NOTE - To any participant - or interested party - who reads this; it is rough and needs further discussion. If you have any additional thoughts on any of the subjects broached here, I would appreciate you e-mailing me such addenda at The additions can include corrections, new thoughts, clarifications, and so on. I would appreciate it.
Dale Michael Houstman

Trading Spaces: Breton As Commodity

Fire Sale Of The Imagination: The Auction

     "The unruly scene at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris’s elegant auction center, made for the kind of tribute artist Andre Breton (1896-1966), “the Pope of Surrealism,” would have savored -- and probably egged on.
     Demonstrators blocked the building’s door, set off stink bombs and tossed out fake euro notes that read, “Your money stinks of the corpse of the poet that you never dared to become.” 

( France Presse) 

     "A committee of angry intellectuals protested, “Slumber in peace, good folk! In France, no one will put forward a penny for a museum to Andre Breton.... All we can express is our disgust, our revolt and our deep pain.”
(Agence France Presse)

"One disapproving visitor yelled, “You are murdering the poet!” 

     The reason for the scène de scandale: The sale of the contents of Breton’s small art-and-book-filled Paris apartment, which for decades, since the artist’s death, had been a rarely seen shrine to one of modernism’s legendary, formative eras. (Only carefully vetted scholars had been allowed to visit the flat at 42 rue Fontaine in the Pigalle district.) Modern-art aficionados wanted the French government to purchase the entire Breton estate (including the apartment), but when it failed to do so, the artist’s daughter put the collection up for sale.

     Among the Breton treasures: thousands of books, photographs, documents, sculptures and pictures by painters who had been his peers, pals and partners in exploring the uncharted intersection of psychoanalysis, the irrational and “automatic” methods of making art.

     Bill Gates and Madonna are rumored to be interested in Breton’s canvases by such modern masters as Rene Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp. Also on the block: South Sea island masks, Central American dolls, waffle irons, holy-water basins, baskets of pebbles, walking sticks, fossils, butterflies and coins. Auctioneers overseeing the controversial sale expect it to fetch more than $30 million.

     “The sale of the Andre Breton collection has almost become an affair of state,” Le Monde acknowledged. Le Figaro urged France’s National Library in Paris to step in and purchase some of the most important books and manuscripts from the collection.

     In fact, the French government, “which had pledged to step in to prevent key pieces from leaving the country, bought 17 lots to be distributed to museums and libraries around the country.”
( France Presse)

     Even people who had never heard of Breton or surrealism flocked to the auction house to examine lots on display for the sale, Le Figaro reported.

     “Curious or passionate, the dense crowd fluttered through the Drouot galleries and admired and discovered one last time the whole [collection], an artistic testament and surrealist bazaar from the henceforth anonymous [apartment at] 42 rue Fontaine.”
     The international Surrealist Movement decided to discuss the affair...

John Adams:

     The biggest crime is that Aube is being forced to depart with the studio in the first place. It shouldn’t necessarily be a matter of what surrealists, or the French government, or the public wants.

     If she was in a better position, perhaps she would have preserved, donated, or dispersed it all (though through her own will).


     As long as she was, she did.

John Adams:

     I still can’t believe the 60% inheritance tax. Laws can be so criminal.


     This has been my view all along! This is the reason I signed Bogartte’s petition. The government (or anyone else) should have no say in what is left to an heir and certainly 60% tax is an obscenity beyond measure.


     Within the capitalist framework, taxation is one of the principle mechanisms for redistributing wealth, and inheritance taxes tend to affect the wealthiest sector. “Abolish inheritance tax” is not the sort of battle cry with which surrealists should want to be associated.

John Adams:

     But, regardless of the tax, it is the redistributing of wealth – the taxation itself - that we want to oppose. True that inheritance tax is not the foremost concern for most people in the world living under the capitalist order.

     The principle issue is that tax reforms and government regulation does not work. It is both a tool abused to disproportionately distribute wealth, and one to try to confront it with.

     In the larger picture though we don’t want any control of ourselves, as that is what really pillars capitalism and breeds disproportionate power.


     “Abolish taxation” or “abolish the government” or “abolish capitalism” would be a less problematic position to take, but opponents of wealth-transfer taxes and progressive taxes and the like are a fairly definable group: the wealthy, the ones who benefit from tax cuts and flat taxes. Certainly we wouldn’t want to steal their slogans and lend our voices to their cause. Your point is taken, but as long as there are wage slaves there will be the need to redistribute wealth, primarily through taxation and labour organization. Admittedly, these are concessions which both sustain and dilute capitalism, but within the capitalist framework the alternative is the era of mass unemployment and company goon squads for which no one should be nostalgic.

     I’m not sure what you mean when you say this “does not work,” though. The system won’t produce economic equity -- especially not with corporate tax lawyers writing legislation -- but it seems to work at what it is designed to do.

Dale Houstman:

     Even if there were no “wage slaves” taxation would exist under a different name: what is taxation (in its most essential and least malignant form) but community action? Since - in any group too large to be personally interactive and too “advanced” in its infrastructure to avoid specialization - - we cannot all be individually responsive to - say - the need to pave the roads or build a new structure - our “energies” are called upon and massed via taxation, the only way in which this could be avoided would be to say “fuck it” and head to Texas, or to start a movement toward smaller inter-dependent village states. The U.S. (and many of its states in reaction) have chosen - disasterously it seems - the former. In essence I have nothing against taxation, but it is merely the methods chosen I abhor. Gambling for one, which - of course - predominantly screws the less-wealthy members of society via an admittedly problematic (and capitalistically seductive) con. And the “trickle down” theory - which assumes that money flows “down” rather than - obviously - “up.” And so on.

     Of course, in a “perfected” world, none would labor or raise a finger. But the ideal is that ALL members of any society would equally share the inevitable burdens of maintaining that society. The alternatives are perhaps too onerous a burden for any ethical person: disrepair, slave labor, robbery of one’s neighbors, etc. ALL: of which are - under new disguises - occuring now.

