thumbnail of Community; Dada Max
Hide -
<v Carrie Anna Criado>Welcome to Community. I'm Carrie Anna Criado with the Menil Collection for <v Carrie Anna Criado>a special edition of our program. <v Carrie Anna Criado>A few years ago, several key people at the Menil began to develop an idea that would <v Carrie Anna Criado>celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of German born artist Max <v Carrie Anna Criado>Ernst. Today, more than 180 pieces by the artist <v Carrie Anna Criado>are being displayed in an exhibit titled Max Ernst, Dada <v Carrie Anna Criado>and the Dawn of Surrealism. <v Carrie Anna Criado>Tonight, we devote our entire program to this extraordinary exhibit, which was created <v Carrie Anna Criado>by the Menil Collection. <v Walter Hopps>Dada is a virus.
<v Walter Hopps>There is no such thing as Dada, and there is and there isn't. <v Walter Hopps>And it did exist and it doesn't exist and it died, but it didn't die. <v Walter Hopps>The exhibition at hand, Max Ernst, "Dada and the Dawn of Surrealism" explores <v Walter Hopps>the first 15 mature years of his career. <v Walter Hopps>The most important period and uh <v Walter Hopps>between 1912 and 1927. <v Walter Hopps>And within that, we have his explosive <v Walter Hopps>and extraordinarily inventive period with Dada and we, <v Walter Hopps>which runs in Ernst's case from about 1919 <v Walter Hopps>until up to 24, 24 is a very precise date because <v Walter Hopps>that's when Bretton codified the movement
<v Walter Hopps>surrealism, and signed the manifesto and anointed those who were to be part of it. <v Walter Hopps>It's often pegged as anti-art, and it wasn't, it wasn't, of course. <v Walter Hopps>You have to have a yes-no answer to just about everything that's Dada. <v Walter Hopps>Was it destructive? Yes. Did they really care about art and try and preserve their art? <v Walter Hopps>Yes. Did they mean to destroy all art? <v Walter Hopps>No. <v Walter Hopps>Dada had explosive moments in the public, especially <v Walter Hopps>with the performers in the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in the 1960s, there <v Walter Hopps>a tiny audience and the artist hustled the public there, by <v Walter Hopps>the way, they came up with the word Dada by chance, throwing a dart <v Walter Hopps>into a dictionary and it came up with the French word for hobby horse, Dada. <v Walter Hopps>So they began to make posters and they kind of sent out handbills
<v Walter Hopps>and the disinformation around Zürich that a kind of racy <v Walter Hopps>performer ?she?, the Great Dada was going to perform. <v Walter Hopps>Well, there was no such person. <v Walter Hopps>They ended up hearing Hans Arp on his hands and knees barking like a dog <v Walter Hopps>and Marcel Janco beating on an Indian drum and other nonsense and reading their <v Walter Hopps>nonsense poetry. And I'm sure their early audiences threw beer glasses <v Walter Hopps>and broke up the furniture in disgust that there was no wonderfully <v Walter Hopps>racy cabaret singer named Dada there to entertain them. <v William Camfield>Through his courses or through the former student of Freud, he was being exposed <v William Camfield>to modern psychology, including Freud's writings. <v William Camfield>Some other psychologists are not so well known. <v William Camfield>Very strange individuals. <v William Camfield>He was getting lots of literature and lots of art history. <v William Camfield>He's probably the most thoroughly art historically trained
<v William Camfield>artist of the 20th century, and beyond that, he was encountering <v William Camfield>modern art. <v William Camfield>Ernst was a born painter and <v William Camfield>one of the finest expressionist, even as a young man, 23-24 years <v William Camfield>old. If he had only pursued that, he would have had an entire <v William Camfield>outstanding career with that alone. <v William Camfield>Max Ernst response to the war is varied. <v William Camfield>If one reads his later writings, he begins saying like 1914, <v William Camfield>August 1914, Max Ernst and he refers in many instances to the <v William Camfield>imbecility of the war. <v William Camfield>Like many soldiers at the front, he tries to obey. <v William Camfield>It seems he tries to allay the concerns of the family, he'd give them postcards <v William Camfield>with sort of blank black humor from the trenches you know, a muddy <v William Camfield>semi destroyed or bombed out bunker with a sign out saying
<v William Camfield>For Rent Cheap. <v Paul Winkler>Well, Max had a great sense of humor and he was uh he was an alchemist in a sense. <v Paul Winkler>He was terrific, and he uh, he was-he was always <v Paul Winkler>reinventing himself as well. He had these alter egos, and it's just this it's-it's an <v Paul Winkler>openness to life that's absolutely extraordinary. <v Paul Winkler>And at the same time, particularly, some of the Dada works delivered <v Paul Winkler>to Menil said it best the other day we were talking about. <v Paul Winkler>She said he wasn't afraid to just spit in their face, you know. <v Paul Winkler>This war was hideous, you know what it had done to sort of to <v Paul Winkler>mankind, the culture, the civilization to, you know, just from the practical of- on <v Paul Winkler>point of view, plus also killing the spirit in a sense. <v Paul Winkler>And Max could swing from one side of the <v Paul Winkler>pendulum to the other with-with-with a light wonderful touch.
