In 1995 The Library of Rare Books and Special Collections received a comprehensive collection about surrealism that had been developed by a Québécois arts professor, Gilles Rioux. It is certainly the most important collection about surrealism currently in North America. At the heart of the collection are over 300 surrealist monographs, 400 exhibition catalogues (1930-1990), 100 periodical titles (most from 1940-1950), and 34 surrealist manifests. All these original documents represent unique material for researchers and students interested in surrealism.
Gilles Rioux (1942-1995) obtained a Master in arts at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris (1967-1972). He became an art professor at various universities (Université de Montréal, Condordia University, and University of Toronto) and colleges. While in Paris, he met some surrealist artists, which was an opportunity to develop his collection. He wrote articles about surrealism, published in Gazette des Beaux-Art (Paris) and Vie des Arts (Montreal). He died in Montreal in 1995 and bequeathed his collection to the Library.
Among the collection’s materials, it is worth mentioning: the tract "Premier bilan de l’exposition coloniale" (1931); original editions of Breton, Eluard, Tzara, and Ernst; famous magazines such as View, Le Surréalisme, meme, and Dyn; rare exhibition catalogues; Surrealistu V CSR (1935); and most of the international surrealist exhibitions, including the one held in Tokyo (1937). Characteristic of the Gilles-Rioux Collection is the extensive ephemeral material, such as rare periodicals, tracts, and gallery catalogues.
A distinctive feature of the Gilles-Rioux collection is its focus not only on surrealism, but on other themes affiliated with the movement. A third of the Gilles-Rioux collection is developed around themes, called “satellites”, which include related movements and schools (e.g., dada), artistic influences (e.g., naïve art, children art, mad art), psychology from the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, esoterism, political ideologies (communism in particular), erotism, and literary influences (e.g., Raymond Roussel, Lewis Carroll, Sade).
Finally, the Gilles-Rioux Collection also includes archives: correspondence with surrealist artists, press articles, programs, and invitations to exhibitions, etc.
The Gilles-Rioux Collection is searchable through the library’s online catalogue. Researchers can also consult (or receive by e-mail) a complete list of the surrealist corpus in the collection. This list, divided by type of document (manifests, periodicals, monographs, exhibition catalogues) can also be retrieved from the library’s website. On this website, visitors can find a brief description of the Gilles-Rioux Collection and a selection of digitized documents.
Given the richness of this collection, two distinct exhibitions are being planned: one on-site exhibition and one virtual exhibition developed in collaboration with students and professors from the university’s Arts Department.
The library follows Gilles Rioux’s lead by developing this collection through regular purchases focused on rare periodicals, manifests, and exhibition catalogues.
Collection Profile and Overview: Sarah de Bogui
Illustrations: François Bastien Photographie