     But the immediate - and quite necessary - solution is to kill the horse that got us here. This doesn’t seem likely, but it might come to that yet. Those who might most be likely to resist such an action are being - not coincidentally - starved, worked to death, and distracted by frivolous displays rife with fake meaning.

John Adams:

     I’m not sure which horse you mean, if you say you have no problem with taxation, which is one form of imposed government regulation. Now if you mean to speak of voluntary tax funds, I don’t see any
immediate ethical problems with that idea.

     But we have to remember, government also appears necessary to regulate money and protect its worth, enforce its more-or-less proper disperal and its exchange.

     I don’t see any reason at all to support the imposition of taxes in theory or in practice (save to prevent oneself from going to jail).

     "...or to start a movement toward smaller inter-dependent village states."

     A step closer in the right direction. Inter-dependent autonomous villages - not states - might be closer to the more desirable solution.

     The U.S. (and many of its states in reaction) have chosen - disasterously it seems - the former.

     If they all intend to move to Texas then we are in serious some horse manure!

     In essence I have nothing against taxation, but it is merely the methods chosen I abhor. Gambling for one, which - of course - predominantly screws the less-wealthy members of society via an admittedly problematic (and capitalistically seductive) con. And the “trickle down” theory - which assumes that
money flows “down” rather than - obviously - “up.” And so on.

     I am a little surprised to find genuine support for imposed state and federal taxes, to be honest. 

     “Should five per cent appear too small
     Be thankful I don’t take it all”


     Mass unemployment: sounds good to me. But we can’t try to reform taxes forever for fear of big business controlling our lives. Government is what gives it its power right now. It’s a matter of the masses saying “ok, sure, representatives take my money away and do the right thing with it”. That has never worked historically...

     To overcome the current system takes shedding the old skin. Capitalism has less chance to survive with individuals opposed to relinquishing their autonomy, whether towards corporate incentives or centralized health care.


     Regarding Breton’s items and the auction, i’m glad that someone made a ruckus there during the actual event. Whether or not i fully agree with the demonstrators, the idea of smoke bombs, rude flyers, and heckling at such an event seems entirely appropriate. Yet, this was done by non surrealist people.

     i am also curious as to the GPMS’s viewpoint on this. From their site it looks like they reprinted the Chicago text “Gold of Time,” but haven’t said much else. If there is a formally decided GPMS position on this subject i am not aware of it. Now it is true that i have missed most of Thursday meeting in the past weeks, although i attended almost all Friday meetings.

     i have not taken part nor have been invited to take part in any kind of vote regarding this topic.

     If the functioning of GPMS authorizes decisions to be taken without regular members to be made aware of it then there is a democracy problem within this group. It might be a problem in a close or more remote future for the people who do not respect elementary democracy but i do not feel as linked or connected with any non democratic decision wherever such a decsion is made and whoever makes it. 

     When i refer to “the majority of parisian surrealists” i do not specifically mean the GPMS, but quite concretely i mean a lot of well known surrealist people here who do or do not belong to the GPMS. 

     i said and i repeat that to the extent of my knowledge of people the list provided by Chicago was probably OK.

     i admit i don’t understand the full history of Breton’s apartment. Aube was being charged a massive inheritance tax, tried to sell the studio to the government, and when they refused, decided to put it up for auction. 

     The level of hypocrisy from all parts regarding this auction seems to be… HUGE ! 

     At which point some surrealists and some non-surrealists called for the preservation of the apartment.

     Again if one or two surrealists took a part in the Comité de vigilande André Breton, it is clear that they did not do so as surrealists. i did not find any statement in the Comité André Breton’s statements saying that they were acting as surrealists. 

     Some may have called for an “Andre Breton Museum” explicitly, others just wanted the items kept together, or called for ‘whole sale only.’ 

     There was confusion about what petitions went where, to what end, and who was actually being insulted in the first Chicago tract on this matter. 

     Chicago tend to insult first and think after, i fear. i am not aware that French surrealists insulted the Comité André Breton as such. The papers i read from them are considerably more subtle than that. 

     This situation is likely to change in a close future since the majority shall now have to explain why and how their position happens to converge with the Power’s official position.

     i’ll stop here and now, since it’s auction time for us both too...

     ...Yesterday we went to the auction and i really would have liked to burn down the bunch of rich and decadent people running around like flushed chickens with a Breton catalogue in their hands marking with a cross what they will purchase next.

     But concerning museums we have to differenciate between fixed and established museums and galleries where works are shown which are carried together just for a certain exhibition and during a limited time. Concerning Breton it will surely create some new jobs in the future when maybe in ten years a Breton retrospective shall take place and all the wide-spread works have to be brought together again from all over the world to a certain place :) 

     We both (Pierre and Zazie) bought a CD with Breton’s work (50 Euro !!!!) and it is a shame .... It is nothing else than the auction catalog and it even contains all the auction numbers (each object has its number). Furthermore the scan quality is sooo bad - the pictures are crooked and not sharp - and in an output size of a few centimeters to prevent that one can use them elsewhere ! 

     i will go on in another reply....

     One thing is clear! These people i saw yesterday raising their hands to get a certain artwork by paying the highest price were surely not interested to know more about Surrealism!

     They were only rich and i could smell the strong perfume in their moldered clothes....if you know what i mean...

     i still would have preferred that the collection would not have ended in their hands!

1      Simultaneous with the Breton auction, the U.S. war on Iraq culminated with the sack of Baghdad during which the National Museum of Antiquities was plundered and the National Library and Archives was burned. Seven thousand years of the history of a region regarded as “the cradle of civilization” was effectively razed, either channeled into the hands of private collectors or simply smashed. “Among the many treasures that have vanished, perhaps for ever, are a solid gold harp from the Sumerian era, the sculptured head of a woman from the Sumerian city of Uruk, a Ram in the Thicket statue from Ur, stone carvings, gold jewellery, tapestry fragments, ivory figurines of goddesses, friezes of soldiers, ceramic jars and urns. The museum held the tablets with Hammurabi’s Code, one of the world’s earliest legal documents, early texts describing the epic of Gilgamesh and mathematical treatises that reveal a knowledge of Pythagorean geometry 1,500 years before Pythagoras.” (The Independent - 14 April 2003.) As one curator put it: “my life is now over, shoot me in the head right now”. The stolen artefacts are expected
to fetch billions of dollars on the antiquities market. The pillaging of the museum was considered an “inside job,” and there has been speculation that the widespread destruction was coordinated.

