top of page

Surrealism and The Exquisite Corpse


by Elliott King


In his 1924 Manifeste du surréalisme, the poet André Breton defined surrealism as a philosophical approach to life: “Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought.” Unlike many of the so-called “isms” of art history, surrealist art is not a readily identifiable formalist category but the heterogeneous product of surrealists employing visual techniques as methods of expressing and ultimately liberating, in the language of the Manifeste du surréalisme, “the true functioning of thought.” Surrealist techniques differ across time and geography, but from collage to decalcomania to critical-paranoia, all in some way celebrate the unforeseen, astounding image – the “marvelous” result of “previously neglected associations.”

Amongst the most popular examples of the surrealists’ enduring enthusiasm for automatism, chance, and collective experience is the cadavre exquis. Cadavre exquis, or “exquisite corpse,” was a game invented in 1925 by Yves Tanguy, Jacques Prévert, André Breton, and Marcel Duchamp, and it is usually played by three or four players. Traditionally, a piece of paper is folded as many times as there are participants, and in the writing variant, which preceded its visual equivalent, each participant writes a part of a sentence – for example, an adjective, noun, verb, or adverb. The phrase is revealed at the end as an unpredictable “poem” generated by multiple voices (the game’s name derives from one of its first products, “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine”). According to Simone Kahn, when the game was first played, André Breton “shouted with joy”; even more so than with automatic writing, we were sure of getting an astonishing amalgam.” A drawing game followed, by which a piece of paper again is folded, and each player draws part of a figure and covers it up for the next player so that the final composition can be revealed at the end.

Though their products may appear comedic, surrealist “games of chance” were not intended as mere recreations. Recalling the movement’s aspirations to “transform the world” (after Marx) and “change life” (after Rimbaud), these are poetic activities that deliberately uncover stimulating, perturbing visual and verbal combinations. As Louis Aragon described collage more generally, these hybrid figures are “machine[s] to destabilize the mind.”

As we near the 100th anniversary of the Manifeste du surréalisme in 2024, it is worth celebrating the many ways surrealism continues to inspire through its unfettered exaltation of the unexpected. Surrealist vision productively challenges status quo systems and approaches to daily life. Particularly in a world only just recovering from a global pandemic (and remembering that surrealism emerged in the wake of its own Great Influenza pandemic that infected an estimated 33% of the population), the fragmented character of the cadavre exquis may invoke, for some, bodies broken by war and disease. However, these figures are also hopeful: As a collective process, they bring to mind the tangible physical connections that were impossible for many just a few years ago, as well as unforeseen and exciting new paths for shared exploration and adventure.

Elliott King

Lexington, Virginia

November 2023

 We Drink the Wine for a Second Time

The Exquisite Corpse II

curated by Deanna Sirlin 


As the year of 2023 begins to draw to a close, I felt it was a moment when artists could collaborate on a second rendition of the Exquisite Corpse. I invited thirty-three artists to collaborate to create eleven bodies. The artists come from many perspectives; there are sculptors, photographers, conceptual artists, performance artists, painters, digital artists, abstractionists, writers and video artists. These artists are at different points in their respective careers as well as geographically in their respective longitudes and latitudes. The processes were diverse as well—a writer collaborated with another artist; the conceptual artist included his genome in his body part—but the coming together created surprises and bodies that are as unexpected and wonderful as the process itself.


Two artists from the initial invitation could not participate as one was ill and another was traveling – so Phil Auslander and I jumped in and contributed a torso and legs and feet, and joined the other artist participants in this surrealist exhibition.

My gratitude to all the artists,

Deanna Sirlin

Atlanta, Georgia

November 2023

The Artists


Steven L Anderson, Philip Auslander, Susan Bee, Ivy Brenneman, Emily Berger, Jessica Caldas, Philip Carpenter,

David Clifton-Strawn, Susan A. Cipcic, Lesley Dill, Craig Dongoski, Thomas Eller, Darya Fard, Shanequa Gay,

Iva Gueorguieva, Cheryl Goldsleger, Laura Gurton, Edward Austin Hall, Roxane Hollosi, José Heerkens,

Marikke Heinz-Hoek, Jane Jaskevich, Nimet Keser, Pam Longobardi, Joanne Mattera,

Tracy Murrell, Daniel Pettrow, Nicolette Reim, Jena Sibille, Deanna Sirlin,

Martha Whittington, Kristan Woolford, Amy Namowitz Worthen

Head: Jane Jaskevich, Weaverville, North Carolina

Torso: Susan Bee, Brooklyn, New York

Legs: Jena Sibille, Atlanta, Georgia

Head: Cheryl Goldsleger, Athens, Georgia

Torso: Roxane Hollosi, Atlanta, Georgia

Legs: Deanna Sirlin, Atlanta, Georgia

EC-Z copy.jpg

Head: Tracy Murrell, Atlanta, Georgia

Torso: Laura Gurton, Northampton, Massachusetts

Legs: Nimet Keser, Adana, Turkey

Head: José Heerkens, Zeeland, The Netherlands

Torso: Emily Berger, Brooklyn, New York

Legs: Kristan Woolford, Atlanta, Georgia


Head: Thomas Eller, Mürsbach, Germany 

Torso: Phil Auslander, Atlanta, Georgia

Legs: Jessica Caldas, Atlanta, Georgia

EC-DDDD copy.jpg

Head: Susan A. Cipcic, Clarkston, Georgia

Torso: Amy Namowitz Worthen, Des Moines, Iowa and Venice, Italy

Legs: Craig Dongoski, Atlanta, Georgia

Head: Shanequa Gay, Atlanta, Georgia

Torso: Darya Fard, Atlanta, Georgia

Legs: Martha Whittington, Decatur, Georgia

EC-YYY copy.jpg

Head: Joanne Mattera, New York, New York

Torso: Nicolette Reim, New York, New York

Legs: Iva Gueorguieva, Los Angeles, California

Head: Philip Carpenter, Atlanta, Georgia

Torso: Pam Longobardi, Atlanta, Georgia

Legs: Marikke Heinz-Hoek, Bremen, Germany

Head: David Clifton-Strawn, Atlanta, Georgia

Torso: Steven L Anderson, Atlanta, Georgia

Legs: Ivy Brenneman, Ogden, Utah

Head: Daniel Pettrow, New York, New York

Torso: Lesley Dill, New York, New York

Legs: Edward Austin Hall with Susan A. Cipcic, Atlanta, Georgia


Elliott King is an Associate Professor of Art History at Washington and Lee University, where he specializes in Salvador Dalí and surrealism. He is currently Vice President of the International Society for the Study of Surrealism and Reviews Co-Editor of

The International Journal of Surrealism.

Elliott King

DS by M Thomas 2 copy_edited.jpg

Deanna Sirlin is an artist and writer from Brooklyn, New York currently living and working outside of Atlanta, Georgia. 

She is Editor-in-Chief of The Art Section.

Deanna Sirlin

bottom of page