Surrealism at Play

Susan Laxton

In Surrealism at Play Susan Laxton writes a new history of surrealism in which she traces the centrality of play to the movement and its ongoing legacy. For surrealist artists, play took a consistent role in their aesthetic as they worked in, with, and against a post-World War I world increasingly dominated by technology and functionalism. Whether through exquisite-corpse drawings, Man Ray’s rayographs, or Joan Miró’s visual puns, surrealists became adept at developing techniques and processes designed to guarantee aleatory outcomes. In embracing chance as the means to produce unforeseeable ends, they shifted emphasis from final product to process, challenging the disciplinary structures of industrial modernism. As Laxton demonstrates, play became a primary method through which surrealism refashioned artistic practice, everyday experience, and the nature of subjectivity.

Laxton cover


  • $27.95 paper, 978-1-4780-0307-6
  • $104.95 cloth, 978-1-4780-0196-6
  • $27.95 ebook
  • 384 pages
  • 170 illus., including 16-page color insert, 7 x 10 in.

about the author

Susan Laxton is associate professor of art history at the University of California, Riverside. Her interests range across the alternative art practices introduced by the European avant-gardes of the 20th century, among them photography, collage, photomontage, and automatic or chance-based processes – all practices that emphatically challenged the conventions of traditional mediums like sculpture and painting. Photography, as a medium simultaneously engaged with technology, mass media, documentation and art, has been central to her understanding of modern and contemporary art as both a model for and challenge to the visual arts from the medium’s inception to its digital present. Professor Laxton has received fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton University, and the Hellman Foundation. Her work has appeared in such publications as October and Critical Inquiry, and in numerous catalogs and edited volumes. Professor Laxton is currently at work on two new manuscripts: Photography Between Mind and Brain, and From Spirit to Unconscious: Arp, Schad and Serner before Dada.