly conservative neoclassical revival of the early 1920s, the leftist avant-garde’s turn to experimental installation practices during the interwar period might be considered in no small part an attempt to stake out new territory in which to establish its political and aesthetic platform. Surrealism, one might say, established its identity to no small extent through such curatorial endeavors.

This book considers surrealism as a historically contingent nexus of critical voices, images, and activities. It offers new insight into those figures who proved most instrumental in giving shape to surrealism’s curatorial vision. Not surprisingly, the presence of Breton, whose overarching authority within the surrealist movement both as poet and theoretician has been examined extensively in other studies, looms large throughout. Louis Aragon, responsible for the most contentious and vituperative of the group’s installations, emerges as a strong alternative to Breton, at least until his departure in 1932. So too does Tristan Tzara, whose interests in non-Western art led him to propose a model of tactility on which surrealist installations in the 1930s were in part based.

My first chapter, “Breaking the Silence,” addresses the contested emergence of a visual form of surrealism in 1925. If surrealist writing had been founded upon the process of automatism, according to which the author releases an unedited stream of prose and poetry, acting less as a creative force than as a mediating agent, how then might surrealist art appear? The calligraphic stage sets Pablo Picasso designed for Léonide Massine’s 1924 ballet Mercure, in which panels of text were substituted for images, proved instrumental in leading Max Ernst, Joan Miró, and others to experiment with an emerging subgenre of painting that conflated automatist discourse and imagery. The “picture-poem” (tableau-poème), as this new exercise came to be identified, also served as the curatorial model for the first surrealist exhibition, at the Galerie Pierre in Paris. Issuing from Breton’s mandate to establish a visual practice based upon an unpremeditated “succession of images”—a spontaneous materialist aesthetic that could prove both revelatory and revolutionary at the same time—this discursive exhibition and the works it featured also marked the group’s initial foray into curatorial exposition and narration, aspects that would feature prominently in all subsequent surrealist exhibitions. Equally significant for surrealist art and literature of the interwar period was the use of empty linguistic signs in the text as a vehicle through which viewers were enlisted in the narrative. The exhibition proved problematic among critics from all parts of the political spectrum. While more-conservative critics opposed painting’s “breaking its silence,” many on the radical left feared that the intrusion of text was too unstructured and irrational, resembling more the incoherent rantings of a lunatic than a feasible model on which to build a functioning Communist visual culture.

Chapter 2, “Denouncing de Chirico,” attends to the formulation of a polemical curatorial model that took shape in 1928 through the spectacular public purging of one of surrealism’s most influential predecessors and subsequent members from its ranks. De Chirico’s expulsion came in the form of what I term a “denunciatory exhibition,” a turning point in modern exhibition history, which saw the gallery used for the first time as a space of defamation and expurgation. André Masson would contemptuously describe this period of intense internecine rivalry as marked by the “demagogy of the irrational,” singling out the conventional, academic nature of much of the art it produced. De Chirico’s ouster, however, was uniquely accompanied by a host of strangely animistic deprecatory practices, including deliberately retitled canvases, defaced paintings, and a public effigy of his latest work. Drawing upon the work of René Girard, I argue that de Chirico’s ritualistic denunciation grew precisely out of his distinctive aesthetic proximity to surrealism and his attempt to collapse the critical distinctions between his proto-surrealist, metaphysical paintings and his more recent, neo-humanist canvases. In seeking to trace the broader history of this new species of exhibition, I compare the surrealists’ de Chirico installation—curated by Breton and Aragon—briefly to other contemporaneous examples of aesthetic denunciation, including one Soviet anti-avant-garde installation that opened in Leningrad in 1931 and the Degenerate Art exhibition installed by the National Socialist Party in Munich in 1937. While the occasion for denunciation differed substantially in each of these three contexts, as did their political circumstances, I identify significant structural similarities, most notably in the extent to which mimetic rivalry contributed.

