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Getty Research Institute looks at Mexico's Dyn Group

February 11, 2013|By Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times Art Critic
  • Artist Cesar Moro buried up to his neck in the sand, circa 1935, by an unidentified photographer
Artist Cesar Moro buried up to his neck in the sand, circa 1935, by an unidentified… (Getty Research Institute )

André Breton, the French writer who founded the Surrealist movement in 1924, is widely known to have been a control freak. The so-called Surrealist Pope was happy to anoint and expel followers based on his autocratic judgment of their fealty to what he regarded as the movement's essential principles.

What isn't commonly considered is just how conservative Breton was -- odd for a champion of artistic experimentation. But that's one nugget found in "Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico," a small but engaging gem of an exhibition in the gallery of the Getty Research Institute. The presentation  focuses on the journal Dyn, published in Mexico City in six issues between 1942 and 1944, that challenged Surrealist orthodoxy.

Artists Wolfgang Paalen (Austrian, 1905-1959), Alice Rahon (French, 1904-1987) and Eva Sulzer (Swiss, 1902-1990) arrived in Mexico in 1939, determined to investigate historically grounded avenues outside of those that were dragging Europe into darkening chaos. For inspiration they spent a good deal of time exploring pre-Columbian ruins there and all the way up the Pacific coast to British Columbia.

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They also explored each other: Paalen and Rahon were married, and Sulzer joined them in a ménage à trois.

In Breton's worldview, sexual freedom had its limits. Much of the Getty show -- which includes four paintings and three dozen books, photographs, a short film and letters by 10 artists -- comes from the extensive archive of Peruvian poet and painter César Moro (1903-1956), acquired by the GRI more than a decade ago. Moro, who was born Alfredo Quíspez Asín, had worked with Breton in Paris and moved to Mexico City in 1938. He broke with Breton in 1944 over the French writer's condemnation of homosexuality -- for Moro an essential principle of its own.

The name Dyn comes from the Greek "dynaton," meaning "the possible." The journal celebrated the power of imagination, social and artistic. Under the circumstances, saying farewell to Surrealism seems inevitable. The fascinating little Getty show, which continues through Feb. 17, waves goodbye.

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