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Accommodations of Desire: Surrealist Works on Paper
Mina Loy, Surreal Scene, n.d. Collage on painted background, 12 5/8 x 9 1/2 in. Courtesy of the Jean Farley Levy Estate © Estate of Mina Loy.

SACRAMENTO, CA.-The Crocker Art Museum presents Accommodations of Desire: Surrealist Works on Paper Collected by Julien Levy, on view through September 11, 2005. Encounters with the subconscious mind, the lyric, disturbing and sometimes threatening images of Surrealism are often at their most immediate in works on paper. The more than 100 objects brought together in Accommodations of Desire: Surrealist Works on Paper Collected by Julien Levy allow us to explore the artistic movement through the eyes of one of the key figures in the art world—a dealer and collector who introduced Surrealist artists to the United States at his Manhattan gallery. Levy’s vast personal collection of drawings, collages, prints, watercolors and photographs showcase the unique visions of Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Joseph Cornell, Dorothea Tanning and numerous others. A champion of Surrealism, Levy not only exhibited and sold Surrealist works but also developed close friendships with many artists.

The Julien Levy Gallery opened with a show of Max Ernst’s work in 1931, heralding the shift of the avant-garde from Paris to New York. By 1949, when the gallery ceased operations, New York was firmly the new center of the art world. Levy’s pivotal role in this shift is unquestioned: others called him “militant” about Surrealism as he promoted not only painters like Ernst and Dalí but also filmmakers such as Luis Buñuel and photographers Eugène Atget, Brassaï, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, André Kertész and Dora Maar. Surrealism’s most important works passed through Levy’s hands, including Dalí’s painting Accommodations of Desire, which was one of his cherished possessions.

Desire was a central theme to the Surrealists and to Levy: psychosexual desire, desire of friendship, desire to own. Levy’s intimacy with the movement is documented by the objects he selected from artists’ studios, and by the personal inscriptions found on many of the works. The casual flow of subliminal ideas and emotions is captured in highly finished drawings, informal collages and a thoughtful character study on a paper napkin. Levy’s ambitions for the artists he exhibited assumed many forms as he promoted Surrealist films, a Surrealist history, and even a Surrealist fun house for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. As guest curator Ingrid Schaffner writes in the exhibition catalogue, “Levy not only sold Surrealism, he lived it.”

In addition to drawings, watercolors and collages, the exhibition, like the Julien Levy Gallery itself, includes a special focus on photography. A protégé of the great photography dealer Alfred Stieglitz, Levy opened his gallery in part to promote the Surrealist lens. The photographs in the exhibition, by congenial artists like Cartier-Bresson and Kertész, as well as the more introverted Dora Maar and Roger Parry, articulate Surrealism’s psychological complexity. The eccentric, sometimes humorous juxtapositions in these images form a counterpoint to those in the drawings: though we do not see the labor of the artist’s hand, the same Surrealist view is condensed to an unforgettable moment in time.

Accommodations of Desire: Surrealist Works on Paper Collected by Julien Levy is organized by Ingrid Schaffner and Colin Westerbeck.The works on paper in this exhibition are lent courtesy the Jean Farley Levy Estate. The photographs in this exhibition are lent courtesy David Raymond, New York.

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