Dust or Art?: the Roles of Museums ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Evi and me went to a big Magritte exhibition today in Paris. It was really interesting.

     It is really important that enough things are gathered. Isolated works do not carry the meaning.
     The overall evolution is lost and what is worst, you can’t even understand the process of making a work because they tend not to show the preparation works, only the masterpieces. The Bourgeois only likes the result, it’s a permanent feature.

     Here, in some cases it was possible to follow Magritte’s “evolution of mind” which is both touching and interesting.


     I feel in my gut that a government run Breton museum is counter to my understanding of surrealism. The surrealist movement itself could not cope with the financial considerations involved, nor did anyone friendly with the movement offer to do so on principled asking the government to do so--feels like just more of the same misfortune.


     I agree with you and the underlining ‘intent’ of the Chicago Statement as I would assume a good number of Surrealists would, that a state-run Breton Museum was not the answer to the problem. I think the whole ordeal sucks and I don’t have any easy answers or ready solutions.......


     i don’t know WHO raised this idiocy about a museum! Suddenly when the whole story came up everybody was talking about a Breton museum. But not me! You won’t find this word on my “Breton for sale” web page.... i am still of the opinion that it was not meant to be a museum but only a “Gesamtkunstwerk” within a flat which should be kept together.

     Obviously the government would have had the money to buy it just to preserve it, but i don’t give a damn about WHO would have bought it. If i had enough money it would have been myself.


     I wouldn’t mind putting it in my basement. You’re right, you didn’t mention museums, but I think it’s a natural reflex to link preservation with museums, because that’s mainly the way it is done, along with zoos.

     All in all, I am sentimentally aligned with the saving of Breton’s “space” but intellectually I am somewhat blasé on the subject, for reasons I have set forth in my usual vague manner. Any preservation inevitably leads to a sort of “tourist temple trap” sensation, in which the ideas of a still living philosophy are paralyzed by the cenotaph; a nostalgia reified into “an evening out.”.

     “Isn’t that interesting: Surrealism looks like it must have smelled sweet while it was alive.”

     “And it doesn’t stink half bad now that’s it’s dead, neither.”

     So while I would have been quite satisfied to have the lot saved, my knowledge of such things (Mark Twain’s homes and such) make me leery of the effort on my own part, as limited as that could be.


     i understand what you mean but only the imagination that all the treasures are spread everywhere and bought by some ignorant but rich assholes makes me leery as well ;)


     This is true, but it probably speaks to the fact that ANY mode of material preservation carries with it a sensation of nausea. Madonna was interested in the Magrittes I hear. She could make a movie of the auction and try to pass it off as worthwhile and somehow “daring.”


     Hmmm...if i continue with this thought it would mean that one should not preserve anything at all. What about our own stuff ? For example everything i created (images) i have here at home in a printed form or at least on my hard disk or on CDs. If it is true what you are saying i would have to throw it away. i know i am not a good example because i am not famous, but you can apply this example at any thinkers, writers, poets or artists or creators of whatever.... They have to destroy their works to prevent malpractice of the works being sold or collected.


     Preservation seems aligned with self-promotion in the sort of careerism which is antithetical to the surrealist adventure. The contradiction is that surrealists have always rummaged the museums and libraries to unearth inspirations from the past. It’s not a pressing concern, though. Paintings and manuscripts tend to survive neglect, films maybe less so. Films by Margritte and Souppault, for instance, are gone. 


     It’s interesting, but I used to even feel that was a problematic thing. I avoided publication because I feel that - after the initial creation - everything else smacks of commerce. Extreme perhaps. Now I mainly avoid it out of sheer laziness perhaps. But I meant “public preservation” of the type we are discussing. Preserving something WITHOUT the “preserved” person’s input or chance at negation. It would still have some problems if Breton has - in his life - thought of such an affair, but I couldn’t fault it as much, especially as it might have taken a form - in his mind - that contained little for me to complain of: in other words, it might have been a process I was surprised by. Not that I’m actually complaining about the present attempts to cohere the room..

     And many writers have had their works misused after they died, and some few have made sure that what is left behind is only what they want left behind. I am torn there of course too (one would regret not having read Kafka), but this “dis-ease” appears to be innate to the subject. But I - for one – do not find living in ambiguity to be disturbing.


     i am not sure that this is that easy to manage. And how can someone who is not really involved or who did not know the person personally decide if there is a misuse or not?

     Why did Breton leave behind his studio as it was ? Maybe he simply did not think about his death.

      Or he wanted it kept together ? Or maybe he didn’t give a damn about what will happen after his death? Maybe he even made enough confidence in his daughter to take the right decision? 

     i guess we never will know.


     One can argue about each case differently: in Hemingway’s case, the publication of every bad or half-finished work being profoundly “edited” (rewritten and padded out) strikes me as overtly egregious. In Kafka’s case it seems he wanted almost everything done away with. A big loss I think. In general he has been treated kindly, as he wasn’t a “celebrity” so his work fell into the hands of friends. Another example: Emily Dickinson’s work which - until relatively recently - appeared in a badly edited and reworked form that stripped her of much of her uniqueness. And so on. These examples don’t really depend upon knowing the artists: the changes and misuse of the material is rather obvious from comparing it to what they have done while alive.


     This is what i meant above. 

     It would be a great leakage not to have published lots of works. And therefore i think it is simply egoistic not to publish!


     This is a paradox of course: I think it is as egotistical to believe one’s work is being “waited for.” At any rate, I have all the work in several different forms, and maybe someone very interested in it might one day take my “leavings” and publish them. Won’t bother me: I’ll be dead.


     Why you won’t accept to sell your books?


     Don’t know. I could say lots of things here (mainly a repeat of what I have already said) but the essential point is that I derive little to no pleasure from publication and any of the (little) money that might flow from that. I will give them to anyone who shows interest.


