Apres Exquis

Walter Benjamin, a connoisseur of radical montage, wrote, “The father of surrealism was dada; its mother was an arcade.”1 Seen in this light the cadavre exquis, surrealism’s abject offspring is a visual department store disgorged of its goods, an assembly line of absurd–at times, sublime–expressions. So how, one may well ask, do we read it?

One heeds in the interpretation of original cadavre exquis drawings a caution against too singular a reading, a caution which the works themselves support. With only a few important exceptions, historic cadavre exquis have been exhibited as secondary works, treated within the larger context of surrealist games and automatism.2 Much has been written on technique. Famous sessions have been documented, but there is very little in print about individual cadavres. 3 For the most part, these works exist as uninterpreted records, novel apparitions of point sublime, that spot on the distant horizon where everything–rational and irrational, conscious and unconscious, abstract and concrete–converge.

One of the first guides to this surrealist arcadia was Julien Levy’s book Surrealism, published in 1936 by the legendary Black Sun Press. Bound with jacket covers by Joseph Cornell, and printed on a rainbow of colored paper, this book sings like a synthetic scrapbook of surrealist precepts and personages. It contains, under headings such as CINEMA, FETICHISM, and BEHAVIOR, everything from the screenplay for the Luis Buñuel/Salvador Dalí film, Un Chien Andalou, to a passage from Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, from pictures of work by Max Ernst to poems by Paul Eluard. For surveying the aftermath of “The Return of the Cadavre Exquis,” Levy’s approach seems a ready model. Allow the fragments to take issue, to form, and fall as they will, although today these fragments do not coalesce at point sublime.



In 1916 Guillaume Apollinaire named a poetic spirit adrift throughout the ages “surrealism.”4 By its first historical account, recorded in Levy’s books, surrealism claimed amongst its forebears the Marquis de Sade ”in sadism,” Edgar Allen Poe “in adventure,” Rimbaud “in life and elsewhere.”5 Others include the satiric illustrator de Granville, the symbolist writer Isidore Ducasse (a.k.a., compte de Lautréamont), the photographer of Paris Atget. Those ordained: the Marx Brothers, and Frida Kahlo, who coyly commented upon her own induction, “I never knew I was a surrealist till André “ Breton came to Mexico and told me I was.”6 Working outside Breton’s jurisprudence, David Lynch’s ant’s-eye-view, Angela Carter’s violet pornography, Bob Dylan’s tombstone blues, and virtual reality could also be called surrealist.

As called forth by “The Return of the Cadavre Exquis,” surrealism’s essence, a montage of irresolute fragments, appears impossible to contain. Teased by Linda Herritt, surrealism’s coif, stiff as shellacked drapery, tumbles down in the luxuriant fall of Millie Wilson’s hairpiece. Its head is buried alive by Jim Shaw under a mound of delicately rendered octopi. (The image of an octopus recurs as legs in a photogram by Kunie Sugiura.) Drawn by Lawrence Gipe  (p.42), the face of a freight train comes to light, only to be extinguished by Lawrence Weiner, who attributes to surrealism no feature at all. Sporting a dirty velvet cumberbund, courtesy Maurizio Pellegrin, with Kavin Buck’s body of text, surrealism’s sex in indeterminate, but–as Don Ed Hardy would have it–voracious, or, even–according to John Wesley (p. 49)–orgiastic. Standing back for the panoramic view, surrealism’s style is both elegantly calligraphic and compulsively blunt. Language colloquial. Surrealism is humorous, certainly sports a tattoo, may have served time in prison, frequently stalks on animal legs.



Author of the movement’s polemics, André Breton was surrealism’s inspired leader and tyrannical prince. It’s ironic and indicative of surrealist spirit that Breton, who attempted to encode it, define it, even determine its politics, was ultimately eluded by it Enervated by Salvador Dali’s remarkable imagery and exasperated by his behavior, Breton dispelled Dali from the ranks of the surrealists in 1934. And yet in the popular mind it’s Dali who is most closely linked with historic surrealism. In retrospect and of late, Georges Bataille, now seen as surrealism’s critical author, has similarly displaced Breton.7

Whereas Breton’s surrealism distills itself into objects–a bowler hat, a biscuit, a woman’s glove–Bataille envisions it as an image of diffusion, an excess of energy that obscures containment. He called this the “informe,” and ascribed it with the “job” of rendering the formed object, idea, emotion or sign into a state of formlessness.

