June 4 - September 12, 1999

The role of the private collector in the evolution of Modern art has been immense. By providing crucial early support and recognition to artists not yet widely known or respected, and in having the freedom to collect where institutions might be more cautious, private enthusiasts have shaped tastes and dared to establish trends. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was itself built on the foresight of eminent collectors who assembled bodies of work unparalleled in depth and focus. In recognition of the centrality of the private collection to the history of 20th-century art and to the development of the Guggenheim Museum, Surrealism: Two Private Eyes, The Nesuhi Ertegun and Daniel Filipacchi Collections presents the most exceptional grouping of Surrealist art in private hands today. The exhibition outlines the visions of the two men and brings together over 700 paintings, objects, works on paper, photographs, books, bindings, and ephemera--rarely seen works from collections that, although developed in concert, have never been presented together.

Sharing a passion for jazz music and Surrealism, publisher Daniel Filipacchi and the late record producer Nesuhi Ertegun--sometimes independently, often side-by-side in a friendly rivalry--built collections over the course of almost four decades. They met in New York in June 1957, when Filipacchi was visiting from Paris to conduct interviews for the Europe no. 1 radio network. From his involvement in the jazz world, Filipacchi knew of Nesuhi and his brother Ahmet; when Filipacchi and Nesuhi met at a party for the Wilbur de Paris Orchestra at the nightclub Jimmy Ryan's, they realized that music was only one of the interests they had in common.

While both men shared a love for Surrealist literature, initially Filipacchi was more devoted to Surrealist art than was Ertegun. Ertegun, who had lived as a student in 1930s Paris and experienced the Montparnasse café scene, was originally drawn to Cubism and owned works by such artists as Juan Gris and Fernand Lé Filipacchi's enthusiasm for Surrealism was infectious, however, and together the two men visited artists such as Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Frida Kahlo, Wolfgang Paalen, and Dorothea Tanning.

The two collectors went on to acquire works by the most important Paris-based Surrealists, such as Hans Bellmer, Dalí, Ernst, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Man Ray, and Yves Tanguy. At the same time, they sought out the work of prominent Surrealists from the rest of Europe--such as Czech artists Jindrich Heisler, Jindrich Styrsky, and Toyen--and from North and South America, such as Kahlo, Kay Sage, and Kurt Seligmann. They also purchased the work of second-generation adherents to Surrealist principles, such as Konrad Klapheck and Richard Oelze, and other artists who shared a Surrealist spirit, such as Joseph Cornell.

Frida Kahlo
What the Water Has Given Me

(Lo que el agua me dio), 1939.
Oil on canvas, 69 x 88 cm

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Hotel Bellagio),
ca. 1949-50.
Box construction,
17 x 11 x 5.5 cm.
©The Joseph and
Robert Cornell Foundation
Surrealism began not with the visual arts but as a literary movement founded by French poet and writer André Breton. When Breton defined the term Surrealism in his 1924 Manifeste du surré, the concept of Surrealist art did not exist:

surrealism. Noun, masculine. Pure psychic automatism, by which one intends to express verbally, in writing or by any other method, the real functioning of the mind. Dictation by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, and beyond any aesthetic or moral preoccupation.

Visual artists were mentioned only in a footnote. This absence began a debate among Breton's followers--whether or not Surrealist painting could transcend "aesthetic or moral preoccupation"--that was not quieted until 1928, when Breton wrote Le Surré et la peinture. A painting that accepted the main principles of automatism and dream imagery would be considered Surrealist. Further, he advocated that inspiration for art should be drawn from a transformed reality or interior imagery rather than what existed in plain view: "I find it impossible to think of a picture save as a window, and my first concern about a window is to find out what it looks out on . . . and there is nothing I love so much as something which stretches from me out of sight." Breton preferred the "window" to reveal what could not be readily observed, imagery derived from the psychic, internal world rather than the exterior one.

