Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

April 25 — June 15, 2000

Tthe first exhibition devoted to the art and persona of this elusive yet influential German Dada artist took place at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art in 2002. Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927) — or simply "The Baroness," as she was best known among her contemporaries — was an émigré war widow, model, painter, sculptor, and poet. During the years of World War I, she was part of the New York Dada group, which included Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and others. She was Americašs first assemblage artist, using materials found in the street for her art. It could also be argued that she was Americašs first performance artist, treating her body as a living work of art. She pasted postage stamps to her face, explaining that it was a new form of makeup, and she was known to have walked around the streets of New York wearing a birdcage around her head with a live canary in it. Some said she was mad; others claimed she was a genius.

Featured in the exhibition were four rare, previously unknown assemblages by the Baroness, as well as her Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, immortalized in a photograph by Charles Sheeler. Her Portrait of Berenice Abbott — borrowed from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art — will also be included. The Baroness herself was represented in the form of a life-sized mannequin, adorned in a surprisingly modern outfit of her own design (recreated by the costume designer Pascal Ouattara), as well as a selection of paintings and drawings of the Baroness by the American painter Theresa Bernstein (who died in February 2002 at age 111).

Publications: The exhibition was designed to commemorate the publication of Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity, a biography by Irene Gammel (Cambridge: MIT Press). Signed copies of the book will be available at the gallery, as well as a separate 25-page catalogue reproducing all works included in the exhibition.

Installation Views