In chapter 3, “Colonists by Vocation,” I examine surrealism’s approach to the discipline of ethnography in its anti-imperialist exhibition of 1931. Curated by Aragon and Paul Eluard, The Truth About the Colonies, as the exhibition was titled, decried Western imperialism by drawing attention to the ruinous effects of European stewardship on non-Western culture. If the anti–de Chirico exhibition saw the surrealists unintentionally practicing a modified form of Stalin’s rigidly totalitarian and iconoclastic “revolution from above,” to borrow Robert Tucker’s phrase, then The Truth About the Colonies marked the moment surrealism fully reconciled itself to Communism. Drawing upon newly discovered documents, I argue that the anti-imperialist exhibition, while modeled on contemporaneous Soviet ethnographic display practices in seeking to contextualize objects within the history of imperialism, nonetheless differed significantly from the latter by promoting precolonial ritual artifacts over those of a colonial pedigree. This judgment, and the arguments for cultural autonomy put forward to justify it, further distinguished the surrealist exhibition from the more moderate French Socialist model adopted by Georges Bataille and the circle of ethnographers curating at the Musée d’ethnographie du Trocadéro (and writing for the journal Documents). Whereas the latter sought to draw broad parallels between rituals and practices from vastly different provenances in order to emphasize the shared heritage of humanity, the surrealists insisted upon a political incommensurability that rendered such comparisons tendentious.

My fourth and fifth chapters address the synonymous transformation of surrealist art in relation to the tide of curatorial activity during the interwar period, the moment when the distinction between artwork and exhibition blurred within surrealism, as works of art were burdened with tasks normally reserved for exhibitions and exhibitions were asked to serve as works of art. In chapter 4, “The Tactile Turn,” I argue that surrealism made a decisive shift toward an interactive aesthetic in the early 1930s, abandoning its earlier polemical models in favor of one based on touch as opposed to pure optics (either pictorial or discursive). It is at this historical juncture that the figure of the curator became central to surrealism, not simply in contributing to the design of exhibitions but occasionally in determining the final appearance of the work of art. In eliding the differences between art and exhibition, the work of art and the quotidian object, domestic space and the sphere of professional activity, surrealism called into question the way in which artistic agency had previously been defined, thus opening the door for aesthetic encounter in new and unanticipated arenas. Tristan Tzara’s consideration of the use value of African art as an index of its social value serves as a model for comprehending this tactile turn and for distinguishing it from those contemporaneous movements that aspired to a similarly diffuse aesthetic condition but one governed by pure abstraction (Art concret, Cercle et carré, and Abstraction-création). To underscore the particular transformation taking place within surrealism, I contrast Tzara’s analytical model with Louis Aragon’s earlier disdain for tactility as a measure of craftsmanship and Henri Focillon’s contemporaneous celebration of the haptic as a measure of humanity’s intimate contact with nature.

In my final chapter, “The Artist as Dealer,” I argue that as the interwar period drew to an end, several key surrealists engaged new marketing and reproductive technologies for the purpose of producing a synthetic, retrospective work. This chapter addresses three such novel experiments, each taking as its subject the artist’s oeuvre: Dalí’s Retrospective Bust of a Woman (1933), a mannequin to which the painter added an array of images and objects that had occupied his recent work; Man Ray’s retrospective monograph Man Ray Photographs 1920 Paris 1934 (1934), a portfolio of the expatriate’s photographic work, filled with critical contributions by many of his peers; and finally Duchamp’s Box-in-a-Valise, the portable collection of his work in miniature facsimile the artist began constructing in 1935 and completed while fleeing the National Socialist advance on France. Noting that these artists modeled their work on the most iconic vehicles for modern commercialism (the mannequin, the sale catalogue, and the traveling salesman’s suitcase), I propose that the surrealist retrospective work offered a means to dispense altogether with the figure of the dealer by merging curatorial activity with artistic practice and its promotion.