Research Resource: Surrealism in our Neighborhoods
Curious about the life and legacy of Surrealist & Dadaist artists in our neighborhoods? Check out this incredible research resource created by Paul McRandle and featured on his blog Surrealist NYC.
This interactive tool maps and explores the studios, homes, and collective social spaces of Surrealist artists who took refuge in Greenwich Village after World War II. From the residences of Djuna Barnes, Man Ray, and Francis Picabia, to the site of the pivotal Armory Show, these spaces and the movement they witnessed gave rise to further artistic innovations made by the Surrealist Group & Group Hydra later in the 20th century.
From Paul McRandle, the blog’s creator:
“The Second World War marked a high point for Parisian surrealism … but at a time when the movement was in great stress. Escaping Vichy France, the artists and writers in Breton’s circle arrived in the city’s harbor and airports just before the U.S. entered the war and quickly reestablished ties. With the launch of Charles Henri Ford and Tyler Parker’s View, followed by André Breton and David Hare’s VVV and Yvan Goll’s Hemisphères, for three years the city hosted three journals substantially devoted to the movement and its artists. Around 57th Street, Pierre Mattisse’s and Julien Levy’s galleries showcased numerous exhibits, Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century displayed her personal collection, and First Papers of Surrealism designed by Duchamp announced their arrival in 1942. The exiles lived in Greenwich Village and around 57th street, met at Larré’s French Restaurant and the Jumble Shop Tea Room, and worked in shared studios, spaces like Atelier 17 at the New School.”
One notable site on the map is the former residence of Djuna Barnes, author of the noted lesbian novel Nightwood. Along with Theodore Dreiser, Marlon Brando, and e.e. cummings, Barnes was a resident of the gated cul-de-sac of Patchin Place. She lived at 5 Patchin Place for over four decades until her death in 1982 at age 90. Former residents of the neighborhood report that she “terrified local business owners: once an unwary store clerk, asking for identification for her check payment, received the shouted response, “identification? I was a friend of T. S. Eliot and James Joyce! Weeks would go by, however, when hardly anyone would see her, and her neighbors reported hearing e.e. Cummings yell across the courtyard from the window of his own apartmnet, ‘Are ya still alive, Djuna?’”
Another notable Surrealist Villager whose home is found on this map is Ted Joans, who resided at 108 St. Marks Place from 1956 throughout the 1960s. He later left to spend time in Europe and Africa, and was a close friend of Andre Breton, one of the fathers of American surrealism.
Fellow Beat poet, radical, and Villager Amiri Baraka once said about Joans: “Ted Joans’ poetry is one paradigm of an era, soundings from one of the more colorfull [sic.] individuals who lit it up, whose voice still brightens the curious world he ceaselessly observes…” Ted Joans collaborated with several other writers, including James Baldwin and Norman Mailer, to create an audio tape of poetry entitled the “Beat Funeral.” Norman Mailer recalls of the poets’ satirical farewell to the Beat Generation: “The whole thing was getting so commercial, we decided to bury it!… We had a proper funeral with a casket, with the words Beat Generation painted on it and carried it in a procession through [Greenwich Village]. Afterwards there was a wake and we all paid our respects.”
The intriguing and prolific Leonora Carrington lived on 50 Morton Street starting in July 1941. Known in the 1941 NYC Directory as Mrs. Leonora Leduc, Carrington moved here with the Mexican ambassador Renato Leduc, after fleeing a psychiatric hospital in Portugal. This journey is described in vivid detail in Carrington’s book Down Below. In New York, Ms. Carrington associated with Max Ernst, with whom she collaborated on an artistic reinterpretation of the traditional Tarot deck.
Edgar Varèse, the experimental, French-born composer, is remembered today as the “Father of Electronic Music.” Novelist Henry Miller even described him once as “The stratospheric Colossus of Sound.” During his time in our neighborhoods, he resided with his wife Louise at 188 Sullivan Street.
Isamu Noguchi lived at 33 MacDougal Alley during 1942-1949, during which time he developed his innovative “interlocking sculptures” — enlarged stone shapes carefully notched so that they could be assembled without screws or other supports.
The legacies of Surrealism, an art movement which gained popularity, traction, and innovation in our neighborhoods, “neither began nor ended with World War Two,” says McRandle. He continues: “the many cross pollinations date back to Dada theatrics like Arthur Cravan’s “lecture” at Grand Central Palace or Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhaven’s street performances. After the war, new artists associated with the Phases magazine and movement arrived—Eugenio Granell who’d served with the POUM in the Spanish Civil War and Claude Tarnaud, who’d co-founded La Révolution La Nuit in Paris in 1945—as well as the beat poet and painter Ted Joans from Cairo, Illinois. In the 1970s and 1980s, Alice Farley, Allan Graubard, Laurence Weisberg, Jon Graham and others (associated with friends in Ohio and the West Coast) formed the Surrealist Group of New York and then Group Hydra, while Ira Cohen, Valery Oisteanu, and Jayne Cortez independently explored territories opened by surrealism and Dada. Many are still active.”
These are just some of the stories of Village surrealists to be found on McRandle’s map. Be sure to check it out for yourself, and learn more on the Surrealist NYC blog.