The Surreal Deal

For above all, surrealists cultivated the art of the encounter—the fertile meeting of opposing forces, the messy coming together of creative energies, the spilling over of art into life, the rendezvous of chance and destiny. They championed techniques like frottage(rubbing), grattage(scratching) décalcomanie(Rorschach-like blotting), fumage(markings made with the smoke of a candle), automatic writing (produced in trances), collage, and assemblage—all meant to help free art from the empire of the self's directive impulses. (It's funny how this list of tricks to unleash the unconscious sounds like a catalogue of things to do in bed.)

The surrealists' unparalleled spirit of collaboration produced an extraordinarily fertile magazine culture, remarkably inventive bookbindings, and illustrated publications. (Publisher Filipacchi's holdings in this area are truly exceptional.) Their games gave rise to "exquisite corpses," collaborative drawings or poems made by scribbling words or pictures on a sheet of paper, folding it, and passing it among several participants.

They aimed for a "communism of genius," as a 1924 business card from the Surrealist Central Bureau of Research proclaimed, but that's not what they got. Museums maintain art works in prophylactic isolation, sealing off artistic reputations, establishing hierarchies, paying due respect to private property, and keeping the distance between life and art safe and uncontaminated. Perhaps that's why they so often offer dulling experiences. The fact that we still yearn for something different may be Surrealism's most enduring legacy.

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