Bound Objects and Blurry Boundaries: Surrealist Display and (Anti)Nationalism

Susan Power


This paper examines the use of Native American objects in Surrealist strategies of display in order to interrogate larger issues of identity, place and nation. The 1942 "First Papers of Surrealism" exhibition, organized by Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp in New York City, is both grounded in the specificity of time and place that it occupied and emblematic of the international Surrealist exhibitions the movement staged from the mid-1930s onward. These shows, often designed as multi-sensorial environments, showcased an international display of art, ranging from painting, sculpture and photography by artists more or less closely affiliated with the Parisian Surrealist group to non-western objects, folk art, art of the insane, and children’s art.

Invariably displaced, the Native American objects, “which the Surrealists particularly appreciate,” function on a number of levels in the movement’s collective activities: both representing and performing Surrealist aims while inscribing it within the larger American landscape. New World attitudes toward Amerindian cultures and art inform Surrealism as it winds through the fabric of the real and imaginary spaces of the Americas. The exhibitions, as “contact zones,” thus establish a point of convergence and transit, an in-between space of “dwelling in travel,” a borderless spatial construct enacting the complexity and dynamism of the Surrealist project.

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