Like Surrealism itself, the roots of the Filipacchi and Ertegun collections are in books rather than in visual art. Around age 10, Filipacchi made his first purchase of a Surrealist work, a copy of Breton's Le Revolver à cheveux blancs. Attracted to the curious title, The Revolver with White Hair, Filipacchi thought he was acquiring a crime novel rather than a book of poetry. It was this work that introduced him to Breton, Surrealist typography, and poetry comprised of metaphors and free associations. Ertegun's passion for Surrealist poetry, also predating his interest in art, was unmistakable from his first meeting with Filipacchi, when Nesuhi's recitation of "A Season in Hell" by Arthur Rimbaud--whom the Surrealists saw as a precursor--launched their friendship. Their collections, and this exhibition, reflect their shared reverence for the literary heritage of Surrealism, with numerous examples of original art for book and journal illustrations by artists such as Victor Brauner, Wifredo Lam, and Man Ray, as well as first-edition books, unique illustrated manuscripts, and book bindings. Georges Hugnet's La Poupé 2 (binding ca. late 1930s) is exemplary of the art of making fine covers for books, often inspired by the contents.

While the Ertegun and Filipacchi collections grew according to their personal tastes rather than as an art-historical exercise, the results provide an overview of the scope and impact of Surrealism. By disrupting conscious thought and liberating the workings of the subconscious, the Surrealists created new demands on reality and explored aesthetic possibilities that profoundly influenced the course of 20th-century art. One Surrealist precursor represented in the collections is Giorgio de Chirico, whose mysterious landscapes juxtapose a rational, classical world and the arcades of dreams. Surrealist artists attempted to give objective reality to Sigmund Freud's notions of repressed desires, dreams, and the unconscious. As the artists were free to find their own routes of expression--whether they chose abstracted forms, fantastic imagery, or disquieting depictions of everyday life--the works in this exhibition are diverse in both style and approach. Also featured in the Ertegun and Filipacchi collections are the games and experimental techniques pioneered by the Surrealists, such as automatism, cadavre exquis, decalcomania, frottage, fumage, grattage, and souflage.  
Giorgio de Chirico
The Purity of a Dream (La Pureté d'un rê've), 1915.
Oil on canvas, 65 x 50 cm.
©Foundation Giorgio de Chircio/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Some artists, such as Miró or André Masson, were drawn to the method of automatism in which biomorphic shapes arise from a web of lines laid down spontaneously, with no composition or subject in mind. Ernst developed the technique of frottage (rubbing) by transferring the texture and grain of wooden floorboards to paper. The random patterns that arose were transformed in Ernst's hands into fantastic animals and mystic forests, as in panels of Flute of the Angels (Vox Angelica, 1943). Other artists, such as Magritte, preferred the unsettling effects that arise from unexpected juxtapositions of dissociated elements. His poetic images established relationships between incongruous objects--as in Memory (1954)--and found visual analogues for literary ideas such as irony and black humor. Dalí's paranoiac dreamscapes draw on hidden content and latent meaning to create a landscape of the unconscious.

As a means of exploring the metaphors that arise from accidental and chance combinations, the Surrealists experimented with a parlor game in which participants jointly created a phrase by each person's adding words to a piece of paper without looking at what had previously been written. One sentence created in this manner--"The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine"--gave the game its name, exquisite corpse (in French, cadavre exquis). The game was quickly adapted to the visual. Collective works made by folding a sheet of paper, creating a section of a drawing or collage, concealing the contribution, and passing it to the next person resulted in works such as Untitled (1934) by Tanguy, Brauner, and Jacques Herold, which are visual equivalents of free association.

It is fitting that the collections of Ertegun and Filipacchi are united for the first time at the Guggenheim Museum. Like the history of the Surrealist movement, the friendship of the two men stretched from Filipacchi's Paris to Ertegun's New York. By 1942, New York was the world center of Surrealist activity, as exiled artists sought to recreate the community they left in Paris. Peggy Guggenheim's gallery, Art of this Century, was an important point of contact. Continuing the involvement she had established with the group during the 1920s and '30s in Paris and London, Guggenheim continued to champion the work of these Europeans as she introduced them to contemporary American painters and vice versa. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation's involvement with Surrealism has been shaped by Peggy Guggenheim's direct participation in it. With this exhibition of the Ertegun and Filipacchi collections, the museum presents Surrealism through the unique perspective of private individuals engaging the movement with historical distance. Their visions provide an overview of rare depth and focus into one of the most powerful currents in 20th-century art.

--Tracey Bashkoff, Assistant Curator

This exhibition is made possible by the generous support of the Lagardère Group.