“The anti-institutional, anti-formal, anti-aesthetic nihilism of the Surrealists,” Clement Greenberg wrote in 1944, “. . . has in the end proved a blessing to the restless rich, the expatriates, and aesthete-flaneurs in general who were repelled by the ascetism of modern art. Surrealist subversiveness justifies their way of life, sanctioning the peace of conscience and the sense of chic with which they reject arduous disciplines.” The implicit target of his words was View, an avant-garde magazine founded in 1940 by the Mississippi-born poet and flaneur Charles Henri Ford, the “last protégé” of Gertrude Stein, and coauthor with the writer Parker Tyler of the banned 1933 gay novel The Young and the Evil.
Curated by Tirza True Latimer, the exhibition “Other Points of View” employs a loose, associative logic to bring together the various currents—Surrealist, magic realist, modernist, and neo-Romantic—that coursed through the publication during its seven-year run. Treasures on display include Kristians Tonny’s quixotic mural sketches of nude horsemen, flying buffalo, and floating castles (made in 1937 for the Avery Auditorium at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut) and Isamu Noguchi’s carceral brass-wire Spider Dress, 1946, worn by Martha Graham in the role of Medea in Cave of the Heart, first performed that same year. View fixture Pavel Tchelitchew is also represented by his psychedelic renditions of metabolic systems, confectionary sketches for ballets and costume balls, an insouciantly obscene drawing of an all-male orgy, and old-masterish portraits of Ford, his longtime lover. The editor himself appears, in a swaggering 1935 photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson, as a dandified enfant terrible, buttoning his fly outside a Paris pissotière, known as a premier gay sex spot since the time of Rimbaud. Latimer’s inclusion of Ford’s later “Poem Posters,” 1964–65—lithographic montages of Op-art graphics and concrete poetry—and his related experimental 1967 film reveal linkages between the uptown bohemia of the ’40s and the downtown scene of the ’60s. Footage, shot by Jonas Mekas, Jack Smith, Stan VanDerBeek, Andy Warhol, and others, of his star-studded opening at New York’s Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery in 1965 is chopped and screwed to a shrieking free-jazz score. A grid of covers for View by the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Leonor Fini, Morris Hirshfield, Wifredo Lam, Fernand Léger, Georgia O’Keeffe, Kurt Seligmann, and Yves Tanguy suggest the “untheorized, and, to an extent, ‘cliquish’ eclecticism” (to borrow scholar Stamatina Dimakopoulou’s apt characterization) of the magazine.
Originally an organ for refugee Surrealists displaced by World War II, View quietly seceded from the official movement with January 1943’s “Americana Fantastica” issue, its collage cover by Joseph Cornell concatenating images of trapeze artists, King Kong, the Empire State Building, and stock depictions of American Indians amid the torrents and vapors of Niagara Falls. In his introductory editorial, Tyler declared the fantastic “the inalienable property of the untutored, the oppressed, the anarchic, and the amateur,” impervious to academic “methodologies” and the “tyranny of the father and the schoolteacher,” taking an Oedipal dig at Surrealism’s grand fromage, André Breton.
Where Bretonian Surrealism was dogmatic, partisan, and patriarchal, View was commercial, catholic, and, perhaps most problematically for Breton, unabashedly queer. In a particularly nasty, homophobic barb, Breton once referred to the magazine as “pederasty international.” Greenberg—clearly no friend of Surrealism—saw View’s “putrescent” cosmopolitanism as the movement’s logical conclusion, and savored its undoing with bitter irony: “Not all the steadfastness of its leader in protesting against corruption wherever he could see it has prevented this ambivalence in the effects of Surrealism from eating back into and corrupting Surrealism itself.” Corruption. Ambivalence. Anthropophagy. If these are View’s inheritance, then art history—as Latimer’s show beautifully argues—is all the richer for it.