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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Magazine as surrealist object : VVV and the reanimation of a movement in New York during World War II Sterba, Anika


This thesis examines VVV, a surrealist review, commonly known as a “little magazine,” published in New York during World War II from 1942-44. Although VVV’s history charts connections among the mostly French and American artists, architects, collectors, and poets who produced it— including André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Roberto Matta, and Roger Caillois—my intent is to focus on the little magazine as an object that was formed, designed, and exchanged within the surrealist community at a time when the movement had dispersed across the Atlantic and was dying out. Just as the surrealists sought to consolidate their identity in exile, the political reality pulled them apart, threatening the foundation of their self-definition in sites where they had long sought to consolidate it: the surrealist little magazine, and the surrealist object. In this context, avant-garde publications were repeatedly discussed as if they were entities whose existence hovered between life and death, echoing the artists and poets’ precarious situation. If read in this way—as animate entities within the communities that produced them—the little magazine in general, and VVV in particular, can be seen as active participants within a disintegrating avant-garde network during the war. Framing the magazine as a surrealist object, I argue that the political tensions of an avant-garde community in exile during World War II are best read within the formal aspects of the magazine, and in the details of its production. Cover imagery, layout, choice and juxtaposition of content, as well as modes of financing, circulation and distribution the magazine reveal how the movement evolved from its radical pre-war political stance to one focused on the production of a media commodity funded and distributed by an art gallery. Ultimately the history of VVV offers a unique window into the current field of little magazine scholarship, by providing a transition from the predominantly literary scholarship on avant-garde magazines from the 19th through the early 20th centuries to the more recent interest in artist-run publications from the 1960s onwards. VVV allows an opening into this historical gap.

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