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May 03 2018

How Native Alaskan Culture Influenced Surrealist Masters

Galerie Magazine

Margaret Carrigan of Galerie Magazine reviews Moon Dancers: Yup’ik Masks and the Surrealists. Few recognize the fundamental influence of Native American art on the avant-garde, the author notes. This 'extensively researched and visually stunning exhibition’ sheds light on ‘a long-overlooked cultural exchange between Native Alaskan Culture and Surrealist Masters.’

The exhibition features sixteen rare Yup’ik dance masks alongside paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs by leading Surrealist artists including Leonora Carrington, Max Ernst, André Breton, Victor Brauner, Kay Sage, and Roberto Matta. Seeking exile in the United States in the 1930’s and ‘40s, these artists found spiritual solace and a powerful new visual language in Yup’ik ceremonial dance masks.

Exploring their interests in mysticism, dreams, and the subconscious, many Surrealist artists were avid collectors of Native American art. ‘Moon Dancers: Yup’ik Masks and the Surrealists reunites many of the masks—which were owned by Breton, Enrico Donati, and Kay Sage, and other Surrealists— for the first time since they were divvied up among private collections and institutions after the artists’ deaths,’ the author applauds. 

For Donald Ellis, the Yup’ik masks have their own agency within art history. ‘These objects have so much beauty and power beyond the Surrealists,’ he says. ‘I look at the mask that Enrico Donati used to own displayed next to his painting Medisance de l’air and think not about how the artist looked at the mask, but about how the mask watched the artist paint that picture.’

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