Well, I thought, this’ll be interesting. Who better to have an anthropological study of than the Surrealists? But, yes, it is that Desmond Morris, he of The Naked Ape.
The success of that book, his extensive television career and the fact that, at the age of 90, he is less prominent in public view, has drawn something of a veil over his life as a Surrealist painter himself. The last survivor of the original movement, this is the inside story of Magritte, Miró and May Ray as well as names not always associated: Picasso, Moore or Bacon.
The book itself does pretty much what it says. It is a collection of biographies, all of them relatively short and, as Morris says in his foreword, focussing on lives rather than work. Valuable as it is, this is something of a shame, as a view of interactions, philosophies and working methods would have been welcome from the insider point of view. Yes, this ground has been trodden so heavily that it’s practically tarmacked, but Morris has what is now a unique perspective, both from where he was (a Surrealist) and where he is now (a viewer from the historical perspective) and an account of that must surely have had considerable value.
Nevertheless, this is what it is and it’s very good at that. Concise, factual, witty and entertaining, it’s a thumping good read and still presents a viewpoint you won’t get anywhere else.
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