Introduction to Surrealism

Surrealism was an artistic, intellectual and literary movement born in 1924 with the publication of the first Surrealist Manifesto, by André Breton. Unlike other vanguards, surrealism was not limited to formal innovation, rather it was a reaction to the destruction caused by the First World War, understood as the total failure of modern society. In essence, this movement aspired to revolutionize life through art. The surrealists rejected reason, for which they sought other forms of thought and action. This led them to become interested in dreams, madness and hypnosis. Its objective was to release the repressed forces in the unconscious – the deep part of the mind described by the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud – and thus to promote the transformation of society.

During the First World War, Breton took care of psychiatric patients who suffered from automatism, that is, their actions were repetitive and unconscious. Imitating patients, Breton and Philippe Soupault tried to write spontaneously, without censorship or rational control, to allow the free association of ideas and images. From this exercise, games such as the exquisite corpse and the artistic techniques of grattage, frottage, collage, decalcomania and rayogram were derived.

Among the artists associated with surrealism are René Magritte, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, André Masson, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Luis Buñuel and Hans Bellmer. Breton thought that Surrealism had deep roots in literature and universal art, and cited among his predecessors Francisco Goya, El Bosco, Arthur Rimbaud, Lewis Carroll, Isidore Ducasse and Giorgio de Chirico.

Surrealism was a movement in which female artists participated. However, they were pigeonholed in stereotypes: the femme-fatale, a sadistic woman with voracious appetite; or the femme-enfant, muse inspiring, innocent and beautiful. Surrealist artists include Leonora Carrington, Meret Oppenheim, Toyen, Remedios Varo, Leonor Fini, Dorothea Tanning and Kay Sage.

With the start of World War II, many Surrealists fled to America. It was thus that a group of European artists went into exile in Mexico, a country that, after the arrival of Antonin Artaud in 1936 and André Breton in 1938, became the most important surrealist focus in Latin America. European Surrealism expanded its revolutionary mission to the American continent with the publication of the Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art, written by Breton and Leon Trotsky, in 1938. Shortly afterwards other surrealists arrived, such as Alice Rahon, Wolfgang Paalen, Kati Horna, César Moro, Remedios Varo, Benjamin Péret and Leonora Carrington. In 1940, Breton, Paalen and Moro organized the International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Mexican Art Gallery.

In Mexico, European artists found a rich cultural heritage that seemed surreal because of its difference with Western thought. One of them, Wolfgang Paalen, published the magazine Dyn, dedicated to surrealism and prehispanic art. In the state of San Luis Potosí, the presence of Edward James, collector and promoter of surrealism, stood out.