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Getty Research Institute acquires photographs by Swiss filmmaker and photographer Eva Sulzer
Tsimshian Totem Poles at Kispayax, British Columbia, 1939. Eva Sulzer (Swiss, 1902-1990). Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. ©Succession Wolfgang Paalen and Eva, Sulzer, Berlin.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Getty Research Institute announced the acquisition of more than ninety photographs taken by Eva Sulzer (Swiss, 1902–1990) in Canada, Alaska and Mexico in 1939. Several of the photographs will be on view in the upcoming exhibition Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico, at the GRI October 2, 2012 through February 17, 2013.

Eva Sulzer was a Swiss musician, collector, photographer, and filmmaker closely associated with the surrealist painter and theorist Wolfgang Paalen (Austrian, 1905–1959). She met Paalen in 1931 in a Baltic resort and returned to Paris with him; they remained close friends until Paalen’s death in 1959. In 1939 Sulzer traveled with Paalen and his wife Alice Rahon (French, 1904–1987) to visit pre-Columbian sites in Northwest Canada, Alaska, and Mexico. Sulzer photographed these locations and artifacts, and a portion of this work, along with several articles that she authored, was published in Dyn, the dissident surrealist journal that Paalen edited and of which Sulzer was the primary financial backer.

Items from her collection of pre-Columbian art, and some of her photographs, were also published in Miguel Covarrubias’s (Mexican, 1904–1957) popular anthologies about Mexican anthropology. Sulzer lived in Mexico from 1939 until her death, where she remained closely connected with the circle of émigré surrealists living there, including Remedios Varo (Spanish, 1908–1963) about whom she made a documentary film in 1966.

The acquisition comprises 94 original prints, in very good condition, and thirty matching negatives, from the 1939 trip, including about 30 views of archaeological sites in Mexico and more than 60 of Northwest Canadian and Alaskan First Nation villages, totems, and landscape. In addition to being published in Dyn, many of these photographs served as source material for the surrealist painters who were part of Sulzer’s circle in Mexico in the 1940’s. As such, the photographs are an important part of emerging scholarship about surrealism in Latin America.

“Eva Sulzer is one of several under-researched women artists who appeared in Dyn, including Doris Heyden, Rosa Rolando, and Alice Rahon,” noted Annette Leddy, senior special collections cataloger and consulting curator at the GRI. “While on the one hand, the beauty of Sulzer’s images may seem to identify them with colonial idealizations of non-Western cultures, they in fact are subtly imbued with feminist inflections, focusing, for example, on the pregnant torso of a giant female totem.”

The GRI is a leading repository for research on surrealism in Latin America and these photographs add to the GRI’s holdings of archival material and artwork from other artists in the Dyn circle, including the papers of César Moro (Peruvian, 1903–1956) and Emilio Adolfo Westphalen (Peruvian, 1911–2001).

In 2009 the Getty Research Institute invited a small group of scholars to explore its extensive archive of Latin American surrealist materials, which led to the 2010 symposium Vivísimo Muerto: Debates on Surrealism in Latin America. A newly published volume by the same name is the first major investigation of surrealism in Latin America to cover both literature and art.

The exhibition Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico, curatedby Annette Leddy and Donna Conwell, is accompanied by an illustrated catalog of the same title, published by Getty Publications, and has an introduction by Dawn Ades.

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