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Happy Birthday, Max Ernst

Max Ernst, 1920, Punching Ball ou l'Immortalité de Buonarroti, photomontage, gouache, ink on photograph (self-portrait). Image courtesy of m-aya.livejournal.com.
Max Ernst, 1920, Punching Ball ou l’Immortalité de Buonarroti, photomontage, gouache, ink on photograph (self-portrait). Image courtesy of m-aya.livejournal.com.

Artist Max Ernst was born on April 12, 1891.  Ernst was a pioneering figure in both the Dada and Surrealist movements.  The former, often referred to as “anti-art,” emerged after World War I as an anti-war, anti-bourgeois far left  movement.  Dadaist art pieces generally included readymade objects, a critique on the establishment of traditional art making, and participation in activities and public spectacles, including “public gatherings, demonstrations, and publication of art/literary journals.”

On the other hand, Surrealism was a movement aimed to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.”  Surrealist works “feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur,” many artists “painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself.”

Ernst is credited with creating two new artistic techniques: frottage and grattage.  The former uses pencil rubbings of objects as a source of images, while in the latter paint is scraped across a canvas to reveal the imprints of the objects placed beneath.

L'Ange du Foyer, (1937). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
L’Ange du Foyer, (1937). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Though sources stating whether or not Ernst actually lived in the Village are sparse, he still has many connections to the neighborhood.  Ernst was the one-time husband of heiress Peggy Guggenheim, a prolific patron of the arts.  Guggenheim helped bring Ernst to New York, and was also active in advancing the careers of many influential artists, including Jackson Pollock, who lived and worked in the Village.  It would be no stretch of the imagination to say Ernst also operated within these circles during his time in NYC and would have helped influence and encourage these rising stars.  Finally, Ernst’s last wife Dorothea Tanning, whom he  married after his divorce from Guggenheim, had her studio in Greenwich Village, which was where Ernst had first encountered her.

The Village has always been a bohemia, not just for the people who lived there but for the ones it attracts as well.  Ernst’s works and subject matter are as unique and unconventional as the Village is as a neighborhood.  It is for this reason that we are proud to claim Ernst as one of the Village’s own.

Max Ernst, Ubu Imperator, (1923). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Max Ernst, Ubu Imperator, (1923). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

One response to “Happy Birthday, Max Ernst

  1. It was a pleasure to read about Max Ernst – perhaps the modern painting I relish most. I only met him a couple of times – in the 1950s when I was a young member of the surrealist group in Paris. On the other hand, I knew Dorothea Tanning well. She indeed had a great apartment in the Village – at 40 Fifth Ave., to be precise. When Max Ernst met her, however, she lived on 59th St.. The apartment later was occupied by Marcel Duchamp and his wife Teeny. She has been married to Pierre Matisse, so the names on the mail box read ” Tanning, Ernst, Matisse, Duchamp”. Duchamp kept a studio at 21o W. 14th st. for some 20 years and his last US address was 28 W. 10th St. His final work was assembled in an office building on E. 11th Street. that no longer exists.
    Also you can find on the Surrealist New York site that a number of refugees of WW II lived in the Village: André Breton lived on W. 11th Street, near W. 4th St. David Hare, the American artist most associated with the surrealists, David Hare, lived on Leroy Street. And Duchamp played chess at the Marshall Chess Club and on Washington Sq.
    I hope those recollections will amuse you.

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