Formless is thus not merely an adjective with such and such a meaning but a term for lowering status with its implied requirements that everything have form. Whatever it (formless) designates lacks entitlement in every sense and is crushed on the spot, like a spider or an earthworm.8

The surrealist movement governed by Breton tends to reside resonantly in particulars–clocks, dolls, and found objects–which are themselves dated in appearance. However, as conjured by Bataille, surrealism is transgressive. It exceeds the parameters of time, the strictures of space, and is thereby elusive.

Both surrealisms have come into play during the course of this game. Sometimes as direct bodily evocations. After Man Ray’s famous photographic portrait comes a drawing Breton’s by Steve Wolfe of André Breton’s head. Cindy Bernard uses the text of Bataille’s “Big Toe,” which declares this appendage to be the most human part of the body.

Other times, these two surrealists appear as oblique points of reference: Bretonian collage, displacement, found objects are drawn together with Bataille’s tattoos, scars, animism, diaspora, and pictures of spiritual ecstasy. The former is captured in a drawing, rich with nostalgia, by starts with a poem and ends with collage on little cat feet. Elements of the latter surrealism are lodged in the hectic, scribbled drawing which hovers over an image of mannequin legs akimbo in the cadavre by Alan Turner, Carroll Dunham, and Laurie Simmons.

At its most poetic, this game remains as Breton intended it–and Bataille may have played it–with critical spirits expelled on holiday, an informal evocation of surreal transforms Bretons game of cadavre exquis into a post-modern possibility.



Play might be considered the discipline of this century. Voicing every thought that came to mind, Sigmund Freud played by the rules of free-association to enter into the realm of his own unconscious and thereby formulate a modern picture of the mind. Likening their exhilarating progress to mountain picture of the mind. Likening their exhilarating progress to mountain climbing and aviation, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso worked closely and competitively to invent Cubism, opening pictorial space up to radical speculation and abstraction. Albert Einstein called it relativity. Accomplishing a similar feat in the field of linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure–himself an avid anagram player–re-envisioned the structure of language after the game of chess by equating words with game pieces, each dependent on the play of context for meanings mutable and strategic. For Foucault, this notion of language as an object of knowledge open to historical change and arbitrary deformation marks the inception of the modern era.

Consider the knight in chess. Is the piece by itself an element of the game? Certainly not. For as a material object separated from its square on the board and the other conditions of play, it is of no significance for the player. It becomes a real, concrete element only when it takes on or becomes identified with its value in the game.

-Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (1906-11)

Play is the essence of abstract thinking and creative invention, a form of behavior with no anticipated goals or results other than pleasure itself. In the wild, young animals frisk about as a way of learning how to behave. For almost the exact opposite reason, we humans continue to romp as adults in order to refresh our minds and bodies from the restrictions of routine approaches and activities. As an alternative to the conduct that led a world to war, dada gambled on misbehavior in order to transgress all etiquette and establish a new cultural (dis)order.

With the [surrealist] movement firmly entrenched, we met nearly every day at each other’s homes or in cafés chosen in the least artistic or bohemian quarters of Paris, to discuss future activities and publications…There were questionnaires on various subjects: sex, love, what was the most fateful encounter in one’s life, etc. Sometimes a poet would go into a trance and write automatically, producing astonishing phrases full of anagrams and puns. Or we would simply play games, everyone participating. – Man Ray, Self Portrait, 1963

Applying themselves more systematically to this project, the surrealists adopted games as a form of experimentation. They played hard at scores of word and picture games in order to escape what they knew and discover what could be imagined.9 Making art in this vein, Alberto Giacometti constructed his series of sculptural game boards in the thirties. Max Ernst’s late sculptures are iconic chessboard figures. Disciples of the European avant-garde, the American abstract expressionists also dutifully played surrealist games.

