Emmanuel Di Donna is a co-owner of Blain Di Donna Gallery on Madison Avenue (in the Carlyle Hotel.) His show of André Masson’s work has just opened to huge interest just as a clutch of Masson works go up for sale tonight and tomorrow at Di Donna’s former haunt, Sotheby’s. Di Donna graciously answered a few questions that came to mind:
You opened Blain Di Donna gallery with a stunning Magritte show. And Surrealism has been re-emerging as an important category both art historically and in market terms. But why follow up with Masson who is not one of the most recognizable Surrealist names?
Surrealism has many facets. While Magritte and Tanguy may represent one aspect of this rich and varied movement, other artists like Masson, Ernst, and Miro exemplify another perception and expression of this poetic, mysterious and at times violent movement. Limiting the public’s perception of Surrealism to Magritte is reductive. Masson was a pioneer of the Surrealist movement, the inventor of the automatic drawing and painting technique so central to the Surrealist movement and what was to come in the postwar NY school of Abstract Expressionism.
Of the top 25 auction prices for Masson, 9 came in the last two years, including the €2.36m paid for 1939′s Gradiva in Paris in December of 2010 by the Centre Pompidou. What’s driving interest in Masson? Influential museum shows? New scholarship? An important tastemaker?
The circle of die-hard Masson collectors is expanding. With a few very good paintings coming to the market in the last couple of years, buyers of modern, Surrealist as well as Contemporary Art have started to appreciate the fascinating and rich language of Masson’s language.
Masson’s highest prices are clustered around the 1927 or 1939-43 with a few other works from the 30s. Is there a particular period of his work that you think is most important?
Masson has two distinct Surrealist periods, one culminating in 1927-28 and the other from 1938-42. Unlike Cubism, Surrealism is engaged in life and death, sex and the psyche, war and politics. I love the poetic, automatic paintings of 1927 which mix sand and sometimes collages of different elements to be pure and dream-like. I also find the violent colors and subject matters of the late 1930s to be absolutely passionate and compelling.
The press materials talk about a renewed commitment to Surrealism. Did Masson move in another direction in the late 20s and early 1930s?
Masson was not a follower but a pioneer and an explorer. While he was part of the Surrealist movement from the beginning, he pushed boundaries and fought with André Breton. He left the movement in 1928 only to come back with even more passion and creation in 1937.
Finally, there are three quite similar Masson works at Sotheby’s this week. One in the Evening sale and two in day sale.
Those paintings probably come from the same collection. They belong to a rarified group of works done in Spain in the mid-1930s, staging insects as a metaphor of the violence in Spain prior to its civil war.