Surrealism and Money: Dealers, Collectors, and Gallerists

Surrealism and Money: Dealers, Collectors, and Gallerists

Great artists make great dealers—this is what Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler is said to have once claimed. But, contrary to this, wasn’t it in fact art dealers who produced the great artists of the avant-garde? “Que serions-nous devenus si Kahnweiler n’avait pas eu le sens des affaires?” (Who would we have become if Kahnweiler hadn’t had a nose for business?), confessed Picasso and, in doing so, attributed the gallerist a decisive role in his artistic and, consequently, material success. In the case of Surrealism, however, this theory does not seem to be true. One searchers in vain for the one gallery or the one art dealer who could have assumed a monopolistic position in Surrealist art similar to Kahnweiler’s, who, in the 1910s and 20s, led to the success of Cubism with the Galerie Simon or who paved the way for Expressionism with Herwarth Walden’s Galerie Der Sturm.    

The absence of a dominant gallerist indeed seems to be a constitutive component of the system with which, under the aegis of André Breton, Surrealism asserted itself in a significant way as the “other” international avant-garde. From the very beginning, the protagonists of Parisian Surrealism focused on an autonomous marketing and economic success strategy, which involved the design of the exhibition catalogs, the journal as an ideological and artistic platform, but also the public impact of advertising, vernissages, and spectacular exhibition displays.    

A systematic analysis of the commercial channels and networks that constituted Surrealism from a cultural, art, and economic historical perspective as one of the major avant-gardes of the twentieth century is long over due. What role did the art market play in the establishment of Surrealism as an international avant-garde? Who were the actors, platforms, and media involved in its marketing and self-marketing? How did the works of artists such as Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, and Yves Tanguy become sought-after pieces for museums and collectors, first in the United States and subsequently in Europe? And how did the Surrealists position themselves in relation to the commercial and, in their eyes, capitalist system of the art market? The international research project will systematically explore all Surrealist exhibitions, reconstruct the networks of its gallerists and dealers, and trace the artworks’ journeys. In this way, new insights can be gained into not only the genesis, history, and internationalization of Surrealism but also into artists’ economic situations and the strategies of their dealers in Europe and in American exile as well as into the museumization of Surrealist art. The gaps in the research will be filled in international workshops and conferences, university seminars and publications. Under the research direction of Julia Drost (DFK Paris), Fabrice Flahutez (Université Paris Nanterre), and Martin Schieder (Universität Leipzig), young researchers, in particular, will be introduced to the research on Surrealism situated between the worlds of art and commerce from an interdisciplinary perspective.

From 2015 to 2017, the project was partner of and co-funded by the Labex (Laboratory of Excellence in Arts and Human Mediations’ project) “Surrealism by Galleries, Collectors and Mediators”. Furthermore, the project was funded by the Terra Foundation of American Art and TIAMSA (The International Art Market Studies Association).


Colloquia and Events


« Le monde au temps des surréalistes »
Workshop at the DFK
Paris, 7 – 8 November 2014
Programm (PDF)


« Le surréalisme dans l’europe de l’entre-deux guerres »
Workshop at the DFK
Paris, 11 – 12 March 2016
Programm (PDF)

« Surréalisme et arts premiers »
Workshop at the  DFK
Paris, 10  – 11 October 2016
Programm (PDF)

« The Avant-Garde and its Networks »
Workshop at the Orient Institut Beirut
Beirut, 14 – 15 November 2016
Programm (PDF)


« Das Geschäft mit dem Wunderbaren »
Workshop at the DFK
Paris, 28 – 29 September 2017
Programm (PDF)

« Networks, Museums and Collections. Surrealism in the U.S. »
Workshop at the DFK
Paris, 27 – 29 November 2017
Call for Papers (PDF)


Dr. Julia Drost

Dr. Julia Drost

Research Director / Head of Young Researchers Programs
Phone +33 (0)1 42 60 67 97
Joseph Cornell, Surrealisme (Detail), 1931-32, Collage, (c)The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial foundation/ADAGP, Paris 2017