Undercover

Paris in the late 1920s was the intellectual and artistic heart of Europe. Surrealism was the dominant avant-garde movement: jazz and talkies had just arrived, and a new world culture seemed in the making.

Georges Bataille’s magazine Documents, which ran from 1929 to 1930, confronted this moment head-on, with a radical questioning of Western values, of notions of the primitive, of ritual, popular culture and the whole edifice of high art.Documents juxtaposed art, ethnography, archaeology and popular culture in such a way that conventional notions of ‘primitive’ and ‘ideal’ were overturned, as sacrifice was linked to the slaughterhouse and pilgrimage to Hollywood.

Bataille, an influential philosopher, writer and erotic novelist, described himself as Surrealism’s ‘enemy from within’. His dark, materialist vision of human desires and his radical pessimism challenged the idealism of the Surrealists.

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This subversive climate is recaptured at the Hayward Gallery this Summer with masterpieces by Picasso, Miró, Masson, Dalí and Giacometti, as well as photographs by Boiffard and Blossfeldt.

The principle of juxtaposition, of the unexpected visual links that animated Documents, are played out throughout the exhibition with startling confrontations bewteen Hollywood film and Picass’s Three Dancers, photographs of Parisian slaughterhouses and Masson’s paintings, and the new sounds of Duke Ellington and Igor Stravinsky.