The Cut-Up


Today’s global village is
one vast collage, in which weird
juxtapositions and disjointed sensations arrive with the
regularity of the morning paper. In this context, surrealism’s
orchestrated disruptions of everyday life can sometimes seem quaint products of a
time when continuous,
conscious thought was still
a viable possibility.

The Guggenheim’s “Surrealism: Two Private Eyes” offers a sweeping sense of a movement that deemed itself exclusive but spawned legions of practitioners. In group photographs,
beside Picasso and Cocteau, the face of George Hugnet can be difficult to recognize. An artist, poet, critic, and publisher, he translated Gertrude Stein, starred in a surrealist movie (La Perle), and designed outlandish, magnificent book bindings. (The Guggenheim
exhibition includes one wild
example.) Zabriskie Gallery is showing 37 of Hugnet’s photo collages created for three
of his own books published
between 1935 and 1961, a year before his death.

The Seventh Face of the Die (1935), a collaboration with Marcel Duchamp, used cut-up headlines and images from newspapers and magazines to form opaque assemblages: a statue of the pope thrown into
a wastebasket, an ice skater
gliding over rows of toast.
Eight Days at Trébaumec (1947), Hugnet’s hilarious parody of a popular travel guide, recounts a journey to Brittany as one big erotic adventure, where women swoon beside phallic mushrooms, lounge in lingerie before policemen-voyeurs, or perform domestic chores as penguins pick at their garters. Single
examples of Hugnet’s décalcomanies (random splotches of ink transformed into fantasy landscapes) and from his series The Love Life of Spumifieres (painted, insectlike creatures embracing the nymphets of Victorian erotic postcards) make one hunger for a less tame selection from this man whose genius was a sporadic but strange flower.