Was it the Watergate Hearings in 1973, or the Clinton Impeachment in 1998? I can’t remember which. I do remember that sometime during the course of one of them, the national broadcaster announced that the proceedings were “surreal.” I wondered if the general public knew that the word derived from the art world and marveled that a term born in the obscurity of Parisian artistic café society had penetrated into the very fabric of American life. It was proof that art did indeed have an impact.
It was probably due in large part to Salvador Dali, whose public antics fascinated the national press. But there were many players in the surrealist fold, harbored under the rigid control of André Breton, who slashed and burned through his membership much like a strident dictator. Kurt Seligmann was one of these casualties. His expulsion from the ranks occurred after a Tarot reading between the two went south.
Seligmann was a player to be reckoned with in surrealist circles. He was not only an artist of merit, but also one of the world’s authorities on the magical arts, author of, “The Mirror of Magic” (Pantheon Books, 1948). He married well— partnering with Arlette Paraf, a niece of the founder of Wildenstein, one of the great galleries of the era with offices in Paris, London and New York. Their financial comfort assured that the two enjoyed wide travel, allowing Seligmann to explore his interest in the magical arts and tribal crafts of Mexico, the Southwest and British Columbia. Moreover, Seligmann was the first of the European surrealists to land on American shores before the advent of World War II, playing a significant role in securing safe passage to New York for this fellow surrealists, including Breton, where they rode out the war years and greatly influenced American art of the forties and fifties.