Title Instead
Location New York
Publisher Instead
Periodicity Irregular
URL Instead Worldcat
Published Since 1948-1949
Indexed Holdings 1948-1949


The Library of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Harvard Library, Widener, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Periodical's Overview

Instead emerged from conversations between poet and French scholar Lionel Abel and painter Matta Echaurren, perhaps as early as 1943 and 1944; it was financed by Matta’s second wife, Patricia Connoly, who is listed as a member of the staff under the name of Patricia Kane.”

“…Instead was published in tabloid form (a decision made by Matta). Its newspaperlike format (the single sheet of Instead measures 24 by 18 inches when spread out unfolded), irregularity of publication, fragile stock, and relatively small circulation (it never sold more than a thousand) make it one of the more difficult periodicals to find today.”

Instead, however, did not simply revive Surrealist concerns, although a pervasive influence is evident.”

“If for Abel, Instead’s distinctive focus derived from its Existential orientation, Matta recalled that:

Instead was, precisely just… Instead. Not Surrealism nor Existentialism. Or let’s say a “ligne de force” that could grow in New York out of Surrealism and Existentialism. But nothing grew out of it, just total misunderstanding.”

Extracts from Ann Eden Gibson’s Instead: “Not Surrealism nor Existentialism."[1]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Bipedalism
  • Calligrams
  • Contradiction
  • Dialectical materialism
  • Existencialism
  • Humanism - 20th century
  • Imaginary places in literature
  • New York (N.Y.) - intellectual life - 1940s
  • Ontology
  • Oral interpretation of poetry
  • Partisan review (periodical)
  • Philosophers - anecdotes
  • Politics and literature
  • Sadism - philosophy
  • Technology and civilization


The deadliest military conflict in history, World War II. An estimated sixty million people were killed, over 2.5% of the world population.[2]

To keep these chilling figures in mind can help us situate and understand this humble, fragile and short-lived publication, Instead; its co-editor, artist Roberto Matta’s claims that the periodical was “Not Surrealism nor Existentialism,” but we are inclined to think that Instead is actually a very important document for a proper understanding of a significant shift in American cultural history, a shift prompted by the import and posterior distillation of both Surrealism and Existentialism. Perhaps Matta was trying to differentiate the publishing venture he co-edited with Lionel Abel from other contemporary publications that made their embrace of Existentialism or Surrealism their editorial focus, but a cursory perusal of the seven issues of Instead yields a list of philosophers, interests and artists associated with both thinking trends, even if as dissident voices. We can list some here: André Breton, Jacques Prévert, Wilfredo Lam, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, Marcel Blanchot, Georges Bataille, Marcel Duchamp, Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst, Roberto Matta himself and so on.

But yet, we understand Matta’s desire not be pigeonholed in a simplified, and by now canonical, narrative: Surrealism + Existentialism in United States = Abstract Expressionism.

For us, the interest of the journal lays not so much on how it fits or doesn’t fit on this narrative, but rather we relish on the opportunity it gives us to apprehend late 1940s New York’s intellectual milieu; if Matta was bringing a cosmopolitan perspective after his European years, playwright and critic Lionel Abel brings New York’s specific intelligentsia, also cosmopolitan,[3] and with a longer and more complex trajectory than it’s assumed on those canonical accounts of how the United States came culturally to its own after World War II. A continuum then, rather than a blank slate; a genealogical trace rather than a decontextualized exceptionalism.

But we’d like to return to the War now, as its ravages on human civilization can be felt through each of the six issues of this pamphlet-like periodical, or at least this is the impression one gets while reading, one issue after another, humanistic appeals for reason like Stephane Hessel’s “Instead of giving up” or pacifist manifestos alongside Blanchot’s study of Sade’s “work beyond the limits,” Artaud’s touching plea from his mental confinement or Bataille’s “Reflections on executioner and victim: the SS and deportees.” As if a new beginning was urgently needed, a rethinking of how to proceed living.

One option appears to be to engage with poetry, as poets and their words are very present in Instead: Apollinaire, Henri Michaux, Malcolm de Chazal, Mallarmé, Novalis, Joseph Rocco, Ernst Robson, as well as poems and literary criticism from Abel are all to be found in the periodical’s pages.

Of interest too is the space allotted to emerging art historians and critics like Meyer Shapiro or Harold Rosenberg, the former on the myth of Oedipus, the latter on Dada and contributing a weird text: “The game of the Chinese laundryman.”

In short, Instead is a document to consider alongside its contemporaries, periodicals like Transformation, Possibilities, The Tiger’s eye,[4] Partisan’s Review or It Is, for a thorough understanding of how the United States cultural landscape was shaped in the mid 20th century. A blossoming intellectual landscape about to freeze again by the unreason that these periodicals tried to curb.

Although Artaud might have been chillingly prescient when writing in 1945 that “there is no longer anything or anybody, life has become insane, there is no longer any love, nor even hatred, all bodies are glutted, all consciences forsaken,” we remain hopeful that historical layers might complicate and nuance his claustrophobic perceptions. In fact, to read his words published in Instead points to an ever-continued belief in the power of human capacity for recovery, reflection and creation against horror.

Sixty million people, rounded to the nearest hundredth.

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[1]Ann Eden Gibson. Issues in Abstract Expressionism: the Artist-Run Periodicals. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1990: 41-47. Gibson's splendid book is an invaluable resource for researchers. It includes the indexed contents of various periodicals, among them Instead. ccindex produced a new indexing of Instead, but we followed Gibson's numbering order for the irregular periodical. This order diverges from the issues found at MoMA's library, but it's the sequence that Harvard Library, Widener follows for its complete set of the periodical.

[2]Figure rounded to the nearest hundredth place. For a detailed charting of the world wide massacres, please consult Wikipedia’s World War II Casualties.

[3]Born in Brooklyn in 1910, Mr. Abel was the son of Alter Abelson, a rabbi and poet, and of Anna Schwartz Abelson, a writer of short stories.

[4]ccindex has indexed ">The tiger's eye and Instead's complete runs. Please log in into the database to peruse the already indexed contents of the magazines or consult our infoweb records for further information.