In 1935, the American poet in Paris, Eugène Jolas, wrote in his avant-garde magazine Transition of a new literary form he dubbed the “paramyth”. “I conceive it as a sort of epic wonder tale,” he evangelised, “giving an organic synthesis of the individual and the universal unconscious, the dream, the daydream, the mystic vision.” Jolas distributed Transition through cult Left Bank bookshop Shakespeare and Company, printing radical texts by James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Franz Kafka and Ernest Hemingway and collaborating with Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Wassily Kandinsky and Max Ernst on cover art.
Now Paul Kasmin Gallery has taken Paramyths as the title for an exhibition of sculptures (from $300,000 to $3m) by Ernst – dada co-founder, surrealist lynchpin and one-time husband of the inimitable Peggy Guggenheim. The show (Thursday October 22 until Saturday December 5) in Manhattan’s Chelsea will be the first exhibition dedicated to Ernst’s sculptures alone – remarkable, considering Ernst’s status in modern art (he first exhibited in New York in 1932 and his 1959 MoMA retrospective included 20 sculptures, some of which can be seen at Paul Kasmin) and the unwaning popularity of surrealism.
All works in the show were made between 1934 and 1967, with bronze joining limestone as the artist’s dominant materials outside painting. The centrepiece will be La Plus Belle (first picture), a girlish limestone figure that’s 1.8m high, finished by Ernst in 1967 and shaped with the naïveté his gang all cribbed from tribal and outsider art. Another highlight is the chess set (second picture) he made for 1944 exhibition The Imagery of Chess at Julien Levy.
Enthusiasts will find the exhibition texts worth extra attention as they come from two authorities: a catalogue essay by Dr Michele Wijegoonaratna, research associate at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and exhibition labels by Jürgen Pech, curator of the Max Ernst Museum in Brühl, Germany, the artist’s birthplace.
Paramyths celebrates how Ernst represented the ideas of his time as sculpture. The works show the lasting charm of the European avant-garde’s simplistic forms. As Jolas outlined, they channel the same sort of timeless mythology that has followed Ernst and his milieu around for a hundred years.