When Picabia painted this work, in Paris in 1914, he had recently returned from a trip to New York. Aboard the steamship that had taken him there, Picabia had been captivated by the movement of Stacia Napierkowska, a Polish dancer en route to a tour of American music halls. Over the next two years, Picabia produced several monumental canvases that he said were inspired by his memories of Napierkowska, and also, he said, "of America, evocations from there which, subtly opposed like musical harmonies, become representative of an idea, of a nostalgia, of a fugitive impression." In this painting, rather than representing the dancer herself, Picabia creates a visual analogy for the lingering sensation of this sensuous encounter: segmented tubes and curling organic forms fill the vertical axis of the canvas in a slow upward spiral.
Gallery label from Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925, December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013.
Around 1914, Picabia began to pilfer words and phrases from the encyclopedic French dictionary Petit Larousse for use in his own works. He based this painting’s title on a line from Virgil’s Aeneid published in that source—“Dying, he saw again in memory his dear Argos”—but substituted “Udnie,” a name of his own invention. Picabia associated “Udnie” with memories of watching the dancer Stacia Napierkowska, whose suggestive performances subsequently provoked her arrest, rehearse onboard during his transatlantic journey to New York in 1913. “Udnie” is also an anagram of the last name of Jean d’Udine, whose theory of synesthesia (published in 1910) linked painting with music and dance through the concept of rhythm. In this painting, rhythm is intimated via a series of repeated, interpenetrating pistons and quasi-visceral orifices, fusing the mechanical with the biological.
Gallery label from Francis Picabia: Our Heads are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction, 2016.