America Fantastica
Art, Literature, and the Surrealist Legacy in Experimental Publishing, 1938–1968

This installation, drawn from the Library of The Museum of Modern Art, presents a sampling of mid-twentieth-century Surrealist-inspired artist’s journals and books published in the Americas. It features work created by exiled European Surrealists and sympathetic Americans during the World War II era, as well as artist-run magazines from the 1950s and 1960s that drew on Surrealist publishing practices.

Conceived as a distributable form of artistic and literary expression, these New World publications served as ongoing platforms for new ideas, new artworks, and typographic experiments. Their striking graphics, their emphasis on the simultaneity of the arts, and their fragmentary or disjunctive presentation of art and text all descend from early European modernism—particularly Surrealism and the Dada movement from which it hatched in 1924. These artists’ preoccupation with myth, the unconscious, and ethnography, as well as their use of mismatched typefaces and vernacular printed sources, comes directly from Surrealist-associated publications of the 1920s and 1930s. Magazines such as La Révolution surréaliste (Paris, 1924–29) and Minotaure (Paris, 1933–39), both edited by André Breton, the movement’s acknowledged founder, offered a portable cache of original art made specifically for covers and interior pages, where it appeared alongside fiction, poetry, and essays on architecture, ethnography, music, mythology, and psychoanalysis.

While many European art magazines were folding in the later 1930s and the 1940s, the publishing impulse in the western hemisphere grew. Representing and reaching dislocated cultural communities at a time of enormous upheaval, New World magazines transferred European experimental publishing practices to American shores during and following World War II. Many of the publications displayed in this exhibition represent Surrealism’s (if not Dada’s) “second wind,” a result of the arrival of wartime émigrés from Europe in the Americas. Literary Surrealism was already well established in cosmopolitan Latin American cities, through magazines such as Mandrágora (Santiago, 1938-41), published by a Chilean group with Surrealist connections, and Tropiques (Fort-de-France, Martinique,1941-45), co-founded by the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, of the Négritude movement. (During the war, Césaire became close to Breton and the Surrealists in exile, contributing to an ongoing exchange between European, Caribbean, and other American artists and writers rooted in Surrealism.) Among the first magazines to host both literary and artistic Surrealism in the Americas was Sur, an influential, internationally focused journal published from 1931 to 1954 in Buenos Aires, edited by Victoria Ocampo and a circle of friends including Jorge Luis Borges. In the early 1940s, Sur’s associated publishing house issued a series of remarkable editions of works by European and Latin American writers and artists—most prominently Borges, Breton, Wifredo Lam, and Henri Michaux—and in so doing bridged indigenous art and imagery and the European avant-garde.

The early 1940s saw the founding of three journals of note in the Americas: View (New York, 1940–47), an eclectic magazine edited by the Mississippi-born poet and former expatriate Charles Henri Ford, gave extensive voice to exiled Surrealists, including Breton, Yves Tanguy, and Max Ernst, and to artists connected to Surrealism, such as Lam, Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, and Frederick Kiesler. VVV (New York, 1942–44), the official stateside organ of Surrealism, modeled on Minotaure, was directed by Breton, who was temporarily exiled in New York. Dyn (Coyoacán, Mexico, 1942–44), published and edited by Austrian-born Wolfgang Paalen, a former disciple of Breton’s who immigrated to Mexico in 1938, devoted itself to seeking a route beyond Surrealism, in part through the study of Amerindian art and culture.

In their publications, as they responded to the diverse lands in which they were displaced, the European exiles projected a Surrealist vision of a mythic “ur-America” in images of primordial landscapes, Amerindian art, and exotic flora and fauna from across North and South America. They looked for a “new myth” to supplant the “hyperrationalism” to which Breton and other Surrealists attributed two world wars. Latin America and the Caribbean had been claimed for Surrealism’s exotic geography before the war. Most notably, Breton visited Mexico in 1938, declaring it a Surrealist country, and published his impressions in a special section of Minotaure titled “Souvenir du Mexique,” accompanied by photographs by Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Surrealism’s (almost inevitably colonizing) embrace of Latin America’s ancient past, its folkloric traditions, and its diverse landscapes, myths, and cultures found a rich vein. At the same time, Surrealism helped intensify the region’s consciousness of its non-European (and non–North American) identity. 

