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Daughters of Dada

<img src="/article_image/image/562/Loy_-Christ_on_a_Clothesline__smaller_size.jpg” alt=”” />Christ on a Clothesline, ca. (1955–59). Collage and mixed media in deep glass covered box. 24” x 41½” × 4¼”.

June 8–July 28, 2006
Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, LLC

The exhibit at Francis M. Naumann gallery honors a dynamic sextet of artists with an assembly of their artworks and memorabilia. Some of these “avant goddesses” predate Dada, while others barely qualify for Dada membership; but each was strikingly original and all were pioneers. They connected to the creative frontier in New York City during some intense, heady years as partners, co-conspirators, lovers, models and pupils.

The time of this absurd theater: 1913-1920. The place: Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, specifically the salon-apartment of Louise and Walter Arensberg. Master of ceremonies: Marcel Duchamp, with poetry performed by Baroness Elsa and Mina Loy and artistic support from Beatrice Wood, Clara Tice, Katherine S. Dreier and Florine Stettheimer.

The enigmatic Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927) is considered by art historians to be the first New York Dadaist, as well as a friend and collaborator of Duchamp and Man Ray. Elsa was not only an innovator of poetic forms, she also was an early creator of junk sculpture and a performance artist best known for her sexually charged, controversial street theater in the nude.

Here at Naumann, a famous black-and-white photo of the baroness from Vogue hangs next to a costume design of hers, re-created by Pascale Ouattara (2002). There are several portraits of the naked Elsa by Theresa Bernstein, as well as a copy print of Elsa’s “Portrait of Marcel Duchamp”—to whom she also wrote love poems.

Mina Loy (1882-1966), the British-born poet-artist, is represented here by works that include four unknown to the general public: “Teasing a Butterfly” (oil on canvas, 1902), a portrait of Jonathan Bayer (pencil on paper, 1966) and two large construction-assemblages from the 1950s, (at once existential and expressionistic, made out of found objects). In one of them, ten miniature papier-mâché figures sleep on the floor of a warehouse for the homeless. The other, called “Christ on a Clothesline,” is a cutout-painting of an emaciated, tattered figure hanging from clothespins, lifeless on a laundry line in front of a shantytown constructed from discarded wood.

Loy’s earlier realistic works consist of drawings and portraits of husbands, lovers and, of course, herself. Her wall paintings (1913-1923) are in the style of Grecian frescoes and depict naked girls and mermaids on the beach. Later in her life, with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, she opened a lampshade business in Paris and, subsequently, in Manhattan on the Bowery.

With the exception of two years in Montreal, Beatrice Wood (1893-1997) was a true New York Dada-artist in the period 1914 to 1928. Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roche had encouraged her to plumb her dreams, but her drawings, at least, were often about the Dadaists themselves—their parties and the games they played at the Arensberg salon. Perhaps due to her long friendship with the owner of the gallery, Wood is well represented here with fourteen works made from 1917 to 1978, in modes ranging from watercolor on paper to glazed earthenware covered with gold lusterware and mounted on wood panels best described as, “sophisticated primitive.”

Clara Tice (1888-1973) burst on the scene in 1915 when her exhibit of female nudes was deemed too provocative for the public and the vice squad staged a raid. The affair caught the attention of Frank Crownshield, editor of Vanity Fair, who reprinted the paintings. At Naumann, a total of ten works showcase Tice’s talent in oil paintings, (1920s) and also for inks and watercolor portraits on paper. Her two posters for Dada costume balls, her “Nijinsky in Diaghileff’s L’Après-Midi d’un Faune” (black gouache on board, 1916) and “Man with a Monocle and Two Floating Dancers” (watercolor on paper, 1917) are most representative of her output of the period.

Katherine S. Dreier (1877-1952) began her artistic career in 1913 when two of her paintings were selected for inclusion in the famous Armory Show. In 1916, she joined the Society for Independent Artists and helped stage jury-free exhibitions. In 1920, together with Duchamp and Ray, she formed The Societe Anonyme Inc., the first true museum of modern art in America, avidly gathering more than 1,000 works by avant-garde artist from all over the world. Some of its holdings eventually were included in the “International Exhibition of Modern Art” that Dreier organized for the Brooklyn Museum in 1926. Her three abstract paintings in this show are Kandinsky-inspired and point the way to the Abstract Expressionist beginnings of de Kooning.

Florine Stettheimer (1874-1944) mounted her first one-woman show in 1916 at Knoedler Gallery, but the critical reaction was negative. The ubiquitous Duchamp was her French tutor and subject of her portraits. Through him she was introduced to the Dada circle at the Arensbergs’. Her “sentimental histories”—paintings with symbolist influences—have a decorative, nostalgic feel to them; her fascination with Freudian theories, unconsciousness and dreamss reflect the events and personalities of her time. Two oils on canvas and three hand-painted china are on display here.

Although Dada was primarily a male domain, Duchamp himself declared, in 1915, that, “the American Woman is the most intelligent in the world today, helping the tendency of the world to completely equalize the sexes.” He followed up his statement by being the most important champion of the New York Dada Six.


Valery Oisteanu


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2006

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