A Boatload of Madmen: Surrealism and the American Avant-Garde 1920 1950

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9780500236871: A Boatload of Madmen: Surrealism and the American Avant-Garde 1920 1950
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In 1932, against the troubled background of the Depression, the American art community had its first glimpse of the revolutionary art of the Surrealists. Combining a fascination for Freud's new symbolic language of dreams with a radical leftist utopianism, the Parisian movement galvanized an emerging American avant-garde. New galleries opened to exhibit the "terrifying," "insane" works of Surrealist artists, and new magazines sprang up to publish a startling crop of Surrealist poetry, criticism, and vociferous attacks on mainstream culture and politics.
Only four years later, a major Surrealist exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art catapulted Surrealism into the cultural limelight and the attention of high-fashion magazines like Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. Soon the art of Man Ray was selling cologne and swimwear and the manic Salvador Dali was designing windows for Bonwit's and a pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Even Andre Breton and his circle, exiled in Manhattan during World War II, were unable to assert control over this new kind of Surrealism. If anything, their cultural dislocation in these years gave Americans the edge in developing new Surrealist concepts and new movements such as Abstract Expressionism.
In this innovative and vividly written cultural history, Professor Dickran Tashjian tells the story of Surrealism's remarkable sea change during its years in America, from a fiercely leftist, strongly literary, avant-garde movement into an apolitical, almost exclusively visual style. Exploring both "high" and "low" cultural perspectives, he shows how the American avant-garde selectively filtered and reshaped European Surrealism to meet its own agendas, and how it in turn was reinterpreted, de-politicized, and commercially exploited by mainstream American culture and the fashion/advertising industry.

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About the Author:

Dickran Tashjian is Professor of Art History in the School of Fine Arts at the University of California, Irvine.

From Publishers Weekly:

French poet Andre Breton, founder of surrealism, envisioned it as a way of life, an upheaval of the unconscious that would foment a cultural revolution intimately linked to leftist politics. But with the resettling in New York City of Breton, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and other emigre artists and writers, surrealism in the 1930s and '40s veered off in unpredictable directions. Painter/photographer Man Ray adapted surrealist techniques in ads for cologne and swimwear, while flamboyant Salvador Dali conceived of surrealism as a tool to tap the fundamental human experiences from which art springs. Art history professor Tashjian (UC Irvine) brilliantly reassesses the impact of surrealism on an emerging American avant-garde and on American culture in this intensive study. He focuses on three American artists?Jackson Pollock, Joseph Cornell and self-styled "Armenian in exile" Arshile Gorky?who transformed surrealist esthetics in their separate quests for artistic identity. Tashjian also charts the dilution of surrealism in American advertising, fashion and the mass media. Illustrated.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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