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Totemic Landscapes and Vanishing Cultures Through the Eyes of Wolfgang Paalen and Kurt Seligmann

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The Surrealists established the importance of Oceanic and North American Indian Art – mainly Inuit, Northwest Coast and Southwest – in the 1920s. While Max Ernst and André Breton traveled

The Surrealists established the importance of Oceanic and North American Indian Art – mainly Inuit, Northwest Coast and Southwest – in the 1920s. While Max Ernst and André Breton traveled through the Southwest in the 1940s, during their American exile, two members of the Surrealist circle, the Swiss painter Kurt Seligmann (1900-1962), and the Austrian-born artist Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959) visited the Northwest Coast, respectively in 1938 and 1939. Both not only showed a strong interest in collecting artifacts but were also fascinated by Native American mythology and art, and their relationship to totemic thought. While the Surrealists did not leave a large body of publications explaining their relationship to Northwest Coast art and culture, the various documents left by Seligmann and Paalen allow us to delimit three implicit themes in their work as described below. This paper focuses on their writings, published and unpublished, and their photographic documentation as well as their own collections of artifacts. It examines from an anthropological perspective their visions of Northwest Coast art and cultures, which undoubtedly contributed to the development of their sensitivity to the outside world. In that framework, their scholarly contribution and treatment of ethnological data appear independent from their artistic practices. Two distinct figures come to light: Seligmann as an ethnographer in contrast to Paalen as a theorist. While they may differ in their conception of totemic landscapes, they share a common view on the future of the Northwest Coast cultures.

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  • 2008

The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas: Vol. 2 No. 1 (2008)

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The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas: Vol. 2 No. 1 (2008) - Table of Contents

“Surrealism and Ethnography: Introduction” by Amy H. Winter, p. i-vi. 

“Totemic Landscapes and Vanishing Cultures Through

The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas: Vol. 2 No. 1 (2008) - Table of Contents

“Surrealism and Ethnography: Introduction” by Amy H. Winter, p. i-vi. 

“Totemic Landscapes and Vanishing Cultures Through the Eyes of Wolfgang Paalen and Kurt Seligmann” by Marie Mauzé, p. 1-24.

“Surrealist Visions of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Legacy of Colonialism: the Good, the (Revalued) Bad, and the Ugly” by Keith Jordan, p. 25-63.

“Surrealism and Inuit Art: The Fascination of the Far North” by Florence Duchemin-Pelletier, p. 64-94.

“Bound Objects and Blurry Boundaries: Surrealist Display and (Anti)Nationalism” by Susan Power, p. 95-113.

“Man Ray’s Lost and Found Photographs: Arts of the Americas in Context” by Wendy Grossman, p. 114-139.

“T.J. Demos, The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp” by Bradley Bailey, p. 140-144. 

“The Dalí Renaissance: New Perspectives on His Life and Art after 1940 and Danser Gala: L’Art Bouffe de Salvador Dalí” by Mary Ann Caws, p. 145-146.

“Review of ‘The Art of Lee Miller’: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2007” by Peter Barberie, p. 147-151.

“Frida Kahlo in Philadelphia: Life and Death” by Samantha Kavky, p. 152-156.

“Thinking the ‘Post-Indian’: Remix: New Modernities in a Post-Indian World” by Claudia Mesch, p. 157-161.

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  • 2008