NOW CLOSES APRIL 14
Exhibition explores the ideas of the unique journal Dyn, created by an international group of writers and artists collaborating in Mexico in the 1940s
At the Getty Research Institute, Getty Center
On view through April 14, 2013
The Marriage, 1944, Gordon Onslow Ford. Courtesy private collection.
© Lucid Art Foundation
LOS ANGELES— Originally scheduled to close February 17, 2013, the exhibition Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico, on view at the Getty Research Institute, will continue through April 14, 2013.
In 1939, three artists, Wolfgang Paalen (Austrian, 1905–1959), Alice Rahon (French, 1904–1987), and Eva Sulzer (Swiss, 1902–1990), left Paris to explore the pre-Columbian ruins of the Pacific Northwest and Mexico. They remained in Mexico, becoming part of an international group of surrealist artists and writers who settled in Mexico City during the 1940s.
These artists—haunted by the Second World War, inspired by science, and seduced by archaeological discoveries—defined a new direction for their art. In dialogue with and in opposition to their surrealist colleagues in New York, they also created a journal called Dyn. From 1942 to 1944, six issues of Dyn were published and distributed in New York, London, Paris, and Mexico City. The journal included the work of avant-garde writers, painters, and photographers, as well as scholarly contributions by anthropologists and archaeologists.
Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico features paintings, photographs, drawings, letters, ephemera and other objects from more than a dozen artists and writers connected with Dyn, including Paalen, Rahon, Sulzer, as well as Manual Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902–2002), Miguel Covarrubius (Mexican, 1904–1957), Gordon Onslow Ford (English, 1912–2003), Doris Heyden (American, 1915–2005), Robert Motherwell (American, 1915–1991), César Moro (Peruvian, 1903–1956), Rosa Rolando (American, 1985–1970), and others. The exhibition is curated by Annette Leddy, senior cataloguer and a consulting curator at the Getty Research Institute, and Donna Conwell, associate curator at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, California.
“While art history has noted the contributions of the individual artists in this circle, it is important to examine the new aesthetic found in Dyn itself, which played a critical but under-recognized role in the transition from surrealism to abstract expressionism,” said Leddy.
The title of the exhibition is taken from Paalen’s essay, “Farewell au surrealism,” which was published in the first issue of Dyn in 1942, signaling his public break with surrealism. Paalen criticized surrealism’s philosophical foundations, particularly what he describes as its simplistic application of the ideas of Marx and Freud. On view in the exhibition, letters between members of the Dyn group reveal that the French founder of the Surrealist movement, Andre Breton (1896–1966), was angered by Paalen’s manifesto and the very existence of Dyn, which he saw as a rival of his New York-based journal, VVV.
Dyn derives from the Greek to dynaton, which means “the possible.” It was selected by Paalen, the circle’s primary theorist, who held that revolutionary art must not represent what exists but rather “pre-figure the possible.” Dyn’s contributors shared a fascination with the pre-Columbian past of the Americas, as well as mathematics, physics, geology, and ethnography. The exhibition explores how each of these themes manifested in their paintings, photographs, poetry and other works.
Dyn painters often conjoined scientific imagery with motifs from pre-Columbian objects to create works of visual abstraction. For example, Gordon Onslow Ford’s painting The Marriage, 1944 is reminiscent of diagrams about condensation and evaporation, yet it also recalls depictions of nature in pre-Columbian seals.
Un pez que llaman sierra, negative 1944; print later. Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002).
Gelatin silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser. © Colette Urbajtel/ Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, SC
Photographers extended the ethnographic impulse that was part of traditional surrealism to generate images that oscillate between anthropological document and anti-realist image. Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s photograph Un pez que llaman sierra (A Fish Called Sierra), unsettles the depiction of Mexican “popular types”—a tradition dating back to the 1800s in which photographers, both foreign and domestic, recorded picturesque images of Mexico’s indigenous poor as symbols of Mexican identity. Instead of readily offering herself up to the viewer, Alvarez Bravo’s subject stares off into the distance with remote detachment and is puzzlingly placed next to an overturned fishing boat with the head of a swordfish placed on on it.
Turning to the physical science of geology for artistic material was an established surrealist practice. Alice Rahon took up that strategy in her abstract aerial landscapes involving mountains, ice, and water. In her painting, Meeting of the Rivers, 1942, published in Dyn, no. 3, Rahon integrates incised figures and emblems she encountered in Canada and Mexico, which also appear in the pages of Dyn as archaeological photographs.
Much of the material on display in this exhibition comes from the papers of Peruvian poet, essayist, artist, curator, and editor César Moro. The Getty Research Institute’s César Moro papers include numerous affectionate cards and letters from members of the Dyn circle. The most notable among these praise Moro’s book-length poem Lettre d’amour (Love letter), which was published by Éditions Dyn, the journal’s offshoot book imprint.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an eighty-page, color illustrated publication, also called Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico published by Getty Publications and written by the exhibition’s curators Annette Leddy and Donna Conwell, with an introduction by Dawn Ades.
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