The exhibition presents around 30 publications including early collage illustrations for the poems of Paul Éluard, “novels in collage”, sheets from the Natural History series, engravings and lithographs on texts by Antonin Artaud, Jacques Prévert, Lewis Carroll and other authors who belong to the Surrealists’ circle or served as beacons for the exponents of that tendency.
Graphic art and books were a very important means of artistic expression for Max Ernst. The emergence and development of the new artistic methods that formed the basis of his Surrealist language are to a large extent bound up with them.
Ernst’s chief innovation in the livre d’artiste was the celebrated “novels in collage” that appeared in the late 1920s and early 1930s – books in which the “narrative” coalesces out of phantasmagorical images compiled from cuttings taken from popular illustrated publications. In his numerous works in the sphere of books in the second half of the century, Ernst continued to develop devices discovered during the birth and heyday of Surrealism, interpreting them afresh in a whole variety of graphic techniques.
The exhibition continues a programme devoted to the books of Surrealist artists that began in March 2019 with a display of works by André Masson. It has been conceived as a parallel to the exhibition “Max Ernst. The Paris Years” that will be opening in the Twelve-Column Hall of the New Hermitage but covers a considerably longer span of time (1920s–70s).
When Ernst as a child was asked what he most liked doing, he replied, “Looking”. The whole of his art speaks of an ability to closely examine the world around, to find wonder in the commonplace, and, like an alchemist, to turn any material, even the drossiest, into a mysterious “poetic” image. Ernst’s books demonstrate this quality no less clearly than his paintings, and perhaps even more so. They summon the viewer to engage in the same sort of close examination: it is possible to spend many hours trying to work out just how his “novels in collage” or the later engravings and lithographs were made. This is art that demands attention, inquisitiveness and wit from its viewer. It is also art that makes one see the world in a new way, suddenly (Ernst’s favourite word) detecting some unknown pattern in a half-erased magazine picture, the shadow of foliage or cracks in the pavement.
The curators of the exhibition are Mikhail Vitalyevich Balan, a researcher in the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art, Yulia Grigoryevna Lukyanova, a junior researcher in the same department, and Mark Ivanovich Bashmakov, the collector.