Not exactly a team player, Marcel Duchamp allegedly abandoned art–with all its knowable forms–for chess. It is interesting to note that in formulating a theory of games, the mathematician John Neumann discounted chess. As it relies on tactics that are short term “if” actions, with calculable results, it doesn’t resemble those real games we constantly play in life, which are based on strategies or more open-ended “what-if” abstractions.10 Though very few people play chess these days, such enigmatic strategies have endured. Aleatoric, what-if abstractions structured art of the sixties and seventies, making it spontaneous and lifelike. Daring silence, John Cage invited chance to play in the midst of his piano performances. Jean Tingley’s self destructive sculptures played themselves to death. Games such as these moved art into real time and space.  

[During the Twenties] There was a great vogue for games of all sorts…crossword puzzles, mahjongg, and innumerable card games. There was also a vogue for “tests.” One of the most popular of these consisted of turning up a woman’s handbag and describing her personality from the heterogeneous contents. -Armand Lanoux, Paris in the Twenties, 1960

As so evidently portrayed here, the artworld’s facture has grown increasingly dispersed, its community decentralized and insular. As we so well discovered during the process of this project, ferreting artists out of their studios all over the world, there are no cafe-headquarters. In turn, the nature of play has changed. Presaged by such (surrealist) examples as Claude Cahun’s gender-bending photographs and Leonor Fini’s performance-art approach to life, these games seem based more on role-playing and autobiography than on movements and conquest The big games are now, in fact, small ones, inspired by those private (often childish) forms of amusement one tends to pursue alone, like dress-up, dolls, and make-believe. Forfeiting the utopian, or merely grouped-minded, aspects of earlier pursuits, players today scrimmage, not by prescribed rules, but according to personal whim and individual preference.

L’huitre du sénégal mangera le pain tricolore. The Senegalese oyster will eat the tricolor bread. –cadavre exquis

So why, less than ten years short of the new millennium, do we reenact this early twentieth-century game? In retrospect of “The Return of the Cadavre Exquis,” experimental intentions come forward, but initially we played in pious keeping with orthodox surrealism. Because it’s fun.

If there is one activity in Surrealism which has most invited the derision of imbeciles, it is our playing of games…Although as a defensive measure we sometimes described such activity as “experimental” we were looking to it primarily for entertainment, and those rewarding discoveries it yielded in relation to knowledge only came later. — André Breton, 195411



“All our collaborators must be handsome so we can publish their portraits.” –Réné Magritte12

As a joint venture, collaboration defies logic: the whole is not equal to the sum of its parts. The total picture stands to topple over if the cadavre exquis is all earrings or individual organs fail to communicate. Rather, collaboration is a dialectical process. What is shared counts as much as that which has been withheld? The creative outcome of a successful collaboration is a new work, independent of any single contribution. In a collaboration by Christian Marclay, Olivier Mosset, and Alix Lambert, a pair of sutured lips, two green stripes, and a pair of legs cemented into one clay foot yields an image of thwarted expression, an evocation of censorship not one of its parts belie (p. 55).

So good-natured by name, collaboration is not entirely generous in spirit.13 Like Lex Luther, it calls for the death of the artist-superman. Listening for the collective voice, collaboration reproduces the interpretive and communicative aspects of art at the very level of its creation. Authenticity also takes a flying leap. Trespassing time and authorship, Marcel Duchamp drew a moustache on the Mona Lisa, making Leonardo da Vinci an unwitting accomplice to this collaborative work of art. Here we find Aubrey Beardsley, Constantin Brancusi, Gustave Courbet, Ezra Pound, and unknown Rajasthani artist as well as Duchamp himself, among the many drawn into cahoots with the creators of contemporary cadavres exquis.

Bypassing the author can create quite a snarl. The challenge in collaboration is striking that delicate balance between retaining containment and relinquishing control. Ironically, the mechanism which seems to keep collaboration healthy is competition. It is, in part self-conscious measure that accounts for the metamorphosis of the surrealist cadavres exquis from the pure noodlings that first appeared in the October 1927 issue of la Révolution surréaliste into the considerably more engaging works of art that these collaborations eventually produced.14



Collage was the surrealists’ umbrella aesthetic, sheltering a diversity of practices, from painting and poetry to the cadavre exquis. As a collection of things jumbled and juxtaposed, collage captured the experience of an aimless wander through crowded city streets and desolate alley ways. But collage was not about getting lost. Rather, it was a practice that required the purposeful selection, arrangement, and affixing of images. Collage-making was about looking, about locating the dream-image in the everyday.

