Whitney Biennial 2014
New York, NY
March 7 - May 26, 2014
The sculptures and set that form this tableau by Shana Lutker are based on research the artist conducted into a riotous fight that broke out during the 1926 premiere of Romeo and Juliet, a ballet produced by the famous Ballets Russes troop at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt in Paris. The fight was instigated by André Breton, the founder of the Surrealist movement.
For Breton, Surrealism’s avant-garde objectives—to channel the workings of the unconscious mind into art and literature—necessitated that it remain untethered to the prosaic influence of capitalism. So when Max Ernst and Joan Miro, artists associated with Surrealism, produced sets and costumes for Ballets Russes, which was commercially successful, Breton decided that he would take action. As the ballet began, Breton and his compatriots blew whistles, shouted inflammatory remarks, and threw hundreds of pamphlets titled “Protest” from the balconies. In response, the crowd turned on the Surrealists, attacking them. The police were quickly brought in to remove the protesters while the ballerinas and musicians did their best to continue performing.
Lutker’s sculptures are produced with a wide variety of materials and artistic techniques inspired by Breton’s First Surrealist Manifesto (1924) to embody formal and conceptual aspects of the tumultuous event. The way she positions them implies a performative space, as if each object was a ballerina on the stage or a Surrealist fighting off a member of the angry crowd. The sculptures grow directly from Ernst and Miro’s drawings for the ballet and photos of the production.
This installation is part of larger project by Lutker in which she is researching and producing work about the history of Surrealism, particularly the series of fistfights that occurred during the movement’s development in 1920s Paris.