<v Walter Hopps>The very first work that Jean and Dominique de Menil, who founded this <v Walter Hopps>museum acquired was a Max Ernst. <v Walter Hopps>They were a young couple in Paris, 1934. <v Paul Winkler>Someone encouraged the De Menil's through a sort of beyond just beginning to collect at <v Paul Winkler>that time in Paris to go see this artist Max Ernst. <v Paul Winkler>So they went to a studio. <v Walter Hopps>They saw Ernst's work there and it just looked dreadful to them. <v Walter Hopps>They had no idea what this was, and they hated it. <v Walter Hopps>And Jean, being the kind of man he was, said, look to his wife, he said, <v Walter Hopps>look, this man obviously needs money. <v Walter Hopps>We can't stand the work. But maybe I could get him to paint your portrait, <v Walter Hopps>having no idea that this was an absurd request of a surrealist. <v Paul Winkler>And so Jean de Menil decided to commission Max to do a <v Paul Winkler>portrait of Dominique, and she went and sat a number of times. <v Walter Hopps>And a portrait of Dominique done by Ernst in 1934
<v Walter Hopps>with surrealist paraphernalia surrounding it a bit, beautiful, kind of <v Walter Hopps>petrified life forms from another time and planet, almost imaginary <v Walter Hopps>is the result. <v Paul Winkler>And turns out that his wife at that time, Maria ?Barrett?, <v Paul Winkler>was had taken the painting to a framer to have it <v Paul Winkler>framed, and some way or another, she had sort of forgotten about <v Paul Winkler>it. And she had not given either her name or Max Ernst's name or <v Paul Winkler>the de Menil's name to the framers. So the framers had no idea whose portrait it was <v Paul Winkler>and whose picture it was. <v Walter Hopps>A priest found it, recognizing madam some <v Walter Hopps>years later for sale in a shop window. <v Paul Winkler>And thanks to that sort of encounter, the painting was saved and then returned to them <v Paul Winkler>and given to the de Menils and is in the collection now, but it's a wonderful <v Paul Winkler>piece. <v Walter Hopps>So the collection begins with Max Ernst, whose work <v Walter Hopps>our great patrons hated, and as they turned out,
<v Walter Hopps>and indeed their opinion changed soon enough, because <v Walter Hopps>the Menil Collection has perhaps around 150 <v Walter Hopps>works of Max Ernst, which is more than, I guess, any other public institution <v Walter Hopps>or private collector, I guess, in the world. <v Walter Hopps>In 1921, in a kind of amazing painting in the context of Dada, <v Walter Hopps>Ernst returned to painting and did <v Walter Hopps>before surrealism existed officially or even the word was <v Walter Hopps>current, did what's recognized as <v Walter Hopps>one of the surrealist masterpieces, it's called Celebes. <v Walter Hopps>It's over my shoulder here. <v Walter Hopps>Or sometimes the elephant Celebes. <v Walter Hopps>It's a perplexing and absurd painting. <v Walter Hopps>The central element of this great, hulking, rather mechanical
<v Walter Hopps>looking, both comic and threatening, sort <v Walter Hopps>of monstrous elephant like thing, it's some <v Walter Hopps>terrible cross of something you might encounter in National Geographic on the one hand, <v Walter Hopps>in some kind of science fiction on the other, is central to the painting. <v Walter Hopps>Perched on its back is this very interesting little <v Walter Hopps>piece of abstract sculpture. <v Walter Hopps>It's crazy, there are almost-there was no such abstract sculpture at the time this <v Walter Hopps>painting was made. <v Walter Hopps>And up in the right foreground, <v Walter Hopps>we have one of Ernst famous headless nude women kind of <v Walter Hopps>beckoning to the beast. <v Walter Hopps>Why headless? <v Walter Hopps>Is it misogynistic on his part? <v Walter Hopps>Possibly, but I think not. I think Ernst had the insight that his muse
