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Max Ernst and the Birth of Surrealism

by Spies, Werner

After Max Ernst’s return from the First World War, the artist created a number of ‘pre-surrealist’ pictures based on a new artistic form: collage. These works, dating between 1918 and 1923, are not only precursors to the world of surrealist art; without them, as André Breton noted in retrospect, surrealism would never have come about in the first place.

The mood of these works is set apart from everything else that dominated the studios of the day – cubism, futurism, expressionism or neoclassicism. Instead of a ‘retour à l’ordre’ reaction to war experiences, Ernst’s collages go in the opposite direction: dismemberment, cutting, erasure, painting over. In his book, Werner Spies examines these singular works meticulously and shows up their context. Next to his own memories and observations as a close friend of Max Ernst, Spies also consults letters, photos and other works from the artist’s oeuvre. Beyond, he draws on important sources from literary and artistic history, including references to Beckett, Kafka, Joyce, Freud, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Proust, Eluard, Buñuel, Picasso and Duchamp. Spies offers us a fascinating insight into a decisive time of change and reorientation, which would result in the new, great art form of surrealism.

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