Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Vol 6, No 1 (2012)

What Makes a Collection Surrealist: Twentieth-Century Cabinets of Curiosities in Paris and Houston

Katharine Conley


Breton’s surrealist collection constitutes a twentieth-century cabinet of curiosity that like its baroque predecessors, sought to encompass the world within a contained and concentrated space. This essay argues what makes it a surrealist collection, lies in its ghostliness, its cultivation of a global aesthetic informed by a curiosity about psychological depth. This surrealist collecting sensibility persists in New World collections like the Menil Collection in Houston, which is similarly characterized by ghostliness. Surrealist collections have the potential to help contemporary museum viewers understand better the history of the current aesthetic produced by globalization.

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