Surrealism originated as a literary movement that used the written word in all its forms as a loudspeaker for its aesthetic ideas. These ideas would form the base of a fruitful artistic practice.
With the publication in 1924 of the First Manifesto of Surrealism, André Breton defined the movement’s basic principles, largely theorised from his own psychology. These principles included the importance of writing as the main vehicle in the artist’s psyche, automatic writing and an idealism that sought values such as the imagination, beauty, profoundness and love. The dissemination of the movement and its ideological and artistic development, proposals and debates were expressed in an array of magazines which were, according to Breton, “a means of contact catering to the different and changing expectations of a corresponding, undefined audience. They give us a respiratory rhythm adapted, at the same time, to our vital needs and to the nature of ambient air”. Magazines were also a dialectic battlefield expressing differences of thought, with the most significant emanating from the magazine Documents, the authors of which put the concept of base materialism and their interest in the abject, the formless and the morally excluded ahead of Bretonian idealism. This dissidence was not accepted by Breton and he would ultimately exclude them from the group.
The pieces in this room are organised around one of Breton’s core texts, El Surrealismo y la pintura (Surrealism and Painting), first published in 1928, which assembled the work of artists who created a mode of painting adapted to literary production. Automatic techniques and a focus on the interior reality of the artist sought to bring about a crisis in bourgeois consciousness, and, ultimately, the work was used as a resource which advocated the revolution. The text saw Breton lay the foundations of his subsequent development, which would be reflected in successive editions.
In a similar fashion to magazines, Surrealism was prodigious in organising collective exhibitions since, in 1925, the first Surrealist exhibition in the Pierre Gallery in Paris. Based primarily in the French capital, the Surrealists gained international exposure in the 1930s, which spread across different European countries, before reaching the USA, Japan and Egypt. This expansion resulted in four editions of the Bulletin International du Surréalisme published between 1935 and 1936 and corresponding to four international exhibitions: Prague, Tenerife, Brussels and London.
From the publication of the Second Manifesto the movement edged closer to more revolutionary stances. Such was the case with the publication, in 1931, of the pamphlet “Ne visitez pas l'Exposition Coloniale” (Don’t Visit the Colonial Exhibition) to protest the French Colonial Exhibition. The pamphlet worked as a political weapon through which Breton and other Surrealists attacked the French Government for the exploitation and oppression of colonised peoples. As a further response, in September of the same year they organised, with the French Communist Party, a counter-exhibition: l'Exposition Anti-Impérialiste: La Vérité sur les colonies, combining didactic material and anti-colonial texts with juxtapositions of indigenous art and European art criticising Christian preaching.