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Q&A with Isabelle Dervaux, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings at The Morgan Library & Museum
Distinguished Lecturer Isabelle Dervaux presents “Surrealism and the American Imagination” at the McNay Art Museum on March 21, 6:30 pm.

By: Celeste Wackenhut

SAN ANTONIO.- Q: You have now been the curator/co-curator for two major Surrealist exhibitions, “Surrealism USA” (2005) and “Drawing Surrealism” (2012). What's drawn you to the movement and how have your perceptions of Surrealism evolved over the course of you research in the past few years.
A: I have been interested in Surrealism for a long time because it is a movement that has been very influential in the twentieth century and is still relevant today. The use of chance and the exploration of the unconscious as a source of creation are important in the work of many artists today. In past years, I had studied the development of Surrealism in France and in the United States. In working on the exhibition "Drawing Surrealism," currently at the Morgan, I realized to what extent it was an international movement that had produced fascinating works in many parts of the world (Eastern Europe, Japan, Latin America, etc.).

Q: Drawing for many artists is the preface to a painting or sculpture, but within Surrealism, drawing is more utilized as a final product in techniques such as automatic drawing, exquisite corpses, and frottage. Can you talk a little bit about this idea and how surrealist drawings fit in the greater realm of the medium?
A: The Surrealists used drawing to explore techniques that allowed them to tap directly into the unconscious as a source of creation. Drawing lends itself to such experimentation by being more direct, more immediate. It offers a greater flexibility to try new approaches. In addition, the Surrealists, who were interested in the relationship between poetry and the visual arts, were attracted to drawing as a medium similar to writing.

Q: You've written about the 1930s and 40s polarization of Surrealism and abstraction, andtheir eventual fusion with Abstract Expressionism. How do you think the McNay's current exhibition “Real/Surreal: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art” adds to the study of American Surrealism and to the understanding of Surrealism crossing art historical boundaries, not only into abstraction but as well into the American realist tradition?
A: The debate between Surrealism and abstraction took place primarily in Europe in the 1920s. In the United States, abstraction was not important until after World War II. What the exhibition "Real/ Surreal" shows very well is that American artists selected from Surrealism the aspects that related to their own figurative tradition. They were not interested in automatism but embraced the idea of evoking dreams and hallucinations to add a note of mystery to their realist depictions of the American scene.

Q: Since starting at The Morgan Library & Museum in 2005, you've significantly grown the modern and contemporary drawing collection. Tell us about these efforts and some recent notable acquisitions.
A: When I arrived at the Morgan, the collection already included a significant number of works from the first half of the twentieth century. My effort has been to show how the history of drawing continues until today. Some of the major recent acquisitions include drawings by Roy Lichtenstein, Philip Guston, Jim Dine, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, and Georg Baselitz. We have also acquired a couple of Surrealist works, notably by André Masson and Gordon Onslow-Ford.

Q: What projects, research, and exhibitions are you working on for the future?
A: Our next modern exhibition, after “Drawing Surrealism closes,” will be a retrospective of drawings by Matthew Barney, an artist who may be better known for his films and sculptures, but who has also produced remarkable drawings.

Distinguished Lecturer Isabelle Dervaux presents “Surrealism and the American Imagination” at the McNay Art Museum on March 21, 6:30 pm. This lecture is part of the Louis A. and Frances B. Wagner Lecture Series and the exhibition “Real/Surreal: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art.” Tickets are available for $5-20 at 210.805.1768 or Space is limited.

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