     But isn’t this egoistic? 

     You avoid publishing your stuff and so many interested people are unable to read you and to get new ideas based on what you did say etc.

     Does it mean that you don’t publish to avoid a copyright note?

     Or don’t you want to publish to avoid that anyone takes your stuff and publishes it under his own name and makes even some money with it ?


     No, I don’t care who takes the stuff. I DO publish now and then, but - frankly - it’s a matter of the pleasure principle. Creating the stuff gives me pleasure and publishing it doesn’t - at least not very much anymore. There might be all sorts of reasons for this, but I haven’t explored them greatly. The process of a poem “reifying” itself is thrilling, and nothing after that is very interesting to me. I send entire manuscripts to whoever shows interest, so it isn’t a matter of wanting to hide or protect my work. I have already achieved the most pleasure by observing the process that creates them. Honestly, publication seems too much like work, and I am frankly quite tired – to the point of revulsion – of jobs.

     I share with anyone who wants to, and - no - I don’t consider it egotistical.


     What do you think about well known writers as for example Günther Grass (Germany) who own their life by selling their books ?

     Is this more condemnable than earning your money by working in a factory ?

     Many questions i know but.....


     I don’t condemn those who publish and I obviously like books. Pierre has called me a "fetishist" upon this very point, and I have no argument with the designation.. My reluctance in the matter of publication is purely personal to me, and Barrett and I have discussed it a little, along the lines of commodities.


     We would have to drop the law of heirship.

     Mostly the children of a person are overtaking the parents heritage and with it the rights to do what they want with it. As we can see in Breton’s case as well. If it is not possible to ask the person (because it is already dead) would mean (following your argumentation) that all work left behind must be destroyed just to avoid that it is sold or because there is a risk that the stuff is kept in a museum or so...

     i really would be very sad not having been able to see the works (architectural works, paintings, machines, scientific drawings etc) of Leonardo Da Vinci ! It is so enlightening.


     Surely, and - as I said - I have absolutely nothing against certain well-considered forms of preservation in this regard. I am just personally not moved by pleasure to involve myself in it to any great degree. That this might be a “flaw” occurs to me, but that doesn’t (as of yet) greatly increase my desire to do the deed, even if I really had any ability to be of use there. If others do, and the result is both educational (in the best sense) and somehow not liable to attracting hagiographers, I would be glad to see it. But the main thrust of Breton’s work - I think - exists elsewhere.


     After having visited the huge Magritte expo yesterday which showed most of his work (also the working process) my feelings concerning the auction have become even more ambivalent.

     i am feeling a deep sadness and therefore i fear to go to the auction. My sadness will turn into rage i am sure ! In any case i will buy the CD with all the Breton stuff on it. Not sure what is the use for it, but i am just following my nose and my irrational feelings.

     Last friday we went to dinner with Michel Zimbacca and Anny Bonnin after the GPMS meeting and they told us that they have visited the Magritte expo. They liked it a lot because there are many unknown works shown.

     “Works i never have seen before.”

     But strange thing to me is that Michel Zimbacca too is against museums but he is visiting them all the time telling it loudly even. Where does this ambivalence come from ??


     A lot of things that are fun also contain ambivalent essences. I’ve been to a lot of museums, and enjoyed most of them (my favorites are the Uffizi in Florence and the Toy Museum in Nashville. There is also a Museum of Outsider Art in Baltimore I want to see). I suppose it’s odd, but once the things are already there I don’t mind going in. Starting a new one seems to bother me. A few years ago a local museum had a Dada exhibition, and I must say Dada is devastated by museum display. I kept hoping a little wolf-fur box would open and shoot napalm into the room.

     And it wasn’t due to any over failure in the museum’s attempt to come up to the level of most museum displays: there were plenty of little cards with names and dates and other information to address the “educational” aspect, and the works are interesting enough to keep people hopping (although not uncomfortably enough for my tastes: a little spray of chlorine gas and tacks on the floor might have helped immensely.) It is just the sense you are looking at heirlooms stolen from another (and far better) land. 

     And I’m not saying it wasn’t nice to see the hundredth copy of Duchamp’s “Why Not Sneeze?” But it was as if slightly dotty old aunts had decided to have a “strange room.” Depressing once the dichotomy set in.


     Ahhh i understand! A Dada museum does not work without any scandal - I agree. But what if the Medicis would have thought like you?


     True enough. But not everyone can be a museum builder! Again: I think I’ve made it clear that this is entirely a personal predilection, and that I hardly am prepared to stand outside a museum spitting at the patrons and the curators. Have you been to the Uffizi? I went there four times in four days, and could have gone a few more. I didn’t feel like burning it down once! But all this ambivalence reminds me of a Bill Griffith comic (he created Zippy the Pinhead if that means anything to you): he goes out for a ride around San Francisco, looking at all the beautiful and stately homes. The punchline line is “I don’t know whether to buy them or burn them down.” So I suppose I am not alone in this ambivalence toward preservation and nostalgia. I cannot see it being resolved any time soon, but one never knows.


     i think this museum question is very important to discuss. As i said to Pierre a long time ago is that before one can discuss it one would have to find a definition what a museum is....

     i have the impression that until now we are all talking about different things but i think that we can come closer together by talking as we do.


     This is precisely why I am as engaged as I am.


     But what you are saying means to stop the starting point of representations of history. This is what museums are in fact.


     But museums distort and misrepresent history as often as they clarify it. More ambivalence you see?


     In the beginning museum were not open for public but they served artists to copy or to learn from other masters. They became public in 1848 in France...

     If you stop starting new museums you will deprive future generations of having their own ideas about the past.

     For sure there is an ambivalence.

     But there are not only art museums.

     What about for example the “Musée de l’ homme” a museum in Paris which is showing several cultures of several people? They have rebuild living scenes, they show clothing, tools, food etc of ancient cultures. i must say that there are lots of things i did not know before and i have no idea how i could have seen so many interesting things at one single place. For sure there are books about all this but it is not exactly the same! (much more work to get it :) 

     Btw the above mentioned museum will be dissolved - they already started to remove several sections and so we took the occasion to go there before it doesn’t exist any more. 

     i think it is better to get any idea about former times than nothing at all even if it is not the whole truth which is showed there.

     Maybe finding the truth should be our duty?


     Somehow I doubt this, although - again - I am not trying to “stop museums” I am only offering a personal opinion as to their starting of one. I think that is a bit different? Yet, long before there were museums people had “ideas about the past” and - in fact - they had imaginings of the past which are as marvelous as any museum-sponsored “evocation” and ordering of that past. And maybe “copying the masters” is not particularly the best way to go about finding one’s way in the lair of the Arts? Surely one of the sources of Dada and Surrealism was precisely a revolt against this sort of reverence? Yet, I suppose it doesn’t bother me immensely. I don’t see that museums are the only source for such “back-looking” anymore, and one can learn as much (or as little) of the past and art from looking at collections of “Krazy Kat” comics and ads for toothpaste. Museums tend to focus on “splendor” and I often prefer “debris.” But that’s no big deal.


     “Museums tend to focus on “splendor”: Can you explain this more exactly ?

     “…and i often prefer ‘debris.’”

     You are right here and i am thinking like you (concerning debris) but i cannot say that a collection of ancient war photographs for instance is focusing on splendor.

     Again... we have to distinguish between the different sorts of museums.

     Museums of art, temporarily shown artworks from different collections and
historical museums.

     You are entitled to have your own opinion for sure. But at any time someone has to start something :) If not the day will come where nothing more is left !


     “Nothing” sounds peaceful!

     Surely someone has to “start something.” No argument there! But it doesn’t HAVE to be a museum. And also it doesn’t HAVE to be me in particular. I am not Alexander the Great or Da Vinci and I don’t feel overly guilty about not “starting” everything. I have plenty to do and - at any rate - I doubt very much I could have prevented Breton’s space from being “de-spaced.” This isn’t necessarily a good excuse for inaction, of course: I know I can’t stop a war by attending a rally/riot, but I often do that. But although I am a BIG man, I do not spread so thin after all! Not ALL the sandwiches can contain a smear of Dale!

     Everything I admire and marvel at in Breton exists independent of his “space” and - although it pains me to see anything of value dissolve into the hands of the idle rich, the combination of my inability to do much about it, and my personal living connection to what is essential in Breton’s existence, and to my gratefulness for that existence continues to flourish as colorfully as ever. All those people who put up the “big bucks” for a piece of Breton have been cheated, because he is not there but here, in my room, and in a million other rooms around the world. We should perhaps proclaim ourselves as the real world-wide museum of Breton, and let the tourists visit us. I - for one- will exact no admission fee, although I might create a small gift shop full of spiny and noxious edibles.


     For surely if you are visiting a museum you cannot exactly rebuild history but one thing is clear and important: Museums allow you to DREAM !


     Again, I don’t really believe this. Museums are fine, but dreams exist quite independently of any collection or array. In some ways museums attempt to impose an aesthetic hierarchy and historical flow that may - like all history - focus on “the big lights” as opposed to the electricity. For most of the viewers at museums, the experience seems to be either one of “cultural duty” or “paasive viewing.” Obviously a few are “ignited.” Fine and good, but it doesn’t take a museum to do this finally, although - again - I remind you that I am not against museums, only ambiguous about their start-ups. My imagination seemed to be sparked by comic books, TV, and science fictions, and only later by Rimbaud, Breton, etc. My earliest rememberance of a “surrealist” encounter stems from one panel in a rather dull comic book called “The Atomic Knights.” It was a nicely rendered image of an armored knight riding on a giant Dalmatian. I stared at it from time to time for days.

     Now can that comic book be wiped from existence if it (or the media it was printed from) isn’t preserved? Obviously. And so I am glad there are such places, even if most of them appear to be run by lunkheads and academic aesthetes. There’s the stuff, they dust it off and keep bugs from eating it. Fine. Do I personally aim to be a part of starting a museum (or a “cabinet of wonders”) to save whatever portion of history I or someone else deems “worthy”? No. Do museums often take the “Mickey” out of the work they are presenting? Yes. Does enough remain to make the experience sometimes worth it? Yes. And so on.


    History only can be “made” after events have happened. Here is where lies the responsibility - in the hands and the sensitiveness of historians. i cannot see any difference between a museum and a history book concerning the risk of twisting the truth. In both cases objectivity is indispensable...and what is not less important - the responsibility of ourselves.

     Museums (as i understand them) are not a conservation of the past but they allow you to make your own ideas about what it could have been.

     (Why exactly did you enjoy visiting the Uffizi???)


     It was a nice building in a beautiful city full of odds and ends that had fallen from the hands of Princes. The art was alive and the little Christian royalty were all dead. A pretty thought on a pretty day. The museum didn’t (at the time) appear to be overly arranged so as to present a curator’s point of view. The stuff was “just there.” I can see how Breton’s space might be this sort of thing, but one has to take into account the distance between the essential reason for wanting to know of Breton - or (better) of Surrealism - and the experience afforded by whatever mechanism comes into place for the “presentation.” There are several options. One would prefer to accidentally “trip over” the room in some odd corner of Paris (or Barstow. California!). Or - given that it would be in a fixed and locatable locale, one would like a small entrance test to be given, (name a feathered ashtray, what if war were your mother, etc.) and only those who “succeeded” to be allowed in. The rest could be given a pamphlet. And so on. These sorts of particulars would make me more comfortable with such an adventure. Just the idea that the room will be “preserved” doesn’t - in itself - excite whatever remains to be excited in me. And what is most essential about Surrealism (outside of personal experiences) is probably never to be found in a perusal of that room. But it’s pleasant enough.


     Another funny thing is Zimbacca and lots of others are against the “mummification” of Breton.

     This is great :-)

     As for myself i have nothing against mummies - i even like their mystery. So i dare to say that many people prefer the decomposition to the mummification.

     Is this any better ?


     Could be. I like “The Mummy” with Boris Karloff, especially as it is a tale of undying desire. 

     And some mummification take place quite independently of human intervention. In fact, many scientists now think that the Egyptians grand theories of burial have little to do with the preservation. The Desert does it quite neatly all the time. So should we perhaps drop the room into the Gobi and cross our fingers? Or wrap it (ala Christo) - in bandages, and wait for it to arise anew, and begin a mad search for Andre himself? These are all possibilities.


     All this is better than what’s happening right now....i insist .....grrrr

     Vive le desert!!!!

William Hollister:

     Well I’m not really following the discussion closely so I may be addressing something that’s already been here. I started reading the messages on this list really only this weekend as I’m thinking about the sixth sense...

     Perhaps it was the sixth sense that brought me here. You’re in a discussion about the wholesale dispersion of an art-collection. Issues of value, property and tax structures are at issue when a dead man’s art is burned onto a CD and sold off to Madonna.

     I’m not sure why I’m indifferent about this. I guess I should sign something, or barricade someone from something somewhere. An art collection dominated a conversation in a pub last
night. Well, actually it didn’t. The noise of Pardubice defeating Slavia dominated the conversation and was only muted by a christian missionary who tried to convince Franta, Radim and I to stop drinking coke... anyway, the destruction of 5,000 years of minotaur heads and Babylonian baubbles seemed to be more interesting than Breton’s living room pottery...1


     True enough I suppose, but - although I am ambivalent about preservations of objects, I do think art (and its wilder sister imagination) is one way - maybe the only way - out of such disasters, and I am sure that even in the midst of Dachau poems about the simplest joys of love were still being written and spoken. I don’t think it is best that we subsume our imaginations beneath even the worst calamities and brutalities of the world, because - frankly - there would then never be enough time for imagination. After all, how often have some of us heard how “useless” and “trivial” art is when stacked against the need to make money and such? In South America it is “Bread AND Roses” and I think that it is best we create and imagine MORE in times such as these. I know I am. Debating the Breton collection and the subjects which naturally arise from that, is a perfectly ethical and important process. But one has to follow their own precepts. Barrett and I have an acquaintance who -due to recent events- has no time for making music with us, because he is always knee-deep in politics. All well and good, but I think it is basically an error. If we don’t go about our own imaginative courses at such junctures then - to paraphrase - the powerful have won.


     I provide a summary history of museums in France based on a program I heard on France Culture some months ago plus some additional information gathered from other programs.
     This covers the French history of museums. 

     In the late Middle Ages, aristocrats start building collections based on anything they are given by travellers or other aristocrats, etc... Such collections collect just anything found interesting probably in a very similar way as Breton himself gathering his things. 

     From the French revolution on, things change drastically. The initial target of ART museums is to store famous examples of art works so that artists make their own education by copying these examples. This is still existing I believe or ceased existing quite recently. There were special days of the week dedicated to artist patient copying work until lately in Le Louvre. 

     The purpose is clearly to provide the basis of artistic education. 

    Other types of museums are established at that moment by the French revolution and the prototype of the “Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle” is another example and the target is scientific education of the people of course but above all to provide a basis for academic studies and even more important there is a need to collect living plants from foreign countries for agricultural, medical and industrial purposes.

     The same institution with the same objectives is still existing today with an interesting gallery of disappeared species like the Tasmany Wolf, the Dodo, Mammoths, etc... Thanks to taxidermy... :-)

     Also fascinating, the marvellous collections of botanic and zoologic drawings.
     And of course there is a Zoo (ménagerie), aquariums, vivariums, etc... 

     Again this philosophy of museum has been lasting until World War Two and was only threatened recently by huge lack of money that led to the point that rain was falling on the collections. 

     So that the Musée de l’Homme was initially created as a sort of appendix of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle. Both were created and driven by scientists and used by scientists. 

     Another type of problem arises when Napoleon comes back from Egypt and the need is not only to store information about Egyptian antiquity but also objects and data related to modern Egypt as well (modern at that moment). 

     After monarchy has been restored, comes a man further on called King Louis Philippe who has an urgent need to show that he is the king of ALL French people monarchists, Bonapartists and (I dare say) republicans as well. He is in the right position to do so because although he belongs to the French kings line his family took an important part in the French revolution AGAINST monarchy. 

     So Louis Philippe starts a new museo-fication movement “A toutes les Gloires de La France”
“To all the glories of France” as is still written on the Palace of Versailles. The target is to unify all the factions in the French people by making clear that all great men are great men without caring whether they were revolutionary, Bonapartists, royalists etc... The same for artists and their works.

     To glorify France and French works is the purpose. So the idea is a kind of honest propaganda but not education of the people because the people are currently working far too hard to have time enough to go into museums. 

     And this is a problem for the uprising socialist (anarchist) movement. Several attempts are proposed and tried to send the Poor to museums These attempts are still lasting and most French museums have at least free entrance on one day once a month. 

     But with time, everything turns into its very opposite. 

     New museology concepts have been created they divide museums in two sorts:

1 - collection museums in which things are stored, mostly kept hidden and OBJECTS (rarely) shown by means of temporary exhibitions (THAT is the shop window)

2 - didactic museums based on “multimedia” material ugly paintings and plastic copies where the people (the-man-in-the-street) is supposed to be taught the last fashionable journalistic opinion about his past. (This is the CD-Rom lollipop)

     If you ever went to such museums, you know that you are not likely to learn anything at all above the level of what the usual journalists have ever understood about the topic (which is close to nothing if you consider the education level of these journalists) 

     THIS is what a museum means today not mummification but plastification. 

     The core of the effort is now to hide the past and particularly the possible semantics of the past under plastic copies and flat ready-made ideas. 

     Where the people was previously invited to find or create its own semantics creating free meaningful associations between REAL things the new museology is based on the aesthetics of isolated objects on one hand (“the public wants objects” they say) and on synthetic one way “information” on the other hand. 
     The objective is clearly an attack against semantics that is, to prevent the people to appropriate their past and do something with it NOW. 

     Really considering what I have heard say by the highest authorities in terms of museology in France (France Culture again) I think that the term “mummification” is totally out of date it refers to the good old state of the world in which being in touch with the real stuff was still a requirement and a possibility (mummification when it still existed was a good thing after all because a mummy is real).

     What is happening now is entirey different. Museology is clearly heading towards the total loss of any real contact with the past towards the destruction of any possible understanding of the past. 

     This is of course only one side of the loss...

     The Buddhist Temple of Borobudur was taken as hostage by terrorists about 10 years ago Angor Vat has been stolen stone by stone during civil wars in Kamputchea Talibans destroyed some buddhist sculptures for God’s sake and Mr Bush recently helped Badgad museums to be stolen in the name of Civilization.


     Here’s my footnote to the subject:

     Art museums, rather like schools and governments, are a promising idea in theory but in practice exist to perpetuate the current social system. They institutionalize art, the very idea of art, plunge it into the domain of experts and specialists, sanctify “greatness” and importance, recuperate art’s spirit by stamping it officially worthy, old, respectable. To the surrealist, the marvelous may be found in either high or low art, so the museum walls which demand the distinction must be seen as an impediment. In searching for marvels in the museum, one must extricate them from the context in which the work is presented. What one finds inspiring in a museum should suggest what museums might be like in a fundamentally different world.


     Ah! Parry, you can play at ease with me since I read the Situationists in 1973 and did not cease ever since :-)

     Yes of course this is true.

     But your remark made me progress in a significant way: ALL the objects that surround us also “perpetuate the current social system” in some way.

     For instance, a car is a very efficient shorcut from one gas station to the next gas station.

     You probably know that I hold Marcel Duchamp as the other creator of surrealism in a fair equality with Breton himself. Duchamp started to play with objects long before Breton invented the idea of “Objets à fonctionnement symbolique” with the idea of introducing laughter in the deadly serious world of machines. And why - following the same line and so close after - does Duchamp invent the concept of ready-made which also introduces laughter in the deadly seriousness of museums?

     Among the so-called “objets à fonctionnement symbolique” an important part is in fact related to the kind of humour invented by Duchamp about machines.
     Now WHY are machines and museums so DEADLY serious?

     What is by essence the most deadly serious thing in this world ?

     But let’s go a bit further...

     If you analyse the well known “iron with nails” for instance you see that it is based on the idea that an object or a machine may have bad intentions or may even have plainly been built for anti-human purposes.

     If you analyse the wolf-table you fall upon similar ideas that is…

1 - a table may become that wild that it grows fur and bites or another idea, that is :
2 - even a wild wolf can be domesticated to the extent that it can become an innocent table.

     If you analyse the fur cup and spoon you fall upon the same ideas as above…

1a - a cup and a spoon may become wild and grow fur
2a - something wild with a fur can be domesticated to the point that it can be used as a cup and a spoon.

If you consider the <bare feet>-<pair of shoesin one of Magritte’s paintings, again the 
same story pops out…

1b - human feet may revolt against shoes until the shoes are forced to become flesh
2b - living human feet led to the point that they cease to be living flesh and become shoes.

     If you take “in advance of the broken arm” by Duchamp you again fall upon the idea of a malevolent object that predicts a man’s fall in the snow and ironically proposes its help.

     If you consider “Trébuchet” again by Duchamp again some innocent object turns into a sort of malevolent wooden octopus lying on the ground for the sole purpose of harming a poor human being.

     It is not very difficult I think to find other examples.

     So what is shown by all these examples ?

     Quite plainly: alienation.

     An object is nothing less than dead work, a previously human creation. And what do we see ?
     Surrealism showing objects turning against their “creator” to harm him, bite him...
     The animal part of man or just of wild animals fight the objective part of the objects and finally invades the objects objectivity. 

     Dead Work aggressing Living Flesh
     Living Flesh aggressing Dead Work.

     In other terms, the most concrete aspects of the alienation story hiding behind every instant, behind every dark corner of the world.

     Every object and every machine has a conventional purpose in this society. This conventional purpose is always oppressive because it exist to perpetuate the current social system.

     What is the solution proposed by Duchamp and other to free ourselves from this oppression hidden in every object?

Systematic MISUSE !

     ”They institutionalize art, the very idea of art, plunge it into the domain of experts and specialists, sanctify “greatness” and importance, recuperate art’s spirit by stamping it officially worthy, old, respectable.” (Parry)

     OK OK...

     But ALL things have this function, all objects and machines create this deadly seriousness in which after 5 minutes of attention you easily identify Power itself.

     Should we hence cease to play with the world and retire in the ether ?

     Of course not.

     There is no specific curse embedded within a school or a museum unless we accept this curse and step back. If we decide to fight, then we can play with a school or a museum just like we play with apparently more innocent objects.

     We should stop considering the world as a system of intricated determinism because that not good at all for us and our creativity. A man who actually knows what the world is made of Ilya Prigogine (a plain Nobel Price) writes that the laws of physics express possibilities not a fate, not stability, just possibilities. Now if an intelligent physicist writes that what should a surrealist then say ?

     A museum or a school or just any object, institution or even concept are essentially what surrealists accept them to be they have no essence at all . When plunged into a capitalist world they perpetuate this capitalist world. When plunged into a surrealist world they perpetuate this surrealist world.

     ”To the surrealist, the marvelous may be found in either high or low art, so the museum walls which demand the distinction must be seen as an impediment. In searching for marvels in the museum, one must extricate them from the context in which the work is presented.” (Parry)

     Yes. Some WORK is required. Yes. Of course.

”What one finds inspiring in a museum should suggest what museums might be like in a fundamentally different world.” (Parry)

     OK. OK…

     But then... Why do we now have so conformist surrealist art exhibitions? And even... Why do we now have so conformist surrealist web exhibitions ?

“Two things I would suggest, in looking for the most prosaic explanations:
1) Frauds. There are simply a lot of frauds and counterfeits on the internet who have mastered the ability to spell “surrealism” at best, and sometimes not even that.

2) I don’t know if the technology of the internet have evolved far enough. As it is, even the most complex web site can’t approach the interactivity and personality of a book, so it will pale in comparison with what we already know. A proper web exhibition, I think, would require the memory allotment and ease-of-use of a cd-rom. This is a far-off dream to someone who uses a dial-up connection, like myself.” (Parry)

Earlier surrealist exhibitions clearly showed the way that you too have guessed and here above clearly indicate. Why was such a useful, beautiful and delicate custom abandoned and changed into the most conformist 19th century approach with just images hanging on virtual and/or real walls?

I would guess it’s a question of resources or possibly an indication of a change in surrealists’ priorities, but I don’t know. Perhaps Xtian will explore the possibilities in his upcoming exhibition, “This Is Not A Museum.” (Parry)


     If surrealist practice aims at creating an intrusion, a disruptive presence, a disturbing humor or beauty, then creating objects that have an air of menace is one tactic.

     However other tactics have been used before surrealism - both by romanticism and symbolism and of course also by surrealism - that did not involve objects, but rather plants, animals, clouds, rocks, etc.

     As regards Romanticism, ink drawings by Victor Hugo (the French poet) are completely fascinating and very very close to what some surrealists did later (I could scan a couple of them if people are not aware of this).

     As regards symbolism, examples are not too difficult to find.


     There are probably many SILENT ways of subverting museums that have not been invented or used yet.

     There is no specific curse embedded within a school or a museum unless we accept this curse and step back. If we decide to fight, then we can play with a school or a museum just like we play with apparently more innocent objects.

John Adams:

     ersonally, I am not opposed to preserving Breton’s “assets” and making them publicly available. There is nothing inherently wrong with allowing very interesting pieces - be they eastern artifacts or scarcely known surrealist paintings - to be accessed by the public, any more than the local library or video store is wrong for servicing the public with its rentals. The problem that arises though is one due to the affixation of the dollar sign with art. And how to handle
such “valuables”. Of course, a profit is to be made. It can’t just sit there, and if it did, surely a fee would have to be paid and visitors corralled in between red felt dividers for their safety.

     It’s the strain of capitalism and government that mottles the issue for us. It’s easy, in a liberated society artistic creations, strange objects of interest, little pieces of history -- these things should ideally be saved out of curiosity, as things to be examined, inspired by, learned from, and experienced first hand.

     One might find it putting art on the pedestal or resigning it to the dead by dedicating it to space, but the problem still exists:

     Where else SHOULD we put it? when do we make time to enjoy it (is it only in the construction of it that we may enjoy it).

     Art, as much as expression, is also sharing and communication. I feel that when we don’t have to worry about paying for it, or where it can stay, our problem will have mostly vanished.


     But something new happens around 1910 between men and machines and Les Temps Modernes (Modern Times) by Chaplin says something that had never been said so clearly before.
     This “something” is also quite visible with Apollinaire, with Picabia and a lot of others. I do not think that Dada itself would have had this specific color if the shadow of machines had not been so important at this moment.

     Duchamp definately subverted the museum’s expectations when he submitted his R. Mutt urinal. Someone commented that nowadays the only thing to do is to piss in it in the museum!

     ”There is no specific curse embedded within a school or a museum, unless we accept this curse and step back. If we decide to fight, then we can play with a school or a museum just like we play with apparently more innocent objects.”

     This seems like a good approach. Interactive, and carrying the risk of expulsion from the museum, arrest, and scandal. A museum is not a plaything, but it can be! The urban environment itself can figure into surrealist games, of a spontaneous or planned nature.

     “Earlier surrealist exhibitions clearly showed the way that you too have guessed and here above clearly indicate. Why was such a useful, beautiful and delicate custom abandoned and changed into the most conformist 19th century approach with just images hanging on virtual and/or real walls?”

     I don’t know if you’ve seen any photos from the 1976 World Surrealist Exhibition in Chicago, Pierre, but that was very far from “images hanging on walls.” There were a great deal of images on the wall, but also many objects and furniture arranged to create a total environment of poetic adventure. One thing that surrealism shares with some of the more short-lived and superficial “happenings” is that they both can create a total environment, a milieu where the
Marvellous is present, a place where social conditioning is overthrown in the joy, curiosity and uncertainty of the process.

     Allan Kaprow I think was somewhat vacuous and self-important, but I like the idea of happenings and assemblages being used for surrealist purposes, as part of a larger creative/destructive approach.

     I wouldn’t want to use the actual word “happenings” as it seems very dated and shallow.

     A future surrealist exhibition I can imagine will involve not only an abundance of creative works, but also interactive environments, and areas for improvisation and play, and possibly even some kind of street parade.

     This will further solidify some of the situationist elements lying within the surrealist project. At least within my imagination and desire for the future..



     I don´t remember who raised the word “Happening” concerning museums, but this is what is happening ( :-) ) here in the Vienna Museum´s Quarter. This quarter is quite in the center of the town - formerly horse stables of the Austrian Emperor - lots of buildings which were adapted to make exhibitions by the Vienna gouvernment some years ago. There are lots of rooms which are let to different cultural groups. These smaller rooms are located in the so called “electric avenue of the quarter the former horse stables....(see link below)

     The group of my husband (the Quintessenz group) has got one and just the next door a room is rent to the monochrom group. They often are organising events together, expos, feasts, happenings etc.(for the last big Brother Award they exposed a fish tank full of living cockraches) I have there enough place to expose some of my pics and i even can expose other people if i want to (just a matter of organisation) All one has to do is to announce one´s plans to the mayor and give the event a “title” and the Museums Quarter will be open even late in the evening (normally it is closed after 8pm). The athmosphere in this Quarter is simply marvellous (ask Pierre) with lots of restaurants and pubs around the central place. In the summer music groups are playing, multimedia shows are going on and you can drop from one event into the other at one evening.

     It is a quarter consisting of “normal” museums (last year there was a huge surrealism exhibition), small groups, restos, pubs, stages, a big fountain where people jump in when it is hot, readings, a cultural library etc. What is important is that most of the events are interactive, the visitor is not only watching but very often participating actively in the events.

     Here is link where you can look at the Museums Quarter: