The Surrealist Salon came about as a collaboration between three UMF classes, Elizabeth Olbert’s art class Contemporary Surrealism, Steven Pane’s Improvising Music course, and Michael Johnson’s course on the literature of the 1920s. Salons, at which artists, musicians, writers, and intellectuals gathered to share work and to talk about art and ideas, were central to European and American culture of the 1920s (and, in prohibition-era America, the promise of illegal alcohol was an added attraction to the Salon experience). The Salon, by its very nature, was what we now call “interdisciplinary,” as was the artistic movement known as surrealism, which first flourished in the 1920s in visual arts, literature, music, and film, and which continues to be an influence on contemporary artists.

Surrealist artists broke away from the conventions of realism and rejected reason and rationality as a grounds for artwork. Surrealists works were often experimental, sometimes dreamlike, and often intended to shock. Surrealist writers emphasized the role of accident in the production literature. They would sometimes produce poems by cutting out words from a newspaper and then drawing the words out of a hat to create a brief poem (“Know that / the violet rays / have finished their task / short and sweet”).

Surrealists also invented a game called “exquisite corpse,” in which members of a group create a sentence or a story, with each member contributing a sentence or word without knowing what has been written before or what will follow after. By folding over the paper, earlier writing is hidden from view, a technique that can also be used with drawing. Both versions of the game were played at the Surrealist Salon.

As Surrealism envisions art as something everyone can and should do, the Surrealist Salon followed this participatory principle by requiring guests who attended the Salon to make their own tickets, which were then collected and displayed.

Students from the Contemporary Surrealism class made the artworks that were on display at the Gallery during the Salon, which included performance art, “balloon” art (which was also a word game), and food art (which was edible and mostly eaten by the end of the Salon). Students from Improvising Music performed throughout the Salon. The literature students read scenes from Carl Van Vechten’s 1930 novel Parties, which has several scenes set at salons and speakeasies.

Tickets made by guests for admission to the salon:





Rebecca Seidel coordinates the exquisite corpse game


The balloon word game:
create sentences by picking up balloons


The Salon’s Town Crier (aka Josh) read the results of one of the Exquisite Corpse games:
She smiled at the caterpillar as it inched up the tree. An odd little vacuum bag stripped of allergen filters wheezed, “I cannot count the stars, and that keeps me check.” And tried again–once when I tried the clarity came and ate my lunch. Now how do you write this sentence? Simple, you just can’t put away sounds of today are filled with bangs, woos, and then shuuuush!  The air cracked open and sputtered with an old cough like a deserted handkerchief. Bunnies meandered by the thin light. They run loosely like antelopes with broken legs. Those wild ones like to dance the night away without any care within themselves.


Evan Whitehead, Nicole Doyle, and David Bersell read from Carl Van Vechten’s Parties


Salon guests listen to the reading of Parties


Ty Thurlow and David Bersell read from Parties


Poet, lobsterman, and postman
Appall Eeh! N’er delivered
letters to the Salon guests,
each letter containing
a short poem

(“Sous le pont Farmington coule la
Sandy River / L’amours’en va
comme cette eau courante”)


Salon guest and famous artist, Frida Kahlo, read a poem for the other guests


The Salon was always in motion, as guests moved from one area of the gallery to another, and from one exhibit, event, performance, game to another.


One of the student artworks on exhibit: a kaleidoscope


The Great Wall of Wafers


Students from the Improvising Music class


Pouting indeed!


Rebecca Seidel, leading a round of exquisite corpse