Surrealist Shop Windows
Marketing Breton’s Surrealism in Wartime New York
During his wartime exile in New York City, André Breton responded to the popular entrenchment of Surrealism as a language of shop window merchandising by leading a small group of artists and writers to take the publicity of Surrealism into their own hands. At Breton’s behest, Marcel Duchamp designed three shop windows to advertise texts released by the French publishing arm of the Fifth Avenue bookstore Brentano’s in 1943 and 1945. Although art historians have called attention to the relationship between these designs and the iconography of better-known works by Duchamp, this paper considers them as instantiations of Breton’s evolving thought within the context of a commercial environment already saturated with surrealist imagery. It places them within an iconographic web that includes, among others, Salvador Dalí’s famed fashion displays of the preceding decade, multiple iterations of Duchamp’s “twine,” and works by Kurt Seligmann, Roberto Matta, and Breton himself. The paper argues that, exemplifying the prewar surrealist motif of interior and exterior permeability and bringing it to a breaking point, these obscure windows for French-language texts became an important laboratory for the engaged critique of consumerism that would come to the forefront of the surrealist movement during the postwar period.