War and Exile

In autumn 1939 he organized the International Surrealist Exhibition in the Galería de Arte Mexicano together with the Peruvian poet César Moro, which opened in January 1940 in the new gallery rooms of Ines Amor. In April 1940 he showed his great Fumages and new experimental work, close to abstraction, in New York at Julien Levy gallery with great success. Reporters witness that Paalen at a certain point switched out the light and walked around with a burning candle during the opening, gathered by young American painters such as Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes and Gerome Kamrowski. Neither in Mexico, nor in New York he came in contact to Leon Trotsky or his assistant Jean van Heijenoort (who then was living in New York), albeit the commendatory letter, Breton had written already in Paris, hoping that Paalen would continue the contact, he had established during his trip to Mexico in 1938. Paalen justified his refusal in a letter to Breton with his general critique on the pseudo-religious paternal fixations of the Surrealists who, in his opinion, didn´t dispose of the means to find other ways out of the spiritual hole, the crisis of Marxism has left in their minds, than to look for new political fathers. Back in Mexico he broke up with his former friends Diego Rivera and ‘Frida Kahlo’ across political opinions concerning their hard line in communism after the assassination of Leon Trotsky and their return to an open adoration of Joseph Stalin. More and more isolated from the Mexican intellectual leftists, he held an open household for European and American visitors, such as Roberto Matta, Robert Motherwell, Gordon Onslow Ford, Benjamin Péret, Remedios Varo, Esteban Francés as well as refugees from the stalinist terror, like Gustav Regler and Victor Serge. He helped to organize immigration visas for the surrealists in Vichy-France through the Union Mexico-Francia and Julien Levy. During his first period of exile, Paalen concentrated on the verbalization of his ideas on art and, apart from occasional visits to New York, experimented secretly, in his studio in San Ángel, in a new style on pictorial space.


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