Joseph Cornell. View: America Fantastica, 1943 (page spread)In comparison, the capitalist engine that was the United States—and New York in particular—initially inspired few Surrealist exiles. Declaring a preference for New York’s butterflies to its skyscrapers in an interview published in View, Breton faintly acknowledged the city’s modernity. Wrenched from Europe, Breton and his compatriots were among the least urban of cultural emissaries. Though settled in New York for the war years, Breton traveled to the Southwest, where he visited Hopi villages, adding to his collection a number of Hopi kachina dolls (one of which was photographed for publication in VVV by Berenice Abbott), and became entranced with the horizonless desert landscape photography of the Austrian émigré Frederick Sommers (also published in VVV). Paalen quickly passed over New York, later documenting tribal art and his travels through the Pacific Northwest in Dyn.
The Surrealists addressed New York City and its modern surroundings obliquely. Some scoured antique shops and flea markets for anachronistic treasures, publishing some of the results in VVV and View. Duchamp, though never an official Surrealist (he said that he had been borrowed from the ordinary world by the Surrealists), was extremely fond of Americana, which he incorporated in endlessly inventive printed contributions to View and VVV. In other issues Duchamp and the Austrian-born designer Frederick Kiesler presented antirational visions of modern architecture in elaborate cut-paper constructions. The American editors of View further expanded the search for fabulous homegrown “curiosa” with a special issue called Americana Fantastica, largely designed by Joseph Cornell.

Surrealism’s graphic sensibility and its publishing ideas persisted in pockets of North and South America after the war, through the 1950s and 1960s. Surrealism’s fantasy, its occultism, and its fascination with secret exchanges and inner chambers of the imagination remained a touchstone for West Coast countercultural and small press magazines such as Semina (Los Angeles and San Francisco, 1955-64). The lavishly produced Pop/neo-Surrealist periodical S.M.S. (New York, 1968) and the Andy Warhol and David Dalton–designed issue of Aspen (New York, 1966) offered a campy mix of the vernacular and the marvelous, as did a special issue of Edgardo Antonio Vigo’s Diagonal cero (Buenos Aires, 1968). A number of other Latin American magazines, like Las Moradas (Lima, 1947-49), tapped a variety of European modernist and Surrealist work in their pages, featuring studies of Latin America’s profound archaeological and anthropological heritage alongside new and experimental art and literature. All of these magazines continued to explore an iconography of the New World as they adapted, absorbed, or rejected the Surrealist publishing principles that had inspired this exploration.

May Castleberry, Editor, Contemporary Editions, Library Council of The Museum of Modern Art


Journals and Books in the Exhibition
Unless otherwise noted, all publications in this exhibition are held in the Library of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Aspen: The Magazine in a Box
New York, 1965–71
Vol. 1, no. 3, December 1966
Editor: Phyllis Johnson; cover design by Andy Warhol and David Dalton

Diagonal cero: Movimiento
Buenos Aires, 1968
Editor and designer: Edgardo Antonio Vigo
Gift of Agnes Gund
A pioneer of Concrete poetry and Conceptual art in Argentina, Vigo worked in a neo-Dadaist vein, advocating for a “no-art” that would embody the act of creation, be accessible and tactile, and embrace humor, chance, and play. This catalogue for an exhibition at Galería Scheinsohn expands on visual themes explored in Vigo’s journal, Diagonal cero (La Plata, 1962-68).

Wolfgang Paalen. Dyn, 1942 (cover)Dyn
Coyoacán, Mexico, 1942–44
No. 1, April–May 1942
No. 3, fall 1942
Editor: Wolfgang Paalen
Through Dyn (in Greek meaning “power,” “strength,” or—more significantly—“possibility”), Paalen sought a path to a unity of artistic, social, and political expression beyond the exoticism of Surrealism.

Coyoacán, Mexico, 1942–44
No. 4–5, December 1943
Editor: Wolfgang Paalen; cover design by James Speck
This double-issue of Dyn is dedicated to the ancient and Amerindian cultures of the Americas, and features reproductions of and essays on art, architecture, and artifacts from the northwest coasts of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Peru.

Fata Morgana
By André Breton
Illustrated by Wifredo Lam
Buenos Aires: Sur, 1942
This illustrated poem is the result of a collaboration between Lam and Breton, who met in Marseilles while they awaited passage from occupied France to America.

Las Moradas
Lima, Peru, 1947-49
Vol. 1, no. 1, May 1947
Editors: Emilio Adolfo Westphalen and César Moro
Edited by the most important promoters of Surrealism in Peru, Las Moradas brought together Surrealists like Moro, Wolfgang Paalen, and Benjamin Péret with local avant-garde artists and writers such as Martín Adán and Fernando de Szyszlo.

