Modern Languages & Literatures
South Central Review
André Breton’s collection provides a unique perspective on the environment within which the principles of surrealism were crystallized. In addition to his collection of European paintings, Breton’s Oceanic object collection grew during World War Two in New York. In essays from the 1950s and 1960s, Breton ascribed a “poetic view” and “prestige” to these things with no reference to their monetary value. And yet his history of acquisition and de-acquisition of such things and paintings show that he also understood collecting as a form of investment, despite his avowed objection to the forces of French colonialism that made it accessible to him.
“Value and Hidden Cost in André Breton’s Surrealist Collection” examines the acknowledged—poetic—and unacknowledged—monetary—value of Breton’s collection and what is shows about his understanding of art acquisition as a form of patronage, in contradiction to his intellectual rejection of any form of engagement in the bourgeois economy. This contradiction constitutes a hidden cost to the consistency of his ethical position in favor of leftist politics. In his admiration for the Easter Island statuette with which he started his collection as a teenager, and his elevation of such non-Western things to works of art, he also unconsciously perpetuated a form of intellectual colonialism. This contradiction lies at the root of his slow reassessment of his pre-war attitudes in light of his growing post-war understanding of the cultures that produced the objects he revered and his intellectual engagement in the process of French de-colonization that coincided with his return to Paris from New York.
Conley, Katharine, Value and Hidden Cost in André Breton’s Surrealist Collection (2015). South Central Review, 32(1), 8-22.
This is the galley proof of the article.