Grazina Subelyte

PhD student

Thesis: Kurt Seligmann, Surrealism and Occultism

Supervised by Dr Gavin Parkinson

Supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art Research Travel Grant to the U.S. 2016

The Swiss-born artist and scholar Kurt Seligmann (1900-1962), who is often associated with Surrealism, developed an interest in magic and the occult early on and in exile in the U.S. was celebrated as an expert and a trusted source on the occult to fellow Surrealists. He assembled an important library on the subject and wrote the book The Mirror of Magic: A History of Magic in the Western World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1948), later reprinted under the title The History of Magic and the Occult. In addition to his academic research, the esotericism of his visual idiom, infused with carnivalesque, heraldic, magical and alchemical associations, developed with time.

While Seligmann claimed that his interest in magic and the occult was hardly related to his art, he occasionally contradicted himself: “Doubtless, my liking for [occult] books is connected with my person, and thus directly or indirectly with my painting.” This thesis aims to trace, analyse and contextualise the magic related elements and themes underlying Seligmann’s oeuvre, arguing that magic and the occult were central to his thought and art. Wider context of Surrealism and its relation to the occult will be discussed, shedding light on the fact that many of Seligmann’s ideas and undertakings in relation to the occult were inspired by and ran parallel to Surrealism’s poetic agenda of resistance, even long after André Breton expelled Seligmann from the group in 1943.

This thesis will examine themes such as the influence of German Romanticism and the writings of Paracelsus; ethnic art and totemism; carnival and the danse macabre; and war, politics and the apotropaic meaning of heraldry.


  • 2015-present, PhD History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art.
  • 2006-2007, MA in Modern and Contemporary Art, Christie’s Education, London / University of Glasgow. Awarded the English-Speaking Union Chilton Art History Scholarship.
  • 2003-2006, BA with a double major in History and Theory of Arts and Literature, and Integrated Social Sciences, Jacobs University Bremen.
  • 2001-2003, International Baccalaureate Diploma, Vilnius Lyceum of Sciences and Mathematics, Lithuania.

Research Interests

  • Surrealism and occultism
  • Magic, alchemy and the occult
  • Carnival and the carnivalesque
  • The writings of C.G. Jung
  • Danse macabre
  • Surrealism, Darwinism and biology
  • Comte de Lautréamont
  • Taro Okamoto and Japanese Surrealism
  • Novalis and German Romanticism

Recent conference papers

  • Lecture “Kurt Seligmann, Surrealism and Occultism,” Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco, 22 August 2015.
  • Lecture “Occultism and Politics in Kurt Seligmann’s Art and Thought” The Seligmann Center, New York, 27 January 2017.
  • Lecture “Kurt Seligmann, Occultism and Politics,” Courtauld Institute of Art (MA History of Art), 1 February 2017.
  • Lecture “Isamu Noguchi at the residence of 1 Villa Seurat in Paris,” Taro Okamoto Museum of Art, Kawasaki, Japan, forthcoming 25 November 2018.

Exhibitions curated

  • Rita Kernn-Larsen. Surrealist Paintings. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. 25 February – 26 June 2017.
  • 1948: The Biennale of Peggy Guggenheim. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. 25 May – 25 November 2018.
  • Surrealism and Magic. From Max Ernst to Leonora Carrington. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, and Museum Barberini, Potsdam. Forthcoming summer/fall 2021.

Recent publications

Academic (and related) publications

  • Subelyte, Grazina. Entry on Kurt Seligmann, Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon (AKL), forthcoming 2018.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. Preface to a special collector’s edition of Kurt Seligmann’s book The Mirror of Magic: A History of Magic in the Western World. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, forthcoming 2018.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. “Kurt Seligmann, Surrealism and Occultism,” in Surrealism, Occultism and Politics: In Search of the Marvellous. Routledge / Taylor & Francis, 2018.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. “Spectrality and the Dance of Death in the Art of Kurt Seligmann,” Black Mirror 2, forthcoming 2018.
  • “The Magic of Art. Judith Noble and Daniel Zamani in Interview with Grazina Subelyte,” in Visions of Enchantment: Occultism, Magic and Visual Culture, forthcoming 2018.
  • “Rediscovering Kurt Seligmann,” exhibition review, Art History 39 issue 1, February 2016.

Museum catalogues and guides

  • Rylands, Philip, and Grazina Subelyte. Handbook. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Venice: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, forthcoming 2018.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. The Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection. New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2017.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. A Guide to the Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection. Venice: The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 2017.

Exhibition catalogues

  • Subelyte, Grazina. “1948: The Biennale of Peggy Guggenheim,” in Celebrating Peggy Guggenheim (title TBC). Venice: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, forthcoming 2019.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. Essay on Isamu Noguchi at the residence of 1 Villa Seurat in Paris to be published on the occasion of the Noguchi and Taro Okamoto exhibition at the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art, Kawasaki, Japan, forthcoming fall 2018.
  • Subelyte, Grazina, and Luciano Pensabene. Essay on Jackson Pollock’s paintings of 1947 for a publication on the restoration of Pollock’s “Alchemy” at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence, forthcoming 2018.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. Rita Kernn-Larsen. Surrealist Paintings. Venice: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 2017.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. “Tancredi Parmeggiani’s works donated by Peggy Guggenheim.” In My Weapon against the Atom Bomb is a Blade of GrassTancredi: A Retrospective, 239-241. Venice: Marsilio Editori, 2016.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. “Claire Falkenstein. Biography.” In Homage to Claire Falkenstein, 84-95. Venice: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 2016.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. “Artist Biographies and Bibliographies.” In The Avant-gardes of Fin-de-Siècle Paris: Signac, Bonnard, Redon, and their Contemporaries, edited by Vivien Greene, 26-131. Venice: The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 2013.
  • Subelyte, Grazina. “Catalogue Entries.” In Cycling, Cubo-Futurism and the Fourth Dimension. Jean Metzinger’s “At the Cycle-Race Track”, edited by Erasmus Weddigen, 105-133. Venice: The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 2012.
  • Rylands, Philip, and Grazina Subelyte. Great Moderns: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Art of the 20th Century. Santiago, Chile: Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, 2012.
  • Rylands, Philip, and Grazina Subelyte. Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in Venice. Perth: Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2010.

Professional activities

Assistant Curator, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.