Paris, 1933–39
Third series, no. 12–13, May 1939
Editor: André Breton; cover design by André Masson; interior cover design by Diego Rivera
Copy two: Collection of Elaine Lustig Cohen

Retorno al país natal
By Aimé Césaire
Illustrated by Wifredo Lam; translated by Lydia Cabrera
Havana: Molina y Cia, 1943
Originally authored by Césaire in French, this book-length poem evokes the ambivalence of returning from exile to one’s country of origin, in this case the island of Martinique. This first edition in Spanish points to a new sensibility, portraying African sources as central to the heritage of the Caribbean.

Los Angeles and San Francisco, 1955-64
No. 7, 1961
Editor: Wallace Berman; cover design by Wallace Berman
Copy one: Collection of Philip E. Aarons
Copy two: Facsimile by L.A. Louver, 1992

New York, February–December 1968
No. 2, 1968
Editor: William Copley; cover design by Marcel Duchamp
S.M.S. (Shit Must Stop) was published in six folios with more than seventy original contributions by artists. This issue includes works by Bruce Connor, Ray Johnson, and Meret Oppenheim.

Wifredo Lam. View: Tropical Americana, 1945 (cover) View
New York, 1940–47
Second series, no. 4, January 1943: Americana Fantastica
Edited by Charles Henri Ford; cover design by Joseph Cornell
Gift of Alexandra Anderson-Spivy
The Americana Fantastica issue of View includes a cover and extended portfolios designed by Joseph Cornell, type-sample poems by the Workers of the American Type Foundry and “Portrait of Florine Stettheimer by Virgil Thomson”—a musical composition by Thomson, printed on four pink pages.

New York, 1940–47
Series V, no. 1, March 1945: Marcel Duchamp Number
Editor: Charles Henri Ford; cover design by Marcel Duchamp
The Duchamp issue of View was organized largely by André Breton. Frederick Kiesler, an Austrian-born architect and designer, worked with Duchamp to create the elaborate hand-cut graphics inside this issue.

New York, 1940–47
Series V, no. 2, May 1945: Tropical Americana
Editor: Charles Henri Ford; cover design by Wifredo Lam
This issue includes a cover by the Cuban-born, European-educated painter Wifredo Lam, an introduction by the Morocco-based American writer Paul Bowles, translations of Aztec poems, and a series of photographs by Rudy Burckhardt titled Scrapbook: Tropical Americana.

Max Ernst. VVV, 1942 (cover)VVV: poetry, plastic arts, anthropology, sociology, psychology
New York, 1942–44
No. 1, June 1942
Editor: David Hare, with André Breton and Max Ernst; cover design by Max Ernst
The title of the journal refers to its triple dictum of victory “over Fascism, over human oppression, over the alienated spirit.”

VVV: poetry, plastic arts, anthropology, sociology, psychology
New York, 1942–44
No. 4, February 1944
Editor: David Hare, with André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst; cover design by Matta

Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares. Jeunes Cerisiers Garantis Contre les Lièvres
By André Breton
Translated by Edouard Roditi; cover design by Marcel Duchamp; illustrations by Arshile Gorky
New York: View Editions, 1946


Special thanks are owed to Taina Carogol, Bibliographer and Latin American Specialist, the Library of The Museum of Modern Art, for her valuable suggestions and for writing extended labels for most Latin American titles, and to Sheelagh Bevan, Library Assistant, for her assistance in preparing and installing the works. Outside the Museum, grateful thanks go to Carol Rusk at the Library of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and to David Stang, Ars Libri, Boston.

For support and assistance with design, research, and organization within the Museum, many thanks go to Sara Bodinson, Associate Educator, Education; Allegra Burnette, Creative Director, Digital Media; Claire Corey, Production Manager, Graphics; Sarah Ganz, Director, Educational Resources, Education; David Hart, Educational Media Intern, Digital Media/Education; Milan Hughston, Chief, Library and Museum Archives; James Kuo, Senior Graphic Designer, Graphics; Tamara Maletic, Assistant to the Director, Graphics; Rebecca Roberts, Assistant Editor, Publications; Jennifer Russell, Deputy Director, Exhibitions; and Jenny Tobias, Librarian, Collection Development.

Outside the Museum, the same thanks go to Eric Kidhardt.

Pictured above, top to bottom:
Joseph Cornell. View: America Fantastica, 1943 (page spread)
Wolfgang Paalen. Dyn, 1942 (cover)
Wifredo Lam. View: Tropical Americana, 1945 (cover)
Max Ernst. VVV, 1942 (cover)