(Cover: Max Ernst; image credit: James Cummins Bookseller)
In June, 1942, André Breton officially launched Surrealism Overseas with the publication of the first issue of VVV in New York. He and Max Ernst advised David Hare and Lionel Abel in selecting and editing articles for the first issue, and were joined by Marcel Duchamp for the remaining three. Breton, Ernst, Duchamp, along with Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage, Andre Masson, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Leonora Carrington, Wolfgang Paalen, and many others had fled France as the Vichy government closed in around Marseilles.
Over time as the years have erased the places, events, and people, VVV has become an intimate record of the period. Laid out with care on thick, high quality, glossy paper in its first issue, it still carries echoes of the grinding flight from Marseilles, lives abandoned along with homes, and a trauma that lingered all through the war years. VVV is a “vow—and energy—to return to a habitable and conceivable world. VIctory over the forces of regression and death unloosed at present on the earth.”
Describing VVV and his wartime propaganda work for Voice of America, Breton told André Parinaud “there was no contradiction between my activities as a radio ‘announcer’ in New York and as editor of the magazine VVV. In both cases, liberation from the Nazi yoke took precedence over everything else.”
(Cover: Marcel Duchamp)
In these pages, Breton announces his new myth of Les Grands Transparents, his quixotic attempt to come to terms with the invisible forces that had blasted their lives (see his “Prolegomena to a Third Manifesto or Else”).
Four issues of VVV were released between 1942 and 1944. With Minotaure as its model, the contents ran from Lévi-Strauss’s proto-stucturalist essays (he and Breton met on the ocean liner from Marseilles) to Duchamp’s conceptual jousts, with images by first generation surrealists like Ernst scattered among those of literal second generation surrealists like Ernst’s son Jimmy, as well as Roberto Matta, Philip Lamantia, and others. Intentionally heterogenous, featuring “poetry, plastic arts, anthropology, sociology, psychology” it was then and remains now a set of entry points into a traumatized surrealism whose members and fellow travelers foresaw the horrors of the second world war having suffered through those of the first.
(Cover: Roberto Matta)
Even the advertisements carry a charge, with Duchamp’s Boîte-en-Valise on sale for $200 at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century, Northwest masks displayed at Julius Carlebach’s Third Avenue shop, and runs of Minotaure and transition on the shelves at Gotham Book Mart.
The original issues are beautiful, rare and expensive. Some of their contents have been republished though the magazines themselves have never been reprinted.
Find the VVV offices on the Surrealists in New York map.
VVV’s Table of Contents (click on image for larger version)
Conversations: The Autobiography of Surrealism byAndré Breton (Marlowe & Company, 1993), quoted from p. 156.
“Prolegomena to a Third Manifesto of Surrealism or Else” in What is Surrealism: Selected Writings by André Breton (Pathfinder Press, 1978)
Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton by Mark Polizzotti (Da Capo Press, 1997)
Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School by Martica Sawin (MIT Press, 1997)
VVV, issues 1-4
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