Although faithful in spirit to the principle of collage, the surrealists often bypassed the process of affixing images for the seamless effects achieved through photography, either in-camera or during the printing process. Compositions of trimmed snips of paper, whose cut edges openly displayed the marks of their making, were more expressive of the cacophony of dada. The surrealist, on the other hand, effectively subsumed collage within the technology of photography. As the given automatic eye, the camera offered a range of techniques through which an image could be altered, for example, by doubling, flipping, and solarizing the negative. While the dadaists were indifferent to the power of photography’s apparent objectivity, the surrealists were seduced by the uncanny “realness” generated by the manipulated photography.

Le vapeur ailée séduit l’oiseau fermé a clé. Winged steam seduced the locked up bird. – cadavre exquis

Relegated to the periphery, hands-on collage nonetheless remained a central and reigning principle of surrealist practice. It became integral to the popular surrealist diversion cadavre exquis. Early examples of the game, composed entirely of drawing, were superseded by more elaborate works augmented by the addition of bits of paper and ephemera clipped from magazines, catalogues, and photographs. Cadavre exquis was a curiosity to the surrealists precisely because it laid bare the workings of collage. In the preface to an exhibition catalogue of Max Ernst’s photo collages, Breton described the process of making collage as “attaining two widely separate realities without departing from the realm of our experience, of bringing them together and drawing a spark from their contact.”15

Governed by chance, cadavre exquis playfully tested collage, fanning a gentle breeze to the match struck between images. Failures were as instructive and as pleasurable as successes.

Although not a technique commonly practiced in contemporary art, with this most recent round of cadavre exquis, collage has returned with a vengeance. To appreciate this recourse to collage, it is helpful to consider cadavre exquis, collage has returned with a vengeance. To appreciate this recourse to collage, it is helpful to consider cadavre exquis’ origin as a word game. Read top to bottom, some of the drawings suggest the completion and closure of sentences. Such is the case with a drawing by Julie Ault, Cindy Sherman, and Marc Tauss, where the composed of a snapshot of a rocket, grows the body of a sinuous card-playing nude. To this body, ready to test the winds of fate, is grafted a pair of ponderous go-nowhere feet. More often, the drawings are open-ended, as in the cadavre by Curtis Anderson, Joseph Nechvatal, and Rosemarie Trockel. Unified by a common media, –nineteenth-century scientific illustrations and maps–meaning here resides in the loose, rhyming association of the combined parts.

Interestingly, the technology of photography, the linchpin of the surrealist collage aesthetic, remains ever present in the contemporary game. Despite the advent of the computer, it is the technology of the camera that still dominates. Noted additions to the camera’s repertoire include Xeroxes, both color and black and white. In fact, photocopies have overtaken the collaged clippings of the past-pieces of yellowed newspapers and magazines have given way to the mundane shadow of the Xerox image. But like the surrealists’ embrace of photography, contemporary artists have been quick to make use of the potential of new technologies. In the drawing by the Critical Art Ensemble and Faith Wilding, a computer-generated head and torso is attached to collaged Xeroxes of repeating legs of armor. Processes common to surrealist photography, such as doubling, are now easily obtained through the use of the photocopier or the computer.

These contemporary works, however, rarely engage the everyday urban detritus that so fascinated the surrealists. Rather, present day cadavres exquis logically quote a range of styles characteristics of contemporary art. Today artists caught playing a game which in all probability is not central to their practice, reach for a bit of he familiar. Still, others responded by suspending their usual practice. Many of the collage images they created are consciously dated, depicting outmoded machines and ghostlike grainy images from the past. Although the surrealists themselves were attracted to the forgotten and slightly out of fashion, contemporary artists have resorted to the past out of nostalgia. Whether seamless printouts or elbow-deep in clippings and glue, these images pay homage to the surrealist collage aesthetic.

