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Word Play

Discover how Dada artists challenged and manipulated the rules, syntax, and symbols of language.


"M'Amenez-y"

Francis Picabia
(French, 1879–1953)

1920. Oil on cardboard, 50 3/4 x 35 3/8" (129.2 x 89.8 cm)

In this painting, Francis Picabia delivers a barrage of puns, transforming the language of fine art into something far less refined. Linseed oil (l’huile de lin) is a commonly used binder in oil paint, but an inscription at the top proclaims this portrait a product of castor oil (l’huile de Ricin), a toxic, foul-smelling substance that can cause intestinal pain. Another inscription reads Ratelier d’artiste (the artist’s false teeth), a play on atelier d’artiste (artist’s studio). Peinture crocodile (Crocodile painting) associates art with the hypocrisy of crocodile tears. The mechanical imagery in red reflects Picabia’s interest in optical devices and other machines, including the automobile, whose function is evoked in the title phrase “M’Amenez-y” (Take me there).

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent.

A representation of a particular individual.

A component of paint that creates uniform consistency or cohesion.