Senior Seminar Project: Topic

The Hat Makes the Man, Max Ernst, 1920, MoMA

I have a topic!

I have a topic!

I have a topic!

I don’t know why I fretted over it so long. Max Ernst’s inclusion in the Scharf-Gerstenberg Collection of surrealism in Berlin was what convinced me that I would be able to do my senior seminar on something other than Renaissance Italian art and after ambling through lots of other topics, I have landed back again on Max Ernst.

My topic has gotten pretty specific fairly quickly. Though I saw Ernst’s Surrealist work at the collection, I have decided to work primarily on his Dada work, though my paper will be informed by the scholarship on his Surrealist practice.

Here are the things I am interested in with Max Ernst

  • Collage as a process: What does it mean when two, or even more, works of art that have been mass produced are once again apart of an original work of art? How, as art historians, should and can we discuss collage? What dialogue already exists and where should it go?
  • Humor in Dada: Where sort of “jokes” are being made? How do languages, speaking and visual, contribute to jokes? What elements of the Dada group philosophy allow for this humor?
  • Humor and Collage: I have been reading a lot about Ernst and one article that I stumbled upon was by scholar Lucy Lippard entitled “Max Ernst: Passed and Pressing Tensions” and it included this quote: “For the Dadas, humor was an instrument of destruction and anarchy; for the Surrealists, it was a tool of a far more systematic dissent.” She goes on to discuss the differing ways that Ernst uses collage for these two groups means.

Few scholars that I have found, other than Lippard, seem to look at the pivot points of Ernst career. Between Dada and surrealism, that year is 1922, which is when he moved to Paris and met Andre Breton.

For the majority of his time in Paris, Ernst seems to have abandoned collage, until the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, when he began to create surrealist image novels like La Femmes 100 Têtes which was published in 1929. These collages look so different than his Dada collages, firstly in their black and white source material of Victorian cartoons, and their non-originality, in the sense that what was ultimately “the art” was the published novel, which did not have the cut and pasted collages, but the photographed collages. 

I am suggesting (though very early in my research) as my main research question and focus, that I will not look simply at collage as that art that requires scissors and glue, but art with source materials in other place. Ernst’s early Surrealist paintings (1922-1923) look as much like his Dada collages as any of his other works. What does the change in only the last and final step of the method do to these works? Are these Surrealist paintings a part of anarchy or system?

Works Cited

Lippard, Lucy R. “Max Ernst: Passed and Pressing Tensions.” Art Journal. 33:1 (Autumn 1973): 12-17.


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