-Elizabeth Finch


This is the other art history. Accompanied by Boschian bagpipes, the Grotesque tracks a bloody footprint on the road to Calvary, farts, eats off Archimbaldo’s plate, burps, drinks from Meret Oppenheim’s tea cup, shits, dances to Goya’s capriccios, fucks and sleeps to dreams of H.C.Westermann’s death ship. Shock and schism are its means, rupture its golden rule. The cadavre exquis, playing on all of the Grotesque’s styles and strategies, is its Adonis, Venus, Marilyn, and Mickey.

Traditionally, the Grotesque appears heaped to either side of the Renaissance, in its overwrought aspirant–the Gothic–and aftermath–the Baroque. In style and content, both canons are highly visible here. With a medievalist’s eye for the minute, Meg Belichick lifts images of potato eye and astral bodies for a torso made using found printer’s plates (p.38). Her partner, Joanne Brockley, depicts the sacred “temple of the mind” as a ruin of industrial architecture. A horny male dog’s haunches, drawn by Peter Cain, completes this Boschian hybrid on a low, animalistic note. Conflating human attributes and natural imagery is a device of the gothic grotesque brought up to date by Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds, Claire Pentecost, and Eve Andree Laramee. The tension between the head’s explosive burst of color and the body’s shackled cornstalk is poised–like Baba Yaga’s house–on a giant pair of chicken legs, collaged from road maps. This image suggests that, at its best, nature’s meeting with culture is an ambivalent one.

On the march with Brockley’s automaton, a proliferation of cadavres exquis have been scrapped together by idolatrous engineers, who gleefully tinker with the machine of human anatomy. A drawing (p. 17) by Tony Oursler, James Casebere–both corroborating with mechanical modes of reproduction–and Charles Golden, recasts the model of classical perfection into a dehumanized pile a junk. Oursler’s photograph of a television antenna mounted atop Casebere’s image of a prison-cell toilet, set on Golden’s biomorph of fabric flocking, portrays the body as a dubious technological wonder.

Matching the standards of postmodern culture, manufacture has taken on grotesque possibilities. Today, we all stand ready to be made into Exquisite Corpses. Pump it up. Suck it off. Tear it out. Reconstruct. Be all you can be, with the help of plastics, polymers, personal training, and, of course, the knife. Because the body is yours for the making. Constructing its destiny cell by cell, the Exquisite Corpse realizes the ultimate, post-human fantasy of the flesh.

By giving way to grotesque displays of feeling, the corpse often upsets the equilibrium of emotions held in check by intellectual control. An agitated cadavre headed by Dottie Attie shouts and twists itself into a dramatic contrapposto, rendered by Mark Tansey, so that legs, by Steve Mendelson, seem to buckle under the impact. Conflating spiritual to be the ephemeral contents of a mind swirl above collage contributions by James Elaine and Peter Gilmore of a martyred Saint Sebastian set above a miasma of organic matter. Emotionally acute, humanly critical, heaven-kissing and ground-hugging, the cadavre exquis cultivates its energy and imagery from outside the classic mainstream of art history to encompass the often otherwise inexplicable excesses and margins of existence.

Indeed, the grotesque corpse seems patterned in direct opposition to what Alberti, “the very founder of the theory of art, called convenienza or conformita.” As Erwin Panofsky elaborated, “It would be absurd if Milo the athlete were to be represented with frail hips of Ganymede with limbs of a porter, and ‘if the hands of Helen of Iphigenia were aged and knotty.’”16  This kind of physical comedy is the very meat of the cadavre exquis, just as mockery and satire present grotesque standards upon which the cadavre visibly thrives.

A traditional underpinning of painting, the cartoon has long since slid out on its own subversive mission. This might be simply comic–like the (tee-hee) he-man by underground comic artists, Mark Beyer and Charles Burns, with artist Peter Saul (p. 63). Or given more pointed caricature, a lampoon attack. In a cadavre (p. 62) concocted during the 1992 election campaign, Robin Tewes turns the Republican ticket (Misters Bush and Quayle) into a two-headed hydra, which Megan Williams endows with a whirling dervish of breasts. Gary Panter adds a fecund female body, which Elliott Green finally carries away on a pair of fishy wet feet. Laughing itself to hysterical tears, a cadavre exquis by Jim Shaw, Sue Williams, and Nicole Eisenmann (p. 61) amplifies satire to a level of such ridiculous absurdity it verges on tragedy. Shaw’s caricature of one of the kings of comedy, Jerry Lewis, emits a gaseous cloud drawn by Williams, which erupts over a field of destruction, landscaped by Eisenman.

