Debating American Modernism
Stieglitz, Duchamp, and the New York Avant-Garde


1902 March 5 Alfred Stieglitz co-curates American Pictorial Photography Arranged by the ‘Photo Secession,’ the first exhibition of photography held at the National Arts Club in New York. Following the opening of the exhibition, Stieglitz forms the Photo-Secession—an informal society aiming to gain recognition for pictorial photography as a fine art—along with twelve founders including photographers Edward Steichen, Gertrude Käsebier, and Clarence White

1903 January Stieglitz introduces Camera Work, a quarterly publication focusing on the aesthetics of photography and the aims of the Photo-Secession. In later years, the publication would promote avant-garde painting and sculpture

1905 November 21 Stieglitz opens the Little Galleries of the Photo- Secession in Steichen’s former residence on the top floor of 291 Fifth Avenue in New York (figs. 1 and 3)

1907 Stieglitz exhibits photographs of the nude figure, scandalizing American audiences

1908 April 6 Stieglitz exhibits drawings, lithographs, watercolors, and etchings by the French Fauvist painter Henri Matisse at his gallery, by now known as “291” (a reference to its street address)

1909 September Sigmund Freud delivers what would be his only lectures to the American public at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts

1910–1914 Marcel Duchamp (fig. 2) is a member of the Puteaux group, which meets in the Paris suburb of the same name and works in a Cubist style. This group of artists includes his two brothers, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Francis Picabia, and writers Blaise Cendrars and Guillaume Apollinaire

1911 Psychoanalyst A. A. Brill translates Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams into English

1912 March Duchamp submits Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (fig. 4) to the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, causing a dispute among the members of the hanging committee. Ultimately, Duchamp is asked to rename the painting, prompting him to withdraw it from the exhibition

Fall Walter Pach, American artist and critic, selects Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 and three other works by Duchamp for the Armory Show in New York after viewing them at the Galerie de la Boetie in Paris.

February 17 The Armory Show, the largest international showcase of contemporary art in the United States, opens at the armory of the New York National Guard’s Sixty-ninth Regiment at 26th Street and Lexington Avenue (fig. 6). Officially called the International Exhibition of Modern Art, it features Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Neo- Impressionist, Fauve, Symbolist, German Expressionist, and Cubist works and provides the American public with the first real opportunity to view avant-garde European art. Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 is widely ridiculed in the press (fig. 7), generating national interest in the exhibition and notoriety for the artist.

March 17 French painter Francis Picabia, the only European artist to attend the Armory Show, exhibits watercolors at Alfred Stieglitz’s “ 291” in his first one-man exhibition in the United States.

Brill translates Freud’s Leonardo da Vinci: A Psychosexual Study of an Infantile Reminiscence.

Designed by Cass Gilbert, the Woolworth Building in downtown Manhattan is completed (fig. 5). At 792 feet tall, it is the tallest building in the world until 1930.

In the years immediately following the Armory Show, several salons were created. Well known to the vanguard community, these evening gatherings of artists, writers, and critics offered participants an opportunity to discuss topics ranging from politics to literature to art. Stieglitz, Brill, journalist and writer Walter Lippmann, and others with an interest in Freud’s psycho-analytical theories frequent the salons of Mabel Dodge Luhan, an early feminist writer for the New York Journal.

1914 June 28 World War I begins following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By the end of the year, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, France, Belgium, and Great Britain are at war.

August 3 Germany declares war on France.

1915 March Artist Marius de Zayas and writers Paul Haviland and Agnes Ernst Meyer publish the first issue of 291, a bilingual avantgarde magazine that is financed by Stieglitz.

May 7 A German submarine sinks the British passenger ship Lusitania, en route to Liverpool from New York, killing over one hundred Americans.

May Picabia stops in New York on the way to the Caribbean on assignment for the French army.

June 15 Relieved of military service for health reasons in 1914, Duchamp arrives in New York City from Paris at the age of twenty-seven. He is greeted as a celebrity.

September In an interview in the New York Tribune titled “The Nude- Descending-a-Staircase Man Surveys Us,” Duchamp criticizes American culture’s reverence for European precedents (fig. 8). He also praises New York’s beautiful skyscrapers and the intelligence of American women. Similar interviews with the artist appear in other prominent journals of the time.

October 7 The Modern Gallery, a commercial venture directed by de Zayas and financed by Picabia, Haviland, and Eugene Meyer, opens. The objective of the gallery is to complement the noncommercial and intellectual experiments at “291.” October Artists Albert Gleizes and Jean Crotti arrive in New York from Paris.

November After living with his friends and patrons Louise and Walter Arensberg in Manhattan, Duchamp moves into a studio at 1947 Broadway.

Duchamp meets and becomes close friends with the American artist Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitsky).

Duchamp and Stieglitz meet for the first time, most likely either at “ 291” or at a dinner hosted by Duchamp at the Brevoort Hotel.

Stieglitz meets Paul Rosenfeld and Waldo Frank, two writers and advocates of Freudian theory.

The late-night salons at the apartment of the Arensbergs (fig. 11) include many artists who had fled Europe, such as Duchamp, Picabia, Crotti, Gleizes, Mina Loy, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, and composer Edgar Varèse; and numerous Americans including the artists Charles Sheeler, Joseph Stella, Morton Livingston Schamberg, John Covert, Marius de Zayas, writers Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams, and arts patron Katherine Dreier.

Duchamp creates In Advance of the Broken Arm, a shovel suspended from the ceiling, and coins the term “readymade” to connote a work of art made from a pre-existing manufactured object. Duchamp once talked of signing the Woolworth Building to convert it into a readymade.