<v Walter Hopps>was going to be someone of the flesh and spirit and heart <v Walter Hopps>beyond rationality. <v Walter Hopps>In both occult, Western and many Eastern <v Walter Hopps>philosophies and religions. The idea of the headless figure as a symbol <v Walter Hopps>of someone beyond the limits of the rational mind <v Walter Hopps>would be something Ernst was well aware of. <v Walter Hopps>So I don't think he uses his female muse <v Walter Hopps>nude to infer her sexuality, and Ernst felt that sexual <v Walter Hopps>energy was one of the basic driving forces in our life <v Walter Hopps>and certainly within our art. <v Walter Hopps>I think that Ernst, among other things, is telling us that sexual <v Walter Hopps>pursuits are better than violent ones. <v Walter Hopps>And I think we have beauty here tending to tame the beast, <v Walter Hopps>if we want to put it in terms of folklore.
<v Walter Hopps>One of the most beautiful and haunting <v Walter Hopps>painting like works that Ernst did in the Dada period <v Walter Hopps>in 1921 is called Approaching Puberty. <v Walter Hopps>That's the short title, it has a much longer inscription. <v Walter Hopps>It's actually a complex combination of <v Walter Hopps>collage with photographic elements and over painting <v Walter Hopps>textured reworking, but it reads as a small, exquisite painting. <v Walter Hopps>It's one of the prime examples of Ernst <v Walter Hopps>nude female headless figures in this case, again, <v Walter Hopps>very decidedly his muse. <v Walter Hopps>The figure's floating in a kind of blue sky. <v Walter Hopps>An arm is extended in a curious way or holding a device as though it's penetrated
<v Walter Hopps>an orb. And in the upper right <v Walter Hopps>portion of the painting, we have this curious, troubled, <v Walter Hopps>feathered convulsion, a sort of chaos <v Walter Hopps>and close inspection reveals the feathered nature of this <v Walter Hopps>and that we have nothing much else to associate with <v Walter Hopps>other than the fall of Icarus. <v Walter Hopps>The man who, in the presence of fathers and brothers, tried <v Walter Hopps>to fly to the sun and failed. <v Walter Hopps>That's the male adventure of the artist, as <v Walter Hopps>the female muse serenely ascends, <v Walter Hopps>or at least suspends in an atmosphere. <v Walter Hopps>Ernst is with some delicacy put it that in the face of inspiration, <v Walter Hopps>sometimes men fail.
<v Walter Hopps>[Music plays] <v Walter Hopps>By 1923, when Ernst, Paul Éluard and Gala, <v Walter Hopps>and the little child of Cécile of Paul and <v Walter Hopps>Gala are all living in a very comfortable townhouse <v Walter Hopps>provided by Éluard's father's money. <v Walter Hopps>On the outskirts of Paris, we find <v Walter Hopps>the entire extended family, this ménage á trois, an extraordinarily <v Walter Hopps>creative and joyous period. <v Walter Hopps>And Ernst in his great plaisir, I think, suggested that he do murals, and <v Walter Hopps>over my right shoulder, we're looking at one of the painted doors done <v Walter Hopps>in the manner of fresco, by the way. <v Walter Hopps>But the door itself has a kind of partially clothed female nude <v Walter Hopps>climbing about some imaginary landscape. <v Walter Hopps>And in her hand, we have in a most lascivious pose of abandon,
<v Walter Hopps>a tiny female nude that she casts her nonetheless masked eyes <v Walter Hopps>away from. But it's an amusing, and for Ernst, more <v Walter Hopps>decorative work, as were all these murals. <v Walter Hopps>It's almost like a kind of French restoration comedy done <v Walter Hopps>out in proto-surrealist form. <v Walter Hopps>It's sort of celebrated the joyous life they were having together. <v Walter Hopps>Another one we could look at is the loving couple where Ernst's great colleague, <v Walter Hopps>the poet Paul Éluard is coupled with his then <v Walter Hopps>wife, Gala, in the most strange <v Walter Hopps>pod like constraint. <v Walter Hopps>The setting is a peaceful landscape. The figures are silhouetted against the sky. <v Walter Hopps>They would seem to be put in nude embrace.
