Drifting in America’s Interior Sea: Surrealist Resonances in the Valparaíso School’s Long 1960s


  • Liz Donato International Center for the Arts of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston


In the early 1950s, Argentine poet Godofredo Iommi (1917–2001) and Chilean architect Alberto Cruz Covarrubias (1917–2013) transformed the industrial port city of Valparaíso, Chile into ludic terrain, launching one of the most idiosyncratic pedagogical experiments in postwar architectural culture. Known as the “Valparaíso School,” this group of architects, poets, and artists incorporated improvised poetry readings, drifts, performative actions, and games into its academic and extracurricular activities. The School’s cofounders conceived the social and spatial dimensions of these gestures as a form of ephemeral architecture that subverted the inert geometries of rational functionalism. The Valparaíso School drew upon a range of eclectic sources from the historical avant-garde to inform its project, yet I argue that it was surrealist thought that gave the School its distinctive character and shaped its most innovative contributions to experimental architecture and pedagogy.

This article focuses specifically on the Valparaíso School’s engagement with Surrealism, charting its various manifestations in both its prehistory and non-architectural activities,

through key moments in the 1960s. Despite the group’s professed desire for psychic and disciplinary transformation, its specific brand of a ludic surrealism distinguished it from revolutionary and anticolonial surrealisms in the 1960s Americas. In 1965, faculty members of the Valparaíso School embarked on an expansive drift into the South American interior that resulted in an anonymously authored epic poem, Amereida (1967). On its surface, the text’s central themes appeared to resonate with anticolonial thinking: a demand to remove America’s “veiled” consciousness, the need for “Americanist” pedagogy free of imported ideologies, and the possibility of a finis terrae subjectivity. The article concludes by considering Amereida alongside another surrealist-inspired anticolonial epic, Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, arguing that the Valparaíso School’s project lacked the surrealist exhortation to total revolution.

Author Biography

Liz Donato, International Center for the Arts of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Liz Donato holds a PhD in art history from the CUNY Graduate Center (2019), where she specialized in modern and contemporary art and architecture in Latin America. Her research examines intersections between visual and literary modernisms in the Americas, expanded poetics, and experimental pedagogies. She is currently the Research and Publications Senior Specialist at the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she manages the editorial processes for the Documents of Latin American and Latino Art digital archive.