Type of Document Dissertation Author Heuer, Elizabeth Barnhart Author's Email Address firstname.lastname@example.org URN etd-11102008-141907 Title Going Postal: Surrealism and the Discourses of Mail Art Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Art History, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Karen A. Bearor Committee Chair Adam Jolles Committee Member Roald Nasgaard Committee Member Neil Jumonville Outside Committee Member Keywords
- Mail Art
- Boite Alerte
- Postman Cheval
Date of Defense 2008-09-23 Availability unrestricted Abstract
The chief objective of this study is to examine how the French surrealists responded to the discourses of the post and to position the surrealists as early practitioners of mail art. References to the mail, its system and ephemera pervade early modernist art movements, such as futurism, dadaism, and surrealism. However, the term “mail art” is most commonly associated with the movement portrayed as having been pioneered in the 1950s by U.S. artist Ray Johnson. As a result, the critical literature on mail art generally overlooks the complexities and sophistication with which early modern artists viewed the conventions of postal practice.
The broader goal of this study is to reconsider mail art as a new genre that cuts across early modernism as well as postwar art movements. The development of this modern communication, and its innovations, provided artists with a radical new aesthetic, resulting in news ways of thinking about art and new forms of creative expression.
The modern post created new relays of communication and established new systems of exchange and material ephemera. As postal materials engaged early modernist interests in collage and word-and-image play, the system itself introduced conceptual art processes. In this regard, the development of modern postal communication, and its innovations, allowed artists to subvert conventional relationships between artist and viewer, thus sidestepping the gallery system. Further, the post established a space for social dissent and revolution that appealed to the artistic avant-garde.
This dissertation addresses early modernist dialogues with the post by considering the production of specific postal works in the surrealist oeuvre, such as Max Ernst’s The Facteur Cheval (1932), Georges Hugnet’s Guaranteed Surrealist Postcard Series (1937), and Mimi Parent’s Bôite Alerte (1959). I demonstrate how the surrealists utilized the post, its space and materials for their own aesthetic and ideological concerns. Providing the first critical investigation into the relationship between fine art and the post, this study also intends to serve as an impetus for further inquiry within the field.
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