Curated by Graham Howe and Ingrid Schaffner.
Dream, metaphor, fetishism, nonsense, and play were among the defining characteristics Julien Levy (1906–1981) ascribed to Surrealism; they are also, fittingly, among the marvels of this exhibition, based on Levy’s collection of Surrealist art.
Levy was one of Modernism’s pre-eminent art dealers, operating from his eponymous gallery in New York City. Mentored by the great American dealer and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, Levy opened his gallery to showcase a Surrealist approach to photography. As embraced by Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, and Lee Miller, this approach favored psychological complexity over pictorial clarity. Levy’s second “godfather” was the artist Marcel Duchamp, with whom Levy shared a love of gizmos, graphics, and games. Levy was an active participant in the creative lives of the artists he represented, making Surrealist films, composing a Surrealist history, and even initiating a Surrealist “fun house” for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. His most sustained project, however, was amassing a collection of Surrealist art ranging from paintings, photographs, drawings, prints, sculptures, and books to toys, seashells, cabaret posters, and chessboards. As sampled through the singular thread of works on paper, the art in this exhibition attests to Levy’s vigorous appreciation of Surrealism as a whole. A great number of the works in the show were made by artists Levy promoted, including the subjects of the gallery’s first and last shows: Max Ernst in 1931 and Arshile Gorky in 1949. Levy’s collection also prominently featured women, both as artists (Leonora Carrington, Leonora Fini, Mina Loy, for example) and as subjects (the Surrealists fetishized women as muses to all manner of unrestrained activity). One of the most provocative (and entertaining) art movements of the twentieth century, Surrealism sought to depict (and see) reality destabilized, whether through shocking juxtapositions, biomorphic abstractions, theatrical excess, or comic satire—all of which are in evidence here. For Julien Levy, Surrealism was, quite simply, a way of being.
The works on paper in this exhibition are lent courtesy the Julien Levy Estate. The photographs are lent courtesy David Raymond, New York, and select public collections.
NUMBER OF WORKS: 110
TOUR DATES: September 2004 - March 2006
PUBLICATION: Accommodations of Desire: Surrealist Works on Paper (Curatorial Assistance, Inc., 2005)