In the center of a collage created by Pablo Picasso in 1933 lies a print of a minotaur on a cut piece of paper. The minotaur is depicted with a strong, robust frame, exuding an aura of strength and power. Its human back faces the viewer, its bullhead turned to face the viewer. In its right arm, it holds a dagger. The rest of the collage features cut ribbons, leaves, some crumpled paper, and a label at the bottom of the frame that reads “Minotaure,” the magazine’s name that featured this collage as its cover piece. The magazine, founded by Albert Skira, was a publication set on showcasing various avant-garde art pieces. However, the publication grew to take on the surrealist spirit and aimed to spread the “surrealist revolution” during the 1930s. The minotaur, the perfect subject that distorts the line between animal and man, with its powerful and law-defying form, became the mascot of this revolution, which aimed to break man free from the confines of rationality and assert the power of the subconscious.
In room 206 of McClurg, Dr. Effie Rentzou, a professor in the department of French and Italian at Princeton University, gave a lecture about the influence and movement of surrealism. Titled “Beyond the Human: Universalism, Humanism, and the French Avant-Garde of the 1930s,” the lecture dove into the history, ideas, and politics of the avant-garde, all while examining the human form under the surrealist lens. With a strong emphasis on the motions of surrealism, the lecture explored all forms of avant-garde, and how they defied the rationality of man and the rules of reality.
Photo courtesy of Darryl Williams
When the magazine Minotaure was founded, the initial intention was simply the introduction of the avant-garde to a new generation of writers and artists. Albert Skira imposed one essential rule when it came to the publication: the word “revolution” was strictly forbidden. The publication was not to be an object through which the artists can push their political ideologies, merely a place to present the avant-garde. This placed the publication in a position directly opposed to another surrealist publication called La Révolution Surréaliste, which oriented the surrealist movement under the communist party. Both surrealism and communism wished to uplift humanity from the misery of the current social condition. André Berton, the editor of Minotaure, was a strong advocate for communism, and as surrealism grew with an ever increasing influence, his authority over the magazine took over. Eventually, he practically took control over the magazine, allowing it to give into the movement for communism. In subverting the western view of the human form, the publication was thereby critiquing the western view point.
What better a subject than the minotaur when subverting the human form? As Rentzou explained, a large subject of surrealism was the human form, and the distortion of said form when broken free from the physical world. In many surrealist works, the human form was mutilated, broken, warped, and perverted. They often feel more like pieces of the constructed world rather than their own subject. Even when they were the focus of the work, they tended to feel more like an object rather than a lifeform. The minotaur allowed for the examination of the human versus the animal; it allowed for the form to be distorted and perverted. It allowed the form to go beyond the human.
Photo courtesy of Darryl Williams
Rentzou’s concluding argument was that the avant-garde pushed the idea that the human body is a universal language. Through the warping and mutilation of its form, it displayed that every individual has a sort of equality. Every individual is equally human and every individual is equally non-human, exposing the animality within. Minotaure deconstructed the western view of the human by cutting through its inherently Greek core, which showed a perfection in the human form. The surrealists, by breaking apart the human vessel, showed that it was not perfect, that we too are simply animals. As stated before, the minotaur is the perfect representation of the blurred line between humanity and animality. The surrealists took this classic Greek myth and used it to deconstruct the idea that the human form is perfect. In the end, the surrealist focus was the human subconscious versus rationality. They were proponents of the subconscious, and desired to break man free from the bonds of logic, the ultimate focus of the surrealist movement.