Kurt Seligmann, Seer of Surrealism

Most of the surrealists had no solid academic training in the humanities or social sciences: they went to fine art schools, medical schools, or no school at all. This, however, did not prevent them from being avid and curious readers, field ethnologists, publishers, exhibition curators, critics, and avid collectors. None of them was as passionate about books as Kurt Seligmann, who became the magic expert of the group. The son of a Swiss furniture department store owner and a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1935 Kurt Seligmann married Arlette Paraf, from the wealthy and cosmopolitan Wildenstein family of art dealers. This enabled him to build a splendid library on the occult. As he collected, read, and learned, Seligmann began increasingly to write about magic in publications like View: The Modern Magazine. His articles were instrumental in linking surrealism with the New York avant-garde scene, and influenced young American painters like Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock.

This section shows how Seligmann’s activities as a bibliophile and as an artist were interwoven, and how his images often originated in his library, and then circulated in various forms and contexts.

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