Cadavre Exquis with Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Max Morise, Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky)
1927. Composite drawing of ink, pencil, and colored pencil on paper, 14 1/8 x 9" (35.9 x 22.9 cm)
Surrealist artists played a collaborative, chance-based parlor game, typically involving four players, called Cadavre Exquis (Exquisite Corpse). Each participant would draw an image (or, on some occasions, paste an image down) on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal their contribution, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution.
Taking turns adding onto each other’s drawings and collages resulted in fantastic composite figures, such as Nude by Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Max Morise, and Man Ray. The resulting nude female figure combines a humorous and absurd array of features—from leaf ears to snowshoe feet. For the Surrealists, Exquisite Corpse was a perfect parlor game, involving elements of unpredictability, chance, unseen elements, and group collaboration—all in service of disrupting the waking mind’s penchant for order.
A representation of a human or animal form in a work of art.
A work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).
An artistic and literary movement led by French poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists sought to overthrow what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by accessing the sur réalisme (superior reality) of the subconscious. In his 1924 “Surrealist Manifesto,” Breton argued for an uninhibited mode of expression derived from the mind’s involuntary mechanisms, particularly dreams, and called on artists to explore the uncharted depths of the imagination with radical new methods and visual forms. These ranged from abstract “automatic” drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects.
A game in which each participant takes turns writing or drawing on a sheet of paper, folds it to conceal his or her contribution, then passes it to the next player for a further contribution. The game gained popularity in artistic circles during the 1920s, when it was adopted as a technique by artists of the Surrealist movement.
Derived from the French verb coller, meaning “to glue,” collage refers to both the technique and the resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued or otherwise affixed to a supporting surface.
What’s in a Game?
Exquisite Corpse was originally a parlor game based on words. To play, each participant wrote a word or phrase on a piece of paper then folded it so that the next player could not see the previous contributions. This resulted in nonsensical phrases like “Le cadaver exquis boira le vin nouveau” (“The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine”), one enigmatic phrase after which the game was named.