King's College London
Online Exhibitions
Revolution!

Dada and surrealism reviewed

By Sergio Alonso Mislata, Library Assistant, Library Services

David Sylvester. Dada and surrealism reviewed. London: Arts Council, 1978

Adam (Grindea Collection) NX600.D3 A341

While other artistic avant-garde movements remained mainly concerned with the aesthetic possibilities of their proposals, Dada, born during the First World War I in Zurich, and Surrealism, born in Paris as a development of dadaist positions after the war, went one step beyond to set their goals outside the strict boundaries of art and, on no few occasions, to oppose them. Under the direction of its leader, André Breton (1896-1966), Surrealism became a major force until the end of the Second World War. Journals were a fundamental medium for these movements to spread their ideas and gain converts to their cause. The most legendary of Surrealist journals was La révolution surréaliste (1924-29).

Dada was a pure negation of anything established and a continuous slap in the face of any certainty, playfully proclaiming ‘Chance’ as its only guidance. Surrealism started as an attempt to overcome Dada’s nihilism and channel its discoveries and the energies that it had unleashed towards more constructive pursuits; it postulated itself as more than an artistic avant-garde, claiming to be the avant-garde of a spiritual revolution. In these movements’ eyes, the modern western world had denied itself a comprehensive experience of reality, through its submission to logics and pure utilitarian reason, with catastrophic consequences. The time had come to accelerate dynamics already in motion within society, to achieve a higher state of reality where wakefulness (reason) and dream converged, to reach a superreality (surréalité) that would bring with it a superior level of consciousness and freedom.

Le surréalisme au service de la révolution (1930-33) followed La révolution surréaliste as the official journal of surrealism. The surrealist movement had moved to a position closer to the French Communist Party, and assumed the idea of complementing the revolutionary political positions of this with its own intellectual and artistic positions. However, for the Communist party, the only acceptable artistic creed was socialist realism and educating the masses. After three years of growing tensions and a few key desertions from the surrealist ranks, Le surréalisme au service de la révolution ceased publication. Following the Second World War, in the grim post-war panorama and with a new world order in place, there did not seem to be any place left for Surrealism. Other movements and ideas had taken its place. Its influence, however, still lives on.

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