Freud’s case studies and ideas on dream therapy and infantile sexuality become common topics in articles by writers such as Lippmann, Max Eastman, and Floyd Dell that appear respectively in the New Republic, Everybody’s Magazine, and Vanity Fair.

1916 January Stieglitz discovers the work of Georgia O’Keeffe (fig. 15) when mutual friend Anita Pollitzer suggests he exhibit her work at “291.” The artist and dealer will eventually become romantically involved.

April Duchamp first exhibits two of his readymades at the Bourgeois Gallery in New York.

November 16 Rosenfeld and Frank launch The Seven Arts, a progressive literary magazine that thrives until 1917.

The Society of Independent Artists is formed in order to “afford American and foreign artists an opportunity to exhibit their work independent of a jury.”

Due to the mushrooming development of skyscrapers in Manhattan, city zoning laws are enacted requiring the upper floors of skyscrapers to be stepped further and further back in order to allow more light to reach the streets and sidewalks.

1917 January Picabia publishes 391, a journal that is inspired by 291 but more provocative in content.

April 6 The United States declares war on Germany.

April 9 Under the pseudonym “R. Mutt,” Duchamp submits his readymade Fountain, a mass-produced porcelain urinal, for installation at the first annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York (fig. 12). The group rejects the submission, prompting the artist to resign as co-director of the society.

May An anonymous editorial (probably authored by Duchamp and Beatrice Wood) titled “The Richard Mutt Case” is published in the second edition of The Blind Man (fig. 13), a publication produced by Duchamp, Wood, and Henri-Pierre Roché. Stieglitz’s photograph of the sculpture accompanies the article.

June Largely due to financial difficulties, Stieglitz closes “291” with an exhibition of works by Georgia O’Keeffe. He also terminates the journal Camera Work.

Luhan moves from New York to Taos, New Mexico, where she creates an artist colony for modernists. Through the years she receives such guests as collector Leo Stein, conductor Leopold Stokowski, playwright Thornton Wilder, artists Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Georgia O’Keeffe, photographers Paul Strand and Ansel Adams, and writers Willa Cather, D.H. Lawrence, and Carl Van Vechten.

While traveling with the Army, Picabia visits New York again before returning to Paris (fig. 10).

1918 June Georgia O’Keeffe moves from Canyon, Texas, to New York.

Stieglitz and O’Keeffe begin to divide their time between Manhattan and the Stieglitz family’s summer home in Lake George, New York.

With the United States now engaged in war, Duchamp moves to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he continues producing art for nine months.

Brill translates Freud’s Three Contributions to a Theory of Sex.

1919 June 22 Duchamp returns to Paris from Argentina and stays with Picabia until the end of the year. While there, he joins the gatherings of the Dada group. An avant-garde artistic and literary movement that emerged in Zurich in 1916, European Dada was a response to the atrocities of the war; its proponents were devoted to the negation of traditional philosophies and artistic values.

June 28 World War I ends. The Allies and Germany sign the Treaty of Versailles.

Fall Financed by Walter Arensberg, Marius de Zayas opens the De Zayas Gallery in New York.

1920 January Duchamp returns to New York for the year and takes up residence at 246 West 73rd Street.

April 29 Katherine Dreier, Man Ray, and Duchamp found the Société Anonyme, a Dada group that sponsors events in order to exhibit and explain Modernism to New York audiences, as well as build its own permanent collection of international modern art (fig. 14).

August 18 In a major victory for the woman suffrage movement, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified in congress, guaranteeing that the right of United States citizens to vote would not be denied on account of their sex.

1921 April The first public symposium on the New York Dada movement is held in conjunction with an exhibition of European Dada works at the Société Anonyme. Avoiding the nihilistic approach of the European group, New York Dada focuses on irrationality with humor and wit.

June Duchamp returns to Paris. He collaborates on film experiments with Man Ray, who arrives the following month.

1922 January 28 Duchamp returns to New York again and continues working on The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). He would ultimately leave the sculpture “definitively unfinished.”

Stieglitz launches a journal titled Manuscripts (MSS), with a cover design by O’Keeffe and contributions by writers Sherwood Anderson and William Carlos Williams, as well as Frank and Rosenfeld. Five issues are published.

1923 February Duchamp resettles in Paris, where he lives until 1942, returning to New York briefly in 1926, 1933, and 1936. From 1942 until his death, he lives in New York.

1924 December 11 Stieglitz and O’Keeffe are married in Cliffside Park, New Jersey.

1925 March Stieglitz organizes a group show at the Anderson Galleries in New York entitled Seven Americans, exhibiting works by Charles Demuth, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and O’Keeffe, as well as his own photographs and those of Paul Strand.

December 7 Stieglitz opens the Intimate Gallery, a one-room gallery space on the corner of Park Avenue and 57th Street in the same building in New York where the Anderson Galleries are located (fig. 17). Primarily supporting the work of seven American artists, he exhibits Marin, Hartley, O’Keeffe, Dove, Strand, and his own work, with the seventh spot filled intermittently by Demuth, Picabia, Peggy Bacon, Oscar Bluemner, or Gaston Lachaise.

1929 May The Intimate Gallery closes. In December of the same year, Stieglitz opens An American Place, where he focuses on promoting the work of Dove, O’Keeffe, and Marin. The gallery remains open until 1950.

October 29 The New York Stock Exchange crashes, prompting the Great Depression in the United States.

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