<v Walter Hopps>Somehow the color blue, this unnatural blue skin for Éluard seems <v Walter Hopps>appropriate. He's a poet of the night. <v Walter Hopps>Gala's made very fleshly and naturalistic in her color, the female. <v Walter Hopps>My colleague Campfield has pointed out how it's an absolute contradiction, <v Walter Hopps>they are in a naked juxtaposition as though in some <v Walter Hopps>sexual embrace, so they are together in that way, but Éluard <v Walter Hopps>is turned away. <v Walter Hopps>The figures are both pressed together and twisted apart <v Walter Hopps>in the same gesture, in one pose <v Walter Hopps>an enormous amount of the complications of uh <v Walter Hopps>sexual relations as to attraction and repulsion and <v Walter Hopps>trying to get something together, and it's not working. <v Walter Hopps>All the complexities that are-we tend to try not to think of <v Walter Hopps>purely solve and overcome in our lives are there forever in that painting.
<v Walter Hopps>[Music plays] <v Walter Hopps>There are a number of works that celebrate the end of this extraordinary <v Walter Hopps>ménage á trois and the kind of getting over Gala, <v Walter Hopps>which I think you suggested, at least in her earlier incarnation here, had <v Walter Hopps>the power and charisma of a Madonna. <v Walter Hopps>Ironically, we were speaking earlier of how in Salvador Dali's <v Walter Hopps>life and her role, she accepted as his devoted wife. <v Walter Hopps>He made her a kind of Virgin Mary who was very much in the background <v Walter Hopps>while he played the grown up Christ child. <v Walter Hopps>She was a mother to Salvador Dali as much as wife where she had been <v Walter Hopps>the Madonna we think of as the aggressive, active woman <v Walter Hopps>of the contemporary Madonna, in the lives of Max Ernst and Paul Éluard,
<v Walter Hopps>but getting over her for both of these men <v Walter Hopps>was something else. <v Walter Hopps>And I think perhaps the last important painting <v Walter Hopps>is this work of 1926, where we see <v Walter Hopps>in the far sky background the new world of protege <v Walter Hopps>and textured what we call autonomous art, the little orbs in <v Walter Hopps>the sky are made in a protege techniques which ?suggest? <v Walter Hopps>Max new invention post Gala. <v Walter Hopps>And at the bottom is though it were a kind of surface. <v Walter Hopps>A stage backdrop peeling away and rolling up, <v Walter Hopps>sinking soon to be rolled out of sight. <v Walter Hopps>We see the extraordinary eyes of Gala. <v Walter Hopps>I mean, it's a literal autobiographical painting. <v Walter Hopps>Now I'm going to peel Gala away and roll up. <v Walter Hopps>And the last thing he's seeing, one of her most extraordinary features were the-these
<v Walter Hopps>intense eyes. [Music plays] <v Walter Hopps>Breton wanted some work produced by Ernst <v Walter Hopps>that would be a powerful, even shocking visual manifesto <v Walter Hopps>for what surrealist-surrealism was in part, <v Walter Hopps>and it's not known precisely if he gave Ernst the specific <v Walter Hopps>subject. <v Walter Hopps>Now, Breton-Ernst had been born Catholic and had <v Walter Hopps>really left the church for practical purposes. <v Walter Hopps>But once a Catholic, always a Catholic, I suppose, and you know the weight <v Walter Hopps>of the doctrine, he sets up a curious space.
