Judi Freedman & John C. Welchman
The MIT Press
The Dada & Surrealist Word Image is a hardcover catalogue for a travelling exhibition of Dada and Surrealist works of art. The exhibition’s first location was the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where it was shown from June 15-August 27, 1989 before being transported to other locations around the United States and Europe.
I think that the title of the catalogue makes its content, and the theme of the exhibition, quite clear. Play with language featured prominently in the programs of the Dada and Surrealist movements who sought to unlock the liberatory potential of nonsense and incongruity in written and visual creative work. The Dadaists focus on language is driven by a desire for nonsense and a will to break down the structures of control that edify culture. The ‘word salad’, jumbles of words juxtaposed with jumbles of images, often in the photomontage, became the primary Dadaist mode of representing language in visual art. Raoul Hausmann was a particularly strong proponent of this kind of work.
|Raoul Hausmann - Elasticum (1920)|
|Marcel Duchamp - L.H.O.O.Q. (1919)|
The other work of great importance to this exhibition was The Treachery of Images, the famous “this is not a pipe” painting of 1928 by the Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte (side note: Magritte is heavily represented in this text!). This is the work that inspired Michel Foucault to investigate relationships between written language and its visual referrents, and is perennially used as a background or an introductory image to semiotic lectures and academic discussions on representation and reality.
|Rene Magritte - The Treachery of Images (1928)|
While the written component of this catalogue focuses on these particular works of art, or on the overarching concepts and strategies that these movements were working with, the actual catalogue component shows a variety of images from a wide swath of the Dada/Surrealism ranks. Max Ernst, Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters, Raoul Hausmann, Jean Crotti, Francis Picabia, and many more are represented. There are also a number of works by figures such as Jean Cocteau, who were only tangentially connected to Surrealism, but whose visual works bear the influence of that movement’s ideas. All of the images are in black and white, which isn’t so bad, since many of the works are drawings. Also, the catalogue includes an interesting essay about Joan Miro and Magritte and critical theory (mostly Julia Kristeva’s) by University of California, San Diego professor John C. Welchman.