Thursday, January 31, 2008

American Surrealism and View Magazine (Sect. 1)

© Andrew Otwell, 1996

The young poet Charles Henri Ford started View magazine in his New York apartment in 1940. Ford considered himself a Surrealist, and had been encouraged in his work by André Breton, the leader of that movement in Paris in the 1930's. When Ford returned to the United States, he started View as an avant-garde literary magazine. The magazine ran from September 1940 through March 1947, appearing quarterly and monthly as circumstances permitted. Ford initially intended View as a journal of contemporary events compiled of writings by his literary friends in Europe. The magazine soon evolved into much more. Ford wrote to his mother in 1945 that "our prestige grows by leaps and bounds. View is now the world's leading journal of avant-garde art & literature. And I'd like to hold the position won. . . ."[1] His statement was not an exaggeration. By 1945 View had published writing by Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Henry Miller, Paul Bowles, and Surrealists Breton, Nicolas Calas, and Benjamin Peret. It had also produced special issues on artists Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, Pavel Tchelitchew, and Marcel Duchamp, with covers commissioned from each. View reproduced works by other contemporary artists had been reproduced in its pages as well. The magazine also ran columns on contemporary jazz and theatre.

Ford later noted that "we did launch and sponsor the Surrealists in America. They had nothing else going for them during the war. . . ."[2] Though his initial interest in Surrealism was strong, View never became an official Surrealist magazine like the French magazines Minotaure or La Révolution Surrealiste. Ford's interests were too broad for him to submit to the strict guidelines enforced on Surrealist publications by its French leaders, and he regularly published authors who had no interest in Surrealism. Ford's independence even led to a violent break with Nicolas Calas, a Surrealist who had contributed to early issues of View.[3]

The problem was that Ford had no intention of producing an obscure avant-garde magazine. Rather, he wanted to establish what he called a "popular front" in the arts.[4] Ford recognized not only that Surrealism had potential as an artistic philosophy, but that he could exploit its fashionable visual appeal in his magazine. Parker Tyler, Ford's lifelong friend and assistant editor of View remarked in 1967 that Ford's "practical vision grasp[ed] the strategy of making a cultural popular front between fashionable transatlantic elements and neglected aspects of American talent. . . ."[5]

Dickran Tashjian has pointed out that Ford's talents as an editor were matched by his "gravitation toward the wealthy for their patronage and privilege. . . ."[6] Increasingly in the middle 1940's Ford used his considerable social connections to reach a wider audience for the magazine. Even the subtitle of View changed from "Through the eyes of the poet" in the early issues to "The Modern Magazine" to reflect the magazine's broad presence in art, music, theatre, and literature. In letters to his parents, Ford often showed great enthusiasm for the business of publishing a successful magazine and recognized the importance of his role as editor. He wrote in 1943 to thank his father for buying shares in the newly organized View, Inc., "I know that View will be paying dividends before long. . . .There's more glory in being a poet [than a doctor], I think. . . . I admire the heroes of art above all!"[7] A year later he wrote to his mother that "I really think it has a chance to make a commercial success - which is what it must do if it's to last a long time."[8]

The year 1942 was a crucial one both for View magazine and for Surrealism in the United States. View's second series began with a special issue on Max Ernst in April. This issue was the first in a magazine format with color cover and many reproductions inside. This change indicated the magazine's increased commitment to becoming a prominent art periodical.[9] In that year, Pierre Matisse held the first one-man shows in this country of newly arrived European Surrealist painters André Masson, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, and Matta. Matisse also held an exhibition of "Artists in Exile" that introduced the work of many artists to a wider audience. Peggy Guggenheim's "Art of this Century" gallery, which eventually brought together and influenced the young Abstract Expressionists, opened in 1942 with a great deal of publicity. Just days later, André Breton's landmark "First Papers of Surrealism" exhibition also opened in New York. Marticia Sawin has described these exhibitions as "extraordinary showcases for the works [the Surrealists] . . . continued to produce, complete with a press response American painters had not even begun to dream of."[10]

This paper will discuss several of the important art events of 1942, and focus on View's first attempts at defining its own identity as distinct from European Surrealism. A strong reaction to European Surrealism is apparent in the May 1942 special issue on Russian-born artist Pavel Tchelitchew. The writing in that issue informed Ford's editorial position in the "Americana Fantastica" issue in January 1943, in which he defined a new "Fantastic" art.[11] This paper will show how the magazine promoted Tchelitchew, who also had a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art in September of 1942, as an example of its unique concept of American art.

[1] Ford to his mother, May 9, 1945, Charles Henri Ford Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Resource Center, University of Texas at Austin, hereafter HRC.

[2] Clive Philpot and Lynne Tillman, "An Interview with Charles Henri Ford," Flue (Franklin Furnace), December, 1980, p. 1.

[3] Dickran Tashjian, A Boatload of Madmen: Surrealism and the American Avant-garde 1920-1950 (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1995), p. 196.

[4] Philpot and Tillman, p. 2.

[5] Parker Tyler, The Divine Comedy of Pavel Tchelitchew (New York: Fleet Publishing Company,1967), p. 422.

[6] Tashjian, p. 200-201.

[7] Ford to his father, Charles Lloyd Ford, June 17, 1943, Ford Papers, HRC.

[8] Ford to his mother, Gertrude Cato Ford, December 2, 1944, Ford Papers, HRC.

[9] Susan Weil Nessen, Surrealism In Exile: The Early New York Years, 1940-1942, Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 1986, .p. 60.

[10] Marticia Sawin, Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1995), p. 197.

[11] Only three issues were produced in 1942. The Max Ernst special issue was Series II, number 1, April 1942. The Tchelitchew issue was Series II, number 2, May 1942 and the "Americana Fantastica" issue was Series II, number 4, January 1943.

Copyright Andrew Otwell under the Creative Commons license

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JSM said...

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James Nesten said...

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version of David Lynch. " IFC News
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"Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque