Number 21 (2017)
Dada and Surrealist Exhibitions

The production of temporary displays of images and objects was one of many strategies with which the Dadas and later the Surrealists challenged audiences of fellow artists and “philistines” alike. Seminal exhibitions such as the 1920 International Dada Fair in Berlin or the 1938 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris were part of a repertoire of intermedial approaches that included assemblage strategies, “curatorial” efforts, and performative practices. At all Dada and Surrealist exhibitions, from the most significant public affairs to smaller, more intimate displays, radical images and practices were joined directly to the immediate flux of time and space that define all “events,” as well as to the indeterminate realms of social exchange, artistic influence, and critical response. Although temporary, Dada and Surrealist exhibitions in Europe, the US, and other international centers also served as key markers of belonging and community that linked, if only briefly, the disparate artists, processes, and works that define these groups.

Dada and Surrealist exhibitionary activities also engaged, either in earnest or for the sake of critique, forms of display historically linked to the structures of the institutional “art world.” Whether in traditional gallery spaces or in theaters, pubs, cafés, and homes, their temporary displays expressed complex, sometimes contradictory, attitudes toward the artistic establishment. Single-artist and group shows often replicated the format of traditional installations, despite the innovative nature of the works on view. Frequently, however, they turned the standard exhibition format on its head.

While the temporary displays organized by Dadas and Surrealists themselves epitomized the wide variety of avant-garde exhibitionary practices, these same artists were simultaneously curated by a diverse collection of organizers from inside and outside their ranks. Early exhibitions at salons, galleries, and museums constituted initial efforts to define and historicize these artists and groups. Later exhibitions, especially in the 1950s and 60s, profoundly influenced a new generation of radicals, while recent blockbusters like the 2006 exhibition “Dada” (Washington, Paris, New York) have engaged mainstream audiences and attest to the contemporary canonization of the movements. These exhibitions also illustrate the on-going reappraisal of Dada and Surrealism and raise questions about the most effective use of spatial and temporal display to mediate the history of the avant-garde.

Contributors include Carson & Miller (Jonathan Carson and Rosie Miller), Kathryn Floyd, Kerry Graeves, Emily Hage, Katharina Hoins, Adriana Ortega, Dafne Cruz Porchini, Wood Roberdeau, and Susan Rosenbaum.

Responsible for no.21

Guest Editor

  • Kathryn Floyd, Auburn University


  • Timothy Shipe, The University of Iowa

Editorial Board

  • Mary Ann Caws, City University of New York
  • Katharine Conley, Dartmouth College
  • Jonathan P. Eburne, Pennsylvania State University
  • Stephen Forcer, University of Birmingham
  • David Hopkins, University of Glasgow
  • Dalia Judovitz, Emory University
  • Rudolf E. Kuenzli, The University of Iowa
  • Adelaide M. Russo, Louisiana State University