“New York Dada and the Arensberg Circle of Artists” opens at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art on September 12, 2019. The show will emphasize the contributions made to New York Dada by its three leading protagonists—Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Francis Picabia—but it will also highlight the critical role played by Louise and Walter Arensberg, collectors of modern art in whose apartment many of the activities associated with New York Dada took place. Walter Arensberg was a poet, and the radical nature of his writings have only recently been recognized for their contribution to the arts in this period, for his poems were as much a departure from convention as were Duchamp’s readymades from the art produced in his day. The near-nightly soirées that took place at the Arensberg apartment will be dramatized in the exhibition by means of Chez Arensberg, a visual reenactment of a fictional gathering at the apartment in 1917. This work was commissioned by Naumann in 1984 of the French artist and illustrator André Raffray (1925-2010), who rendered the scene as a small gouache, but for the show, it will be displayed on a large, 6-x-4-foot backlit translucent panel, so as to make the parties that took place in these years come to life.
Marcel Duchamp will be represented in this exhibition by multiple works drawn from various phases in his career: a place card he made on his 30th birthday in 1917 for his friend Henri-Pierre Roché; a signed print of his infamous readymade Fountain; chess pieces that he designed for the wall of his apartment; a pochoir of his Nude Descending a Staircase; and an example of his Boîte-en-valise of 1936-41. Works by Man Ray will include various figurative works from his Ridgefield period, as well as: a silkscreen on Plexiglas of his Self-Portrait of 1916; an edition of his sculpture By Itself II; a cliché verre of Quartet from 1917; a design for chess pieces from 1920; and a rare vintage print of Moving Sculpture, a photograph from 1920 of bedsheets blowing in the wind. The most important work by Francis Picabia in the exhibition is his large watercolor from 1915 called Intervention d’une femme au moyen d’une machine [Intervention of a Woman by Means of a Machine], considered among the first of his mechanomorphic pictures; also shown will be an example of the magazine 291 to which Picabia contributed five machinist portraits; finally, as an abstract oil on paper from 1937 will also be included.
In all, the exhibition will consist of 90 works of art and artifacts by artists who are today associated with New York Dada and the Arensberg Circle of Artists: John Covert (a painter of abstractions who was Walter Arensberg’s cousin); Arthur Cravan (the English poet, boxer and nephew of Oscar Wilde who disappeared off the cost of Mexico in 1918); Jean Crotti (the Swiss abstract painter who was Duchamp’s studio-mate in 1916, and later married his sister Suzanne); Charles Demuth (the great American watercolor artist from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who made frequent trips to New York); Katherine S. Dreier (a painter who, with Duchamp and Man Ray, founded the Société Anonyme in 1920, the first Museum of Modern Art); Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (the eccentric German poet and artist who created the first assemblages in America); Mina Loy (the brilliant English poet and talented draftsman who married Arthur Cravan just before he disappeared); Juliet Roche (the French vanguard writer who was married to painter Albert Gleizes); Morton Schamberg (the Philadelphia artist whose paintings of mechanical forms would be seen as forerunners to Precisionism); Charles Sheeler (another artist from Philadelphia who painted in a Precisionist style); Elmer Ernest Southard (a psychiatrist from Boston who analyzed the artists in the group in accordance with the appearance of their pictures); Joseph Stella (the Italian-born American Futurist painter who was also influenced by Duchamp and Dada); Florine Stettheimer (whose “conversation pictures” captured the spirit of her generation); Clara Tice (famous for her drawings of female nudes and called “The Queen of Greenwich Village”); Edgard Varèse (the French composer who was the first to incorporate street sounds into his work); Beatrice Wood (an actress and artist who spoke French fluently and became an intimate associate of the group); and Marius de Zayas (a Mexican caricaturist, writer and gallerist who was an associate of Alfred Stieglitz).
One of the most important events to take place in the Arensberg apartment was the formation of the Society of Independent Artists in 1916, an organization that planned to stage annual jury and prize-free exhibitions in New York. Most memorably, for the first show they excluded from display a urinal submitted by Duchamp under the pseudonym of R. Mutt, an incident that would result in changing the entire history of art. A rare example of the catalogue for the Independents will be on display in the exhibition, as well as a replica of the work that received the greatest attention from the press, Beatrice Wood’s Un peu d’eau dans du savon [A Little Water in Some Soap], the rendition of a nude women emerging from her bath with an actual bar of soap attached to the crotch. A selection of work by Wood—drawings, watercolors, ceramic figures and vessels—will be shown in a separate gallery, where a video interview with the artist by Steven Watson will be featured.
The show will also include original copies of The Blind Man, a magazine published in conjunction with the Independents that appeared in only two issues: the first enumerated the principles of first exhibition, the second presented a defense of R. Mutt’s urinal. A ball was held in honor of the magazine and Beatrice Wood designed its poster, the image a stick figure thumbing its nose to the world, an example of which will also be included in the show. Finally, a copy of the magazine New York Dada published in 1921 will be on display; edited by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, it reproduced on its cover Duchamp’s Belle Haleine, a readymade perfume bottle that featured on its label the first public appearance of Duchamp’s female alter ego, Rose Sélavy.
This exhibition was organized and its catalogue written by Francis M. Naumann, who has made the period of New York Dada his special area of interest and expertise for more than forty years. He wrote what is today considered to be the definitive history of the movement, New York Dada 1915-23 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), and organized the first major museum survey of New York Dada for the Whitney Museum of American Art: Making Mischief: Dada Invades New York (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996). He has also written individuals studies on Marcel Duchamp, Jean Crotti, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Man Ray, Beatrice Wood, and Marius de Zayas.