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

Introduction: Notes for a Historiography of Surrealism in America, or the Reinterpretation of the Repressed

Samantha Kavky


The critical fate of surrealist visual art in America fluctuates based on the value ascribed to it by critics of contemporary art. Specifically, its mid-century dismissal by Clement Greenberg as retrograde, academic kitsch, condemned it to several decades of irrelevancy; and, in a direct challenge to Greenberg, the critics and scholars of the 1980s and 90s, in particular October group members Rosalind Krauss and Hal Foster, rehabilitated Surrealism and returned it to contemporary relevance.

This critical fall and rise provokes some interesting questions. Did the modernist rejection and post-modernist resurrection of Surrealism emerge from the inherent postmodernism of the movement itself, or from the agendas of the respective critics? For example, by privileging Georges Bataille and the dissonant Surrealists over André Breton, and a Lacanian theoretical framework over a Freudian one, did Krauss reveal the repressed within Surrealism, or did she reconfigure it in light of contemporary interest in transgression, abjection and the de-centered subject? Can this vision of Surrealism be reconciled with Breton’s romantic idealism and belief in an absolute?

While previous issues of JSA have explored the intersections of Surrealism and ethnography, photography, Latin America and women, this issue assembles various essays that look at the reception of Surrealism in the U.S. and its continued presence in criticism, art, collecting and anthropology.

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