An itinerant Surrealist active in Paris, New York, and Mexico City, Wolfgang Paalen is perhaps best known for his invention of fumage, the experimental technique used to create the image here. Named for the French word for smoke, fumée, the technique was a way to relinquish authorial control by painting not with brushes, but rather with candle flames placed near a freshly prepared surface. When the smoke collects on the support, the resulting image evokes any number of associations—from passing clouds or air currents to intangible, otherworldly spirits. The title of this piece alludes particularly to the interconnection of creative and destructive natural processes. Autophagy is an ancient Greek word for eating one’s own body, while fulgurites are crystalline tubes created when lightning strikes the Earth and transforms grains of sand into twisting crusts of glass. When Paalen fled Europe a year later, he took this work with him to New York, exhibiting it at the Julien Levy Gallery. Fledgling Abstract Expressionists Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, and Jackson Pollock saw it there. Although Paalen stayed in the United States for only a short time before immigrating to Mexico, he was instrumental in introducing Surrealist automatism to the New York avant-garde.
Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.
André Breton, Exposition Wolfgang Paalen, exh. cat. (Galerie Renou et Colle, 1938), cat. Fumages 2 (as Fulgurites).
“Guggenheim Jeune: Wolfgang Paalen Catalogue,” in London Bulletin II, No. 10 (Feb. 1939): p. 5, cat. Fumages 2 (as Fulgurites).
Surrealist Paintings by Wolfgang Paalen: Revolver “Genius of the Species,” exh. brochure (Julien Levy Gallery, 1940), (as Fumages).
Andreas Neufert, “El ser no fáctico,” in Andreas Neufert, La belleza será convulsive o no será: André Breton y la dialéctica del amor y de la muerte, exh. cat. (Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, 1996), p. 66 (ill).
Andreas Neufert, Wolfgang Paalen: Im Inneren Wals, Monographie-Schriften-Oeuvrekatalog (Springer, 1999), pp. 118 (ill.); 301 (ill.), cat. 38.06.
Wolfgang Paalen: Implicit Spaces, exh. cat. (Frey Norris Gallery, 2007), pp. 22-23, cat. 8 (color ill.).
Key Heymre, Susanne Rennert, and Beat Wismer, eds., Le grand geste! Informel und Abstrakter Expressionismus, 1946-1964, exh. cat. (Museum Kunst Palast, 2010), n.p., cat. 94 (color ill.); p. 346.
Josefa Ortega, México abstracto: la colección del Museo de Arte Moderno en el espíritu de una época (1950–1979), exh. cat. (Museo de Arte Moderno, 2009), p. 33, fig. 26 (color ill.).
Paris, Galerie Renou et Colle, Exposition Wolfgang Paalen, June 21–July 5, 1938, cat. Fumages 2 (as Fulgurites).
New York, Julien Levy Gallery, Surrealist Paintings by Wolfgang Paalen: Revolver, “Genius of the Species,” Apr.9–22, 1940 (as Fumages).
San Francisco, Frey Norris Gallery, Wolfgang Paalen: Implicit Spaces, May 17–July 12, 2007, cat. 8.
Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, Le grand geste! Informel und Abstrakter Expressionismus, 1946–1964, Apr. 10–Aug. 1, 2010, cat. 94.
Probably sold by the artist to Geo (Georgette) Dupin, Paris [according to an email from Raman Frey of Frey Norris to Stephanie D’Alessandro dated May 5, 2011 on the basis of communication with the Paalen Archiv, copy in curatorial file]; sold to Andreas Neufert, Berlin and Munich, 1980s [according to the email cited above]; sold through Frey Norris Gallery to the Art Institute, 2011.
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