Too many bloody idealists. –Georges Bataille (on the “orthodox” Surrealists)
Undercover Surrealism: Georges Bataille and DOCUMENTS was the catalog associated with the exhibition “Undercover Surrealism: Picasso, Miro, Masson and the Vision of Georges Bataille,” which showed at the Hayward Gallery in London in 2006. It sought to re-examine the works of many well-known Surrealists (or at least artists admired by Surrealists) and present them in a different light. As evidenced by the title, the exhibition and catalog revolved around Georges Bataille’s eclectic journal DOCUMENTS, of which 15 issues were published between 1929 and 1930. It examined art, ethnography, archaeology, film, photography, and pop culture, with a particular emphasis on “violence, sacrifice and seduction through which art was ‘brought down’ to the level of other kinds of objects” (11). This directly opposed orthodox Surrealism, which saw art and poetry as elevated expressions of unconscious thought and used somewhat roundabout ways (i.e. automatism) to circumvent conscious image-making control.
Georges Bataille, who was decidedly unafraid of confrontational and disturbing imagery, had (somewhat unwittingly) become the leader of the “dissident Surrealists,” which was comprised of people who had either rejected Andre Breton’s idealized version of Surrealism or had been excommunicated by Breton himself for opposing/questioning his doctrines. Unsurprisingly, Bataille himself had become Breton’s arch-nemesis early on in the development of Surrealism because he viewed Breton to be too idealistic, whereas Bataille was all about the base materialism of the genre. He also preferred to see Surrealism address the unconventional– homosexuality, the uber perverse, etc– the exotic, and the macabre; Breton, on the other hand, was more focused on the notions of the ideal, heterosexual love and automatism. Bataille is frequently referred to as “the enemy within Surrealism” in the catalog, and Breton hated Bataille so much that he actually dedicated several scathing pages to him in his Second Manifesto of Surrealism (he also called him a “staid librarian” at some point, referring to Bataille’s day job); Bataille was equally bitchy and took every opportunity in DOCUMENTS and elsewhere to express his distaste with Breton. Continue reading