Alfred Jarry: The Carnival of Being

January 24 through May 10, 2020

The subversive works and personality of the French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907) were touchstones for Dada, Surrealism, and the Theatre of the Absurd; yet the breadth of his career is largely unknown. Jarry is most renowned for his play Ubu Roi, and the legend of its sensational premiere in 1896. To his contemporaries—figures such as Paul Gauguin, Henri Rousseau, Oscar Wilde, and Apollinaire—Jarry’s prestige extended beyond theater. He applied his genius and wit to poetry, the novel, and operettas; he was a graphic artist, actor, puppeteer, and critic, and the inventor of a science of “imaginary solutions” called pataphysics. Jarry’s works suggested that engagement with technology, popular imagery, and the performance of everyday life can constitute art. He also showed innovation in book design: one of the first writers to experiment with visual typography, Jarry forged relationships between image and text that employed anachronism, collage, and appropriation as bellwethers of modern and contemporary artists’ publications. By exploring his enterprises in print, this exhibition contributes to an ever-broadening appreciation that positions Jarry as a crucial hinge connecting the nineteenth century to the twentieth-century avant-garde.

Alfred Jarry: The Carnival of Being is organized by The Morgan Library & Museum and curated by Sheelagh Bevan, Andrew W. Mellon Associate Curator of Printed Books and Bindings.

The exhibition is made possible by major support from Beatrice Stern, the Sherman Fairchild Fund for Exhibitions, Robert J. and Linda Klieger Stillman, and the Franklin Jasper Walls Lecture Fund.

Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), Les minutes de sable mémorial, 1894. The Morgan Library & Museum, PML 197017, gift of Robert J. and Linda Klieger Stillman, 2017.