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Dada

2. New York, 1915–21

Source: Oxford University Press

The works made by Picabia and Duchamp in New York, which would later be acknowledged as Dada, differed from Zurich Dada by being less concerned with the war but more aggressive towards the art establishment. Picabia frequented the circle around Alfred Stieglitz’s periodical Camera Work, including Edward J. Steichen, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Charles Sheeler and others, and exhibited at Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession gallery. There he met the Mexican Marius de Zayas, who, after contributing to Apollinaire’s Les Soirées de Paris, returned to New York to help launch the innovative periodical 291 (March 1915), named after the gallery. While Picabia collaborated on 291, Duchamp, who had also arrived in New York in June 1915, was introduced by the collector Walter Arensberg into a literary circle including William Carlos Williams, Margaret Anderson, Wallace Stevens, Alfred Kreymborg and Elsa Freytag-Loringhoven, the painters Joseph Stella, morton livingston Schamberg and Man Ray. Other exiles followed, notably jean Crotti, Albert Gleizes and the composer Edgar Varèse; they gravitated around the Modern Gallery, which de Zayas opened in October. News of their work reached Tzara, but, although he contacted de Zayas in 1916, the parallels between them and the term Dada remained unnoticed.

In Picabia’s mechanomorphic works, such as Very Rare Picture on the Earth (1915; Venice, Guggenheim), and in Duchamp’s studies on glass, images were adapted from technical diagrams. These commented upon the human condition and even assumed erotic overtones, sometimes implied in their titles, analogies taken up by Crotti, Man Ray and Schamberg (e.g. Man Ray’s Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with her Shadows, 1916; New York, MOMA). However, Duchamp went further in renouncing originality when he exhibited ready-mades (see Ready-made) at the Bourgeois Gallery (April 1916). These industrially produced objects constituted a deliberately anti-art gesture, raising serious questions about the accepted precepts of art. Ready-mades had been conceived in Paris, but Duchamp coined the term in New York and perfected the predetermined process of choice that removed all aesthetic judgement. While this encouraged such ironically titled objects as Schamberg and Freytag-Loringhoven’s God (plumbing trap and mitre box, c. 1917; Philadelphia, PA, Mus. A.) and Man Ray’s photograph of a mechanical egg-beater, Man (1918; Paris, Pompidou), the ready-made provoked the group’s major controversy. Duchamp tested the juryless system of the Society of Independent Artists’ exhibition held at Grand Central Palace, New York, in April 1917 by submitting a ready-made: an upturned urinal, entitled Fountain and signed ‘R. Mutt’ (1917, untraced; editioned replica 1964; Ottawa, N.G.; for illustration see Ready-made). He then publicly unmasked the fact of its concealment by the Society and defended ‘Mr Mutt’s’ freedom of choice with a photograph of the work in Blind Man (no. 2, May 1917) supported by editorials written in its defence. In an additional provocation, he and Picabia (newly returned from Barcelona) invited Arthur Cravan (1887–1918), editor and sole author of the wittily insulting Parisian periodical Maintenant (1912–14), to lecture at the exhibition, resulting in a drunken strip-tease.

These events, and such periodicals as the single issue Rongwrong and Picabia’s 391 (launched in 1916 with obvious reference to 291, on which he had worked before), mocked establishment and avant-garde alike. They also coincided with the USA’s entry into the war, which encouraged Picabia’s embarkation for Europe in September 1917 and, a year later, Duchamp’s move to Buenos Aires. Man Ray continued the provocation with T. N. T. (March 1919, edited with the anarchists Adolf Wolff and Adon Lacroix) and a replacement of artistic styles with mechanical techniques in his photographs and ‘aerographs’. Meanwhile the Modern Gallery assumed de Zayas’s name in 1919, and his promotion of radical art may have influenced the Estridentismo movement, launched in Mexico City in 1921. Duchamp’s return to New York in 1920 brought renewed collaboration with Man Ray; they acted as advisers (and president and secretary respectively) to Katherine S. Dreier’s Société Anonyme collection of international modern art founded in the same year. Man Ray and Duchamp’s single issue of New York Dada (April 1921), which included articles by Tzara and Freytag-Loringhoven, confirmed a similarity of purpose, and both set off to participate in Paris Dada.

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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