Short Features

Curating, Conservation, Surrealism

Minotaure Journal Conservation

Detail of Minotaure, number 8. Cover by Salvador Dalí

The Surrealist periodical Minotaure was an important vehicle for emerging artists of the 1930s, including Salvador Dalí. With the The Secret of the Hanging Egg exhibition bringing an important work by Dalí to the Menil, curator Clare Elliott worked closely with the Menil Library and the Menil conservation department to bring out more evidence of Dalí’s close participation with the Surrealists.

In the early 20th century reviews and journals were the primary means for artists, critics, and writers to exchange ideas and to circulate their artwork to a larger community. The journal became the primary vehicle for establishing the identity of the Surrealist movement. André Breton positioned himself as its head with the 1924 publication of the Surrealist Manifesto (Manifest de surrealism), in which he officially broke with the Dada movement and gave his alternative movement a name, a definition, and a leader.

Shortly after his Surrealist manifesto, Breton launched La revolution surrealiste, which he published irregularly until December 1929. Among the frequent contributors were Louis Aragon, Robert Desnos, and Paul Eluard. Work by numerous Surrealist artists were illustrated, including Hans Arp, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, René Magritte, and Joan Miró. La revolution surrealiste was succeeded by Le surrealism au service de la revolution from 1930 to 1933. As the title implies, the latter was more overtly political than the first, in keeping with Breton’s evolving agenda for the group. Documents, a periodical unaffiliated with Breton, gave voice to artists and writers who did not embrace Breton’s program.

In 1933 Albert Skira, a publisher of premium art books, proposed to Breton a new periodical, this one significantly more lavish than its predecessors. Although scandalous in content, La Revolution surrealiste and Le Surrealism au service de la revolution had been conventional-looking in terms of design; their emphasis was on text, and while illustrations were numerous, they were often of mediocre quality. In contrast Minotaure was larger, longer, and featured technically superior illustrations both in black and white and in color. While the journal covered most of the same material—art, poetry, philosophy, and cinema—Skira explicitly forbade Breton from using it to express his political views. Despite the desperate economic climate, Minotaure was published with Breton as co-editor from June 1933 to February 1939. Each of the 13 issues featured full-color, artist-designed covers. Artists who contributed cover designs included Max Ernst, René Magritte, André Masson, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso, as well as artists not typically associated with the group such as Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, and Diego Rivera. Minotaure was an important vehicle for many artists emerging in the 1930s, including Salvador Dalí. In addition to designing the cover of the 1936 issue, Dalí wrote for eight of the thirteen volumes.

As one of the prime points of collaboration between the members of the movement, Surrealist journals illustrate the ongoing interchange of ideas and collaborations among those artists and writers. Dalí was based in Barcelona and therefore at a remove from the center of Surrealist activity until the spring of 1929, when went to Paris to film Un chien andalou. At that point Dalí was quickly accepted by Breton and became an influential actor on the Surrealist stage. The final issue of La Revolution surrealiste, December 1929, reproduced two of Dalí’s paintings. From then until 1936 he was a regular contributor to Le Surrealism au service de la revolution and Minotuare. Among the evidence of Dalí’s close participation with the Surrealists in the Menil Collection’s The Secret of the Hanging Egg exhibition, Minatoure, with its impressive illustrations, provides the most striking example. Uncovering objects that might otherwise remain hidden is a goal for almost all exhibitions.

The Menil Collection holds twelve Minotaure issues that had been damaged when given library bindings—their original spines were removed and sewing holes introduced. Additionally, they showed natural wear and tear typically sustained by periodicals. In order to display the Minotaure journal issue number eight with this cover by Dalí, the volumes had to be carefully dis-bound.

Under the supervision of Menil conservator of works of art on paper Jan Burandt, volunteer intern Grace Walters treated this copy of Minotaure for display in the exhibition. The conservation studio at the Menil Collection has a history of supporting aspiring conservators as they gain necessary experience prior to entry to graduate programs in art conservation, and Grace was a pre-program volunteer.

After removing the journal’s binding, Grace reconstructed a new functional spine that matched the original design. In order to make this repair, she split the paper of the cover and inserted the edge of the new spine between the layers. A tear in the cover was repaired and surface losses retouched in a way that reintegrated the image and masked the damage while respecting the artifactuality of the periodical. The work resulted in an issue of Minotaure that now provides an aesthetic contribution to our collection and allows the public to see evidence of Dalí’s contributions to the Surrealist movement.

Related exhibitions

Nov 5, 2015 – Jun 19, 2016
Main Building
The Secret of the Hanging Egg: Salvador Dalí at the Menil