I once had an art professor who taught one of my favorite courses in college, the history of photography, and wore a bow tie to class every day. Go figure an art teacher with an eccentricity. The entire class was based on the connections between the artists whether social, artistic or something entirely coincidental. We wound through the decades of experimentation, refinement and mastery of photography listening to often absurd anecdotes of the artists. Today, in the style of Professor Fuller, I will take you on my own expanded whirlwind tour of a select group of artists, poets and photographers from the turn of the 20th Century. So sit back with a beer in hand and take the jump.
Where to begin…ah, yes. Marcel Duchamp. Monsieur Duchamp was born in France and began his storied career in Paris. He first made waves with his painting, “Nu descendant un escalier. No. 2,” which premiered in New York City in 1912. The painting attempted to express the motion of the figure through time, a fascination of the Italian Futurists and their linear progressivism.
Forward, was the cry of the Futurists, who believed the creation of something original was contingent on not only leaving the past traditions behind, but destroying them entirely and in a totally literal way, through war or violence. This movement forward was the goal of Duchamp’s painting and the work of another Futurist artist, Constantin Brâncuşi. Brâncuşi’s “Golden Bird” (1919) is the very essence—the only thing constant in a world hurling toward the future at all times—of a bird taking flight.
This sculpture prompted Mina Loy, a poet involved in nearly every major Avant Garde movement of the 20th century to write a poem entitled, “Brancusi’s Golden Bird” in which she tries to put in to words what she feels about Brâncuşi’s piece. Mina Loy was actually in a sexual relationship with Futurism’s founder Marinetti, the Italian thinker who was friends with Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy during WWII. Loy became disillusioned with Futurism and its misogyny and sampled around from the rest of Avant Garde table.
But now back to Marcel Duchamp. In 1915, Duchamp permanently moved to New York with his friend Francis Picabia, where Duchamp’s art had created a name for him. Duchamp and Picabia fell in with an American bohemian named Man Ray thanks to the art patron Alfred Stieglitz and in 1918 Duchamp found himself to be the de facto leader of the New York Dadaists, a less serious cousin of the European Dada movement.
In 1921, the New York Dadaists left for Paris, where they joined with their Dada cousins. Man Ray photographed Duchamp as his alias, Rrose Sélavy, a play on the French saying, “C’est la vie.” Soon Dada gave way to Surrealism and Man Ray’s photography evolved alongside the newly reconceived art form.
Can you guess what happens next? Of course. Mina Loy, who has left the Futurists, meets Duchamp and Man Ray’s crew of bohemian misfits. In fact, Man Ray photographs Mina Loy, which happens to be the very same photograph used on Loy’s collection of poems, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, where her poem on the Golden Bird is found.
How about that for networking?