Aching with the absurd, the Grotesque rips a hole in the sides of both conventional and conventional response, through which the Exquisite Corpse easily passes. The corpse emerges on the other side as a transcendent being, whose body performs the rituals of life–including death–with vigorous regularity.



Biomorphic, polymorphic, hermaphroditic, transsexual, homosexual, heterosexual–the cadavre is well-sexed. Perhaps it was simply the circumstances–a group creative effort–which started these juices flowing. Or else it was the perspective of surrealism–whose environs are the uninhibited unconscious mind–which elicited such licentious responses. Erotic energy courses through the collaboration of Bay Area artists, Brett Reichman, Caitlin Mitchell-Dayton and Peter Mitchell-Dayton (p. 67). A writhing bulb of gothic ornament, dripping with the oily patina of temps perdu, precipitates over the ample, bending, body of a late Marilyn, who, in white bikini, hands on hips, steps out of a bed shared with Betty at an orgy with other Archy comics, and even with just regular folks. Jughead’s crown is on the bedpost.


The Corpse

Leveling humanity to its organic essentials, flesh, excrement, and organs prove all equal in the eyes of the coroner. A veritable morgue, “The Return of the Cadavre Exquis” details an autopsy of spilt blood and gore. In a cadavre by Chicago based artists Story Mann, Mary Lou Zelazny and Roderigo Avila, a portrait image of Abraham Lincoln is abolished to a slurry of guts and animal matter. In adjacent operating room, Annette Lemieux performs an ink transfer upon an anatomical study of a head. This is joined to a photo-based image, by Doug and Mike Starn, of the body of Christ (certainly the most famous cadavre exquis), and blasphemously polished off by Timothy Greenfield-Sander’s photographic fashion-plate.

I opened my bedroom closet. A half-dressed feminine corpse sagged into my arms..It’s a damned screwy feeling to reach for pajamas and find a cadaver instead. – Spicy Detective, July 1937

There are also plenty of skeletons filling the ranks of the cadavre exquis and even a couple of x-rays. With death so near at hand, in both the name of the game and the images the game evoked, it is interesting to note that these spectators are patently metaphoric. The plagues inflicted by the AIDS virus and breast cancer, which constitute such an urgent component of today’s cultural politics are–almost without exception–not named here. Such omission sheds light on the true nature of the cadavre exquis as a cathartic being, whose imagery and activity envelopes the particular into a raucous, transcendental body.


Time and the Body

In the two years that have elapsed during the course of this game, the Exquisite Corpse marked time. Imagery based on the 1992 presidential election has already been mentioned in regards to the Grotesque. As if in response to the campaign button which read, “Elect Hillary’s Husband,” Bill Clinton does not appear here, though his wife, in a collage contribution from Laura Fields. The national hoopla celebrating Christopher Columbus’ arrival in America some five hundred years ago is quietly noted in the margins of a drawing by Moyo Coyatzin. (Marching backwards in history, this cadavre’s torso by Douglas McClellan is a collage homage to Chairman Mao’s colon.) “The Return of the Cadavre Exquis” also straddles the American Year of the woman. Coincidentally her body is here–with and without precedent–one of surrealism’s most graphic physical sites.

Piquant femme-enfant, man-eating sphinx–surrealism appears obsessed with fantastic images of women. Equating sexual and creative freedom, the surrealists subscribed wholeheartedly to the psychoanalytic concepts of eros and the libido as liberating life-forces. Arousing muses of (heterosexual) love, women stood as communicating vessels between men and the marvelous. Yet there was very little place accorded her in the movement’s everyday membership, despite the participation of girlfriends and wives in cadavre exquis. 17

This unique woman, at once carnal and artificial, natural and human, casts the same spell as the equivocal objects dear to Surrealists: she is the spoon-shoe, the table-wolf, the marble-sugar that the poet finds at the flea market or invents in dream…

-Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex, 1949

Here, with the cadavre’s return, women artists play in near equal numbers to men. Her body moves outside the bounds of a privileged male gaze, into the realm of a desiring or defiant female subject. Pantyhose legs contributed by Maureen Connor run to exhaustion and snarl with rebellious savagery. A simple slit cut through a torso-section by Siobhan Liddell turns up the acme fetish of castrating female. And there are abundant snippets from stories of “O,” among them David Humphrey’s girlish inquiry (p.42). On the other hand, many depictions comply with a traditional feminine cast. Within the framework of cadavre exquis,  these old parts were often handled to critical or comic effect. In a drawing by artists Bradley Rubenstein, Andrea Champlin, and Daniel Wasserman, a sinuously turning odalisque spins to a halt between her blandly bisexual head and jerry-rigged spring base.

Sex, difference, death, beauty, birth, and ugliness, are embodied by this grotesquely gorgeous being whose vertiginous flip-flops between male and female, animal and object, culture and nature, sensual and cerebral, confound readings based on reason. Leading well beyond the point sublime, or bypassing it entirely, there is no svelte zeitgeist lurking within “The Return of the Cadavre Exquis,” though there are plenty of demons. Preying on the bugbears of an exclusive and synthetic approach to art, this inclusive body of work culminates in the antithesis of modernist principles. Collective and complicated, as opposed to singular and reductive, the cadavre exquis transgresses against the traditionally masculine construct of modernism and listens for a postmodern feminine ideal.



  1. Benjamin, quoted in Susan Buck-Morss, "The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project" (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1991), p. 275
  2. The first exhibition of "cadavre exquis" was held in October 1927 at la Galerie surréaliste in Paris. Breton's account of the invention of the game appears as the catalogue text for the next important text for the next important exhibition held at galerie La Dragonne, Paris, in October 1948. This text was reprinted for the occasion of an exhibition of historic "cadavres exquis" held at Galleria Schwartz in Milan in 1975. More recently, "cadavres exquis" were included in "Inventions Surréalistes: Collages, Frottages, Fumages, Cadavres Exquis" presented at Isidore Ducasse Fine Arts, New York, 1992.
  3. For firsthand accounts see, André Breton, "Le cadavre exquis: son exaltation" (Milan: Chez Arturo Schwartz, 1975), and Cynthia Jaffee McCabe, "Artistic Collaboration in the Twentieth Century" (Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984).
  4. As William Rubin points out, it was William Lieberman who identified the origins of the words 'surrealism' in Apollinaire's text for the program of Diaghilev's ballet, 'Parade.' See William Rubin, "Dada, Surrealism, and their Heritage" (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1968), p. 192
  5. See Julien Levy, "Surrealism" (New York: The Black Sun Press, 1936), p.4
  6. Quoted in Bertram Wolfe, 'Rise of Another Rivera,' "Vogue", November 1, 1938, p. 64
  7. For an exemplary discussion of Bataille's surrealism, see Rosalind Krauss, in "L'Amour Fou: Surrealism and Photography" (Washington, D.C.: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1985).
  8. Georges Bataille, quoted in Denis Hollier, "Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille", Betsy Wing, trans. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1989), p. 30
  9. See Mel Gooding, ed., "Surrealist Games" (Boston: Shambhala Redstone Editions, 1993). This instructive, boxed compilation documents the history, rules, and results of surrealist games and collaborative techniques.
  10. John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, "A Theory of Play and Economic Behavior" (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1964)
  11. This excerpt is from Breton's only essay on games; quoted in Gooding, ed., "Surrealist Games", p. 137
  12. René Magritte, 'The Five Commandments,' quoted in Lucy Lippard, ed., "Surrealists on Art" (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1970), p. 155
  13. According to "Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary" , one definition of collaboration is 'to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one's country and esp. an occupying force.'
  14. Verbal and visual examples of "cadavres exquis" were first published anonymously in "la Révolution surréaliste", October 1, 1927. Both appear intermittently throughout the text.
  15. André Breton, quoted in Dawn Ades, "Photomontage" (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1976), p. 115.
  16. Erwin Panofsky, "Meaning in the Visual Arts" (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1955), p. 190
  17. Breton, quoted in Whitney Chadwick, "Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement" (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1985), p. 27