<v Walter Hopps>And on a kind of constricted little plaza or dias in a kind of Italianate, <v Walter Hopps>when I say mannerism, I think of Italian manner or ?start?, a <v Walter Hopps>kind of Italianate little constricted plaza and on a dias puts a great <v Walter Hopps>heroically scaled Virgin Mary, <v Walter Hopps>on her lap has a much too, doesn't have the infant, Jesus has a much too <v Walter Hopps>grown up naked young boy whom she's wailing <v Walter Hopps>the daylights out of. <v Walter Hopps>The idea of the Virgin Mary severely spanking, pubescent <v Walter Hopps>Jesus has-is not only blasphemous in the act, but has even greater <v Walter Hopps>psychosexual overtones that increase the blasphemy of this work. <v Walter Hopps>Jesus' posterior is pink and rosy from this spanking, <v Walter Hopps>her arm is raised in serious pursuit. <v Walter Hopps>Now the final curious element of the painting in a wall
<v Walter Hopps>to the left side in a small constricted window <v Walter Hopps>in that wall, we have the three witnesses that are suggested <v Walter Hopps>in the title. <v Walter Hopps>There are the three key leaders of surrealism at that <v Walter Hopps>time. There's Breton himself, the secular pope <v Walter Hopps>and leader facing away from the event as <v Walter Hopps>though in some thoughtful distraction where he didn't even need <v Walter Hopps>to look at it. <v Walter Hopps>We see him clearly rendered and to his-to <v Walter Hopps>the left of Breton, kind of with <v Walter Hopps>his head tipped back, almost looking down his nose, it's not clear out of disdain <v Walter Hopps>or a kind of trying to avert his eyes. <v Walter Hopps>We see Paul Éluard with his eyes almost closed, but still <v Walter Hopps>kind of looking through the lashes, perhaps at the event through the window. <v Walter Hopps>And the third witness staring straight dead ahead at us, the watchers, is
<v Walter Hopps>Ernst. Duchamp, one of the great pre Dada pre-surrealist <v Walter Hopps>theoreticians and great artist of the early modern era. <v Walter Hopps>He said that the creative act was never complete without The Spectator. <v Walter Hopps>Artists do what they do and perhaps they don't even know what they're doing. <v Walter Hopps>But the art work is complete when each of us in our own way <v Walter Hopps>look at it, and that's the final phase of the creative act. <v Walter Hopps>What goes on in terms of our responses when we bother to stare and form <v Walter Hopps>one?
Dada Max
Producing Organization
KUHT-TV (Television station : Houston, Tex.)
Houston Public Television
Contributing Organization
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip-526-bc3st7fw98).
Episode Description
"'Dada is a virus' begins this theatrical journey into the world of Max Ernst and dada out of the exhibit, MAX ERNST - DADA AND THE DAWN OF SURREALISM. "The piece reflects the qualities of dada, with graphics and music that relate it to our time. World renowned curator, Walter Hopps, is a fascinating storyteller, [relating] Max Ernst's relationships, training in art history, alchemical investigations, and ground breaking artistic innovations with collage and frottage into a personal understanding of the artist. "Hopps, shot in off-beat camera angles, is a candid guide, gossip and raconteur, giving brilliant insights into a selection of otherwise puzzling paintings. The exhibit explores the first fifteen years of the artist's career, from 1912 to 1927, from the explosive and inventive period of dada through to Ernst's outrageous and shocking visual manifesto of surrealism. "The exhibit was initiated by the Menil Collection in Houston, which has acquired the largest collection of works by the artist in this country. Jean and Dominique de Menil began a long friendship with Ernst in France before World War II, when de Menil commissioned Max to paint a portrait of Dominique. It is a charming story told by both Hopps and Paul Winkler, the Director of the Menil Collection, intercutting the two versions together. "Like the art the television piece reports, the story is provocative, entertaining, informative and funny."--1993 Peabody Awards entry form.
Broadcast Date
Asset type
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: KUHT-TV (Television station : Houston, Tex.)
Producing Organization: Houston Public Television
AAPB Contributor Holdings
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia
Identifier: cpb-aacip-9554a28cfa0 (Filename)
Format: U-matic
Duration: 0:25:22
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Community; Dada Max,” 1993-08-03, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 28, 2022,
MLA: “Community; Dada Max.” 1993-08-03. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 28, 2022. <>.
APA: Community; Dada Max. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from