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Revision of the Surrealist Movement in the 1940s and 50s – The Artist Kay Sage (1898-1963) and the 'American Dream' (DFG)


Research Project


Exhibition Poster at Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, M.A. (2018). Photo: J. Jäger
The overall aim of the Research Project (DFG) is to establish a more accurate picture of the Surrealist movement, its aesthetics and semantics, as well as its social practices and exhibition strategies in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. This is achieved by means of a comprehensive analysis of a thus far marginalized artistic position. Reflection on the conditions and dynamics of transatlantic exchange provides insights into a potentially idiosyncratic survival of Surrealism and its 'dream constructs' in the USA – beyond a Modernism embodied in Abstract Expressionism, which continues to dominate the art histography of this period to this day. The project integrates itself into the research agenda of a Global Surrealism, which aims to contour both common and unifying as well as cultural-historical and local qualities of Surrealism. Additionally, it contributes to the pluralization of Modernism and its narratives by developing and visualizing supposedly marginal or subaltern positions, in particular of women.

This research project conducts an art-historical investigation and contextualization of the work of Kay Sage (1898-1963), an American Surrealist. The project aims to investigate the genuinely surrealist features of Sage's artworks, her different roles in the social fabric of Surrealist artists and the different stages of her life and career path. Using the concrete example of Sage's artistic work and her personal biography, the aim is to demonstrate and investigate which shifts and expansions in perspectives developed, which aesthetic and epistemic enrichments are bestowed upon the research field of Surrealism and whether it will be possible to see other, thus far equally neglected, positions.

One further objective of the project is the systematic investigation and analysis of surrealist dream constructs within the cultural-historical context of the United States in the 1940s and 1950s inspired by Sage's artworks and also drawing upon other artistic positions. Artists of the post-war Surrealism – inspired by texts written by, among others, Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung, as well as by art-historical predecessor phenomena and genuine visual-artistic or art-political concerns respectively – have pushed the work on the 'dream' as a discursive and aesthetic construct. This contribution to a possibly specific American dream culture shall be explored for the first time.




(in preparation) Paper (Jennifer Jäger): "Kay Sage and the Tarot". In: Tessel M. Bauduin (ed.): "Surrealism and the Tarot". Lopen, Somerset (Fulgur Press), forthcoming 2024.
Lecture (Sigrid Ruby): "A Man of Many Talents: Hein Heckroth at Dartington Hall School", Symposium "Creative Sanctuary: Refugees at Dartington in the 1930s and Beyond", Insiders/Outsiders Festival, 20.-21.10.2023 (online).

Workshop: "Forschungsfeld Surrealismus im deutschsprachigen Raum", Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte Paris, 28.-29. September 2023

Together with the Institute of Art History at the University of Giessen, the DFK Paris is organising the workshop "Forschungsfeld Surrealismus im deutschsprachigen Raum", which will give researchers the opportunity to present their ongoing projects on international Surrealism as well as project ideas on Surrealism in the German-speaking world. In an interdisciplinary exchange, we want to map current research on surrealism, identify relevant material, get to know perspectives on it and explore potentials. What structural, methodological and thematic questions arise here? What role did Surrealism play within German post-war art? Which individual positions and which networks can be reconstructed? What significance did art criticism and the exhibition system have for which varieties of Surrealism in the German-speaking world? Which projects are already dealing with it, which could be created through cooperation?

The participants will present their projects in three sections: 1. Surrealism and Germany, 2. Research projects on surrealism, 3. Reports from curatorial practice and archives.

The primary aim of the workshop is to bring together for the first time German-language research on surrealism from museums and universities, to facilitate personal encounters on site and thus to give impetus to a scholarly network that can develop diverse activities in the near future.

Concept and organisation:
Julia Drost und Vera Bornkessel, Sigrid Ruby und Jennifer Jäger

For more information, see our programme and

Lecture (Sigrid Ruby): "Surrealismus und Exil. Zum Beispiel Hein Heckroth (1901–1970)", Workshop "Forschungsfeld Surrealismus", Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte Paris, 28.-29.09.2023.
Lecture (Jennifer Jäger): "Kay Sage: Surrealistische Räume und Netzwerke", Workshop "Forschungsfeld Surrealismus", Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte Paris, 28.-29.09.2023.
Lecture (Jennifer Jäger): "Peggy Guggenheim and Kay Sage", Workshop "Peggy Guggenheim in London", Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 26.06.2023 (online).
Lecture (Sigrid Ruby): "Hein Heckroth (1901-1970) – An Artist of Surrealism", Symposium "Legacies of the Dunera: Internment, Art and International Heritage", Centre for Public History, Heritage and Memory, Nottingham Trent University (UK) / Monash University (Australia). National Justice Museum, Nottingham, 02.-03.03.2023.
Lecture (Sigrid Ruby): "Der Surrealist Hein Heckroth im Exil", Workshop "Hein Heckroth (1901-1970): Bühnenbildner, Filmdesigner, Maler. Bausteine einer Werkbiografie", Institut für Kunstgeschichte / Hein-Heckroth-Gesellschaft Gießen e.V. Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen / Oberhessisches Museum, 23.-24.06.2022.
Lecture (Sigrid Ruby): "Deep Time and Modern History: Charles Willson Peale's 'Excavation of the American Mastodon'", Conference "New Worlds, Old Worlds, Lost Worlds: Picturing Prehistory in American Art and Visual Culture", INHA - Institut national d'histoire de l'art, Paris, 07.-08.04.2022.

Lecture (Sigrid Ruby): "Traumbilder als Metabilder - Fallstudien zur Kunst des Surrealismus", lecture series "Radical Dreaming. Visionen, Imaginationen, Abgründe", Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen, 29.03.2022.

Article (Jennifer Jäger): "Pendeln zwischen den Welten. Surrealistische Netzwerke und traumhafte Landschaften: DFG-Projekt erforscht den transatlantischen Surrealismus der 1940er- und 1950er-Jahre", uniforum 5/2021, S. 7.

Lecture (Jennifer Jäger): "'A Bird in the Room'. Dystopian Dreamscapes in the Work of Kay Sage", Conference ʺISSS SURREALISMS 2021. Nuits blanches: Noches en Blanco: Around the Clockʺ, International Society for the Study of Surrealism, 11.-14.11.2021 (online).

Lecture (Prof. Dr. Sigrid Ruby): "Hein Heckroth – Surrealismus und Exil", on the occasion of the awarding of the Hein Heckroth Stage Design Prize, Hein-Heckroth-Gesellschaft Gießen e.V., 19.09.2021, Stadttheater Gießen

Co-Organization (with Andrea Gremels and Ingrid Pfeiffer): Symposium "Surreal Worlds – Surrealist Networks: Revisiting Women Artists Across Cultures and Media", Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 23.-25.04.2020 (cancelled on short notice due to COVID-19).


Research Team


Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Sigrid Ruby  
Research Assistant: Jennifer Jäger M.A.  
Student Assistant: Paulin Kemper  







Jennifer Jäger
DFG 2021