Surrealism at Play

Surrealism at Play

Art History Publication Initiative

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Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 170 illustrations, incl. 16 page color insert Published: February 2019

Author: Susan Laxton

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Art History, Photography

In Surrealism at Play Susan Laxton writes a new history of surrealism in which she traces the centrality of play to the movement and its ongoing legacy. For surrealist artists, play took a consistent role in their aesthetic as they worked in, with, and against a post-World War I world increasingly dominated by technology and functionalism. Whether through exquisite-corpse drawings, Man Ray’s rayographs, or Joan Miró’s visual puns, surrealists became adept at developing techniques and processes designed to guarantee aleatory outcomes. In embracing chance as the means to produce unforeseeable ends, they shifted emphasis from final product to process, challenging the disciplinary structures of industrial modernism. As Laxton demonstrates, play became a primary method through which surrealism refashioned artistic practice, everyday experience, and the nature of subjectivity.


"This volume adds another layer of interpretation and visual analysis to the mass of recent scholarship on surrealism during its heyday. . . . Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty." — W. S. Bradley, Choice

"Surrealism at Play is a major contribution to the study of surrealism: Laxton balances a close reading of artwork with theoretical analysis. Every art school and college that covers surrealism in its curriculum and every museum with surrealist works in its collection should acquire this work."
  — Stephen Bury, ARLIS/NA Reviews

"This book, without doubt, will take its rightful place alongside the best works in art history and literary criticism. Very well written, extensively researched, and breaking new ground in the understanding of surrealism." — Robert Maddox-Harle, Leonardo Reviews

"Surrealism at Play passionately traces how a particular art movement envisioned and articulated its own transformative potential. . . . Laxton helps us understand the Surrealists’ insistence on irrationality not as a sport, but rather as an attempt to engage in the political debates of their time." — Ela Bittencourt, Hyperallergic

"Laxton’s project is a major accomplishment, matching extensive imagination with scholarly rigor." — Natalie Dupêcher, CAA Reviews

“Laxton’s elegantly written book engages with the topical question of play and points to future research on avant-garde and contemporary art along ludic critical lines.”

— Xiaofan Amy Li, French Studies

“Laxton’s sharp, well-informed, and incisive study offers a rich exploration of the serious business of surrealist play.” — Johanna Malt, Modernism/modernity

“Laxton’s concept of surrealist play serves to accentuate and oppose the industrial occupation of modernity, providing fresh insight into the complex practice of the continental surrealists.” — Aoiffe Walsh, Modernist Review

“This long-awaited and important book situates surrealism in relation to Walter Benjamin’s idea that, with the withering of aura, there is an expansion of room for play. Susan Laxton shows how surrealist activities unleashed the revolutionary power of playfulness on modernity’s overvaluation of rationality and utility. In doing so, they uncovered technology’s ludic potential. This approach casts new light on the work of Man Ray, Joan Miró, and Alberto Giacometti, among others, in ways that also illuminate the work of postwar artists.” — Margaret Iversen, author of Photography, Trace, and Trauma

“André Breton began the Manifesto of Surrealism by remembering childhood and play: ‘The woods are white or black, one will never sleep!’ Susan Laxton's Surrealism at Play recaptures the sense that surrealism should be approached as an activity, and one as open and as transgressive as this. Bucking the tendency to imprison Surrealism as purely an aesthetic affair, Laxton has produced the most compelling general account of the movement in a generation. Essential reading for all lovers of the avant-garde.” — George Baker, author of The Artwork Caught by the Tail: Francis Picabia and Dada in Paris


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Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Susan Laxton is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of Paris as Gameboard: Man Ray's Atgets.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations  ix
Acknowledgments  xv
Introduction. A Modern Critical Ludic  1
1. Blur  29
2. Drift  72
3. System  137
4. Pun  185
5. Postlude  246
Notes  273
Bibliography  331
Index  351
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0307-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0196-6
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