Refugee Arturo Schwarz, King of Surrealism, Dies at 97


Growing up in Egypt’s cosmopolitan port city of Alexandria in the 1930s and ’40s, Arturo Schwarz idolized European intellectuals.

He started a correspondence in his 20s with André Breton, the chief theorist of Surrealism. He also helped found the Egyptian section of the Fourth International, a dissident communist group that pledged allegiance to Leon Trotsky.

But Mr. Schwarz’s youth for aesthetic contemplation and book activism came to a brutal halt in 1947 when Egyptian authorities made him a political prisoner.

One morning in early 1949, his guards shaved him off. Mr. Schwarz braced himself for the gallows.

Instead, he was brought to a port and exiled to his mother’s homeland, Italy.

“I came naked like a worm” aforementioned Then. “I had nothing – nothing – not a piece of bread, not a lira.”

This penniless young radical in a strange land had something else to prove he had more lasting value: his ability to befriend art world giants like Breton.

Mr. Schwarz, who founded a gallery in Milan dedicated to Dadaist and Surrealist art and is arguably the world’s largest self-taught collector and donor of works from these art movements, died in a hospital in Genoa, Italy, on June 23. He was 97 years old.

His daughter, Silvia Schwarz Linder, said the cause was paralysis.

By 1954, after spending several years in the import-export business, Mr. Schwarz had saved enough money to open a bookstore and transformed it into the Galleria Schwarz, a vehicle for displaying and selling art. He focused on Dadaism and Surrealism and curated exhibitions devoted to figures such as René Magritte, Joan Miró, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp.

“During that time, Duchamp was completely forgotten,” Mr. Schwarz once recalled. a panel discussion. “I put him back in the picture.”

In the 1960s and ’70s, Schwarz got close enough to entrust Duchamp and Man Ray to produce copies of the two artists’ earlier works, which they would later verify with their signatures. This resulted in 10 copies of 10 of Man Ray’s works and eight of Duchamp’s 16 works, all of which are market-oriented, as well as extras for museums, artists and Mr.

The originals of some of these works, including Duchamp’s two ready-made products from the 1910s, “Hat Rack” and “Trap”, were lost before they could be reproduced in any other form.

Adina Kamien, senior curator of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, said that without Mr. Schwarz, the public would never be able to see classical works of art. “He saved them from oblivion,” he said.

Mr. Schwarz donated a full set of Duchamp ready-made products to the Israel Museum in 1972, followed by hundreds of works by Arshile Gorky, Alexander Calder, Joseph Cornell, Max Ernst, and others in 1998 and 2003. The New York Times predicted 1998 and 2003 Gifts worth more than $30 million, and wanted Mr. Schwarz’s collection is “unique”.

“The level of philanthropy – how many times has it happened that a man or woman has given 800 works of art to a museum?” said Mrs Kamien. “He transformed the Israel Museum into a center for the study and display of Dada and Surrealism.”

Building the collection required luck, charisma, and dedication, up to self-sacrifice.

Mr. Schwarz spent three months buying his first Duchamp in 1950, eating nothing but a slice of cheese bread and a tomato for dinner. In every exhibition he opened, he kept one or two items that his customers ignored.

It helped that their tastes were ahead of their time. In 1968 he traveled to Bern, Switzerland, to sell the property of the Surrealist poet and writer Tristan Tzara. He took a loan from his bank, but when he found few people at the auction, he spent twice as much as he had planned and bought 300 objects.

“Less than a decade later, everyone was crazy about Dada and Surrealism and wanted to buy it,” Schwarz said. catalog for an exhibition at the Israel Museum focusing on the collection. “I started selling individual products for 10 times the entire amount I spent on 300 pieces.”

And his friendships with artists enabled him to produce replicas. As with Breton, Mr. Schwarz introduced Duchamp by writing a letter without introducing him beforehand. He went to visit the artist in New York, at their home outside Paris, and in the Spanish town of Cadaqués.

“He came just in time—he was one of the people who helped create the Duchamp boom,” said Matthew Affron, curator of modern art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “He initially managed to form very close personal relationships with these figures, and I’m sure the building of his career as a gallerist, an art historian and a curator was derived from these relationships.”

Arturo Umberto Samuele Schwarz was born on February 3, 1924 in Alexandria. His father, Richard, was a chemist who invented a method for freeze-drying food, and his mother, Margherita Vitta, was a housewife.

In the mid-1940s, he earned bachelor’s degrees in philosophy from the Egyptian branch of the Sorbonne and in natural sciences from the Egyptian branch of Oxford University. In the same period, he was expelled from the Faculty of Medicine of Faruk University in Alexandria.

During Mr. Schwarz’s detention, Egyptian authorities tortured him by ripping off his toenails. He developed gangrene and lost the big toe of his right foot.

He married Vera Zavatarelli shortly after moving to Italy in 1951. He died in 1984. His second marriage to Rita Magnanini ended in divorce. He married Linda Pozzali in 2014. In addition to his wife and daughter from his first marriage, Schwarz is left with two grandchildren.

In Genoa, he was hospitalized because it was near his summer home in the resort town of Santa Margherita Ligure. He lived in Milan.

Mr. Schwarz wrote poetry and essays and curated exhibitions long after his gallery closed in 1975. He spoke of “we Surrealists” until the end of his life and talked about himself “joining the Surrealist movement”. He often resembled the ancient surrealists, talking mystically about the human unconscious, using concepts such as “anima” and “animus” borrowed from Carl Jung.

Mr. Schwarz reinforced his expertise at Duchamp by producing the artist’s works. catalog raisonnéand provoked what he himself called a “scandal”, arguing that Duchamp’s work was influenced by a “love affair” that occurred “on an unconscious level” between the artist and his sister, Suzanne. He said those who disagreed with this interpretation were “traditional” and “hypocritical”.

The enormous wealth represented by Mr. Schwarz’s collection did not seem to affect his bohemian sensibility. He gave his art, he said The Italian newspaper Avvenire wrote in 2014 “for the benefit of the public eye”.


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