Surrealism was a literary movement before it was an artistic one. In truth it wasn’t much of a literary movement. Few Surrealist texts are much read today, and one of the best-known isn’t even properly Surrealist: Alfred Jarry’s trilogy of Ubu plays. Jarry died in 1907, well before Surrealism existed as a movement.
Max Ernst was among the first artists to transmute literary surrealism into visual form. One key early work, Ernst’s Ubu Imperator (1923), is on loan to LACMA from the Centre Pompidou while Rene Magritte‘s The Perfidy of Images (1928-9) is in a Magritte exhibition in Paris. Ubu Imperator represents Jarry’s anti-hero, a politically incorrect narcissist who becomes king. Ernst envisions Ubu as a circular border wall built for one, a push-pin on a psychic map: I am here.
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