The Forgotten Surrealist—Annette Leddy
For week two of #GettyVoices, Arts writer and Getty Research Institute consulting curator Annette Leddy takes us into the art and mind of one of the forgotten innovators of modern art, Austrian surrealist Wolfgang Paalen.
- Wolfgang Paalen is one of the key artists in the exhibition Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico, on view at the Getty Center. Paalen fled war-torn Europe for Mexico City, uniting with other artistic exiles to found the journal Dyn, which included painting, photography, original writing, and objects from the indigenous cultures of Alaska and British Columbia, as well as Mexico's pre-Columbian past. The Mexico City surrealists broke early with André Breton, the French founder of surrealism.
- Paalen with an oversized portrait of Breton himself.
- Paalen was deeply interested in science, especially the pioneering physics theories of Schrödinger and Einstein. His mesmerizing painting Space Unbound unites a surrealist sensibility with an homage to their work.
- Paalen's father was Jewish, his mother Catholic. His brother committed suicide, a calamity that haunted him.
- Paalen was Dyn's founder, editor, publisher, designer, illustrator, and often its writer. This cover (designed, of course, by Paalen) shows several contributors, three of whom are actually Paalen in disguise--"John Dawson," "Jean Caroux," and "Charles Givors."
- Paalen likely used these pseudonyms (along with rather outrageous artwork titles) when he wasn't pleased with his work. Here, "What the sailor will say" by John Dawson.
- Paalen was deeply influenced by Native American art of the northwest coast. This page from "Dyn" shows a Haida box he found in Alaska and used to comb the woods for "treasures" (top right) as well as Tlingit textiles whose eye-like forms influenced his painting style.
- Several thoughtful reviews of the exhibition Farewell to Surrealism were posted during its final week--so thoughtful, indeed, that we decided to extend the exhibition through April 14, so that more people will be able to see it.
- With Alice Rahon and Eva Sulzer, Paalen collaborated on the magazine Dyn and also formed a ménage à trois for about nine years. Indeed, promiscuity and bisexuality were an integral part of the anti-bourgeois lifestyle they were committed to as surrealists. Sulzer and Paalen met at the baths in Baden Baden in the early 1930s, and Paalen married Rahon in 1934. The year after their marriage, Rahon had an affair with Picasso. Despite his anti-monogamous stance, Paalen was so upset about the affair that he threatened to kill himself if Rahon didn't break it off. She did, and then had an affair with the female poet Valentine Penrose.
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