This paper discusses a 1928 polemic in Cahiers d’Art on the work Max Ernst to explore the relation of surrealism to modernism. The early reception of surrealism in Cahiers d’Art reflected the frequent criticism of surrealist painting by modernist critics, who derided it for its lack of attention to formal values and fondness for literary associations. In 1928, however, a discussion of Max Ernst’s recent work exceeded the bounds of formalist modernist criticism to address surrealism’s dissensual political position, providing a rare snapshot of the relation between modernist art and politics. Although the modernist criteria promoted by Cahiers d’Art, based on the ‘plastic quality’ of exemplary works, appeared above the vicissitudes of politics, it was contingent on an implicit agreement with the postwar political consensus. In this context, the formal inadequacy of surrealist painting could assume a political force as a manifestation of dissensus.