The Iconic Urinal & Work of Art, “Fountain,” Wasn’t Created by Marcel Duchamp But by the Pioneering Dada Artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

In the introduction to her book Broad Strokes, writer and art history scholar Bridget Quinn describes her discovery of Lee Krasner, accomplished abstract expressionist painter who just happened to have been married to Jackson Pollock. That biographical detail warranted Krasner a footnote, but little more, in the art books Quinn studied in college. Learning of Krasner sent Quinn on a quest to find other women left behind by art history. “My fixation with these artists went beyond feminism,” she writes, “if it had anything to do with it at all. I identified with these painters and sculptors the way my friends identified with Joy Division or The Clash or Hüsker Dü.”

Much has changed since 1987, when Quinn’s fandom began, but Krasner is still one of the few female artists to have ever had a retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. And one artist every student of art history should know, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, remains almost completely obscure. What’s so important about von Freytag-Loringhoven? She was a pioneering Dada artist and poet—well-known in the 1910s and 20s. “Her work was championed by Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound,” writes John Higgs at the Independent (she appears in Pound’s Canto XCV). She “is now recognized as the first American Dada artist, but it might be equally true to say she was the first New York punk, 60 years too early.”




Von Freytag-Loringhoven also deserves the credit, it seems, for one of the most groundbreaking art objects to ever appear in a gallery: Fountain, the urinal signed “R. Mutt” that Marcel Duchamp claimed as his own and which has made him a legend in the history of art. The story, I imagine, might seem depressingly familiar to every woman who has ever had a male boss publish her work with his name on it. Even more frustratingly, the “glaring truth has been known for some time in the art world,” according to the blog of art magazine See All This. Yet, “each time it has to be acknowledged, it is met with indifference and silence.”

The truth first emerged in a letter from Duchamp to his sister—discovered in 1982 and dated April 11th, 1917, a few days before the exhibit in which Fountain first appeared—in which he “wrote that a female friend using a male alias had sent it in for the New York exhibition.” The name, “Richard Mutt,” was a pseudonym chosen by Freytag-Loringhoven, who was living in Philadelphia at the time and whom Duchamp knew well, once pronouncing that "she is not a Futurist. She is the future.” (See her Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, above, in a 1920 photograph by Charles Sheeler.)

Why did she never claim Fountain as her own? “She never had the chance,” notes See All This. The urinal was rejected by the exhibition organizers (Duchamp resigned from their board in protest), and it was probably, subsequently thrown away; nothing remained but a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. Von Freytag-Loringhoven died ten years later in 1927.

It was only in 1935 that surrealist André Breton brought attention back to Fountain, attributing it to Duchamp, who accepted authorship and began to commission replicas. The 1917 piece “was destined to become one of the most iconic works of modern art. In 2004, some five hundred artists and art experts heralded Fountain as the most influential piece of modern art, even leaving Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon behind.”

Duchamp’s letter is not the only reason historians have for thinking of Fountain as von Freytag-Loringhoven’s work. “Baroness Elsa had been finding objects in the street and declaring them to be works of art since before Duchamp hit upon the idea of ‘readymades,’” writes Higgs. One such work, a “cast-iron plumber’s trap attached to a wooden box, which she called God” (above), was also misattributed, “assumed to be the work of an artist called Morton Livingston Schaumberg, although it is now accepted that his role in the sculpture was limited to fixing the plumber's trap to its wooden base."

"Fountain is base, crude, confrontational and funny," writes Higgs, "Those are not typical aspects of Duchamp’s work, but they summarize the Baroness and her art perfectly.” Duchamp later claimed to have bought the urinal himself, but later research has shown this to be unlikely. Higgs’ book Stranger Than We Can Imagine explores the issues in more depth, as does an article in Dutch published in the See All This summer issue. What would it mean for the art establishment to acknowledge von Freytag-Loringhoven’s authorship? “To attribute Fountain to a woman and not a man,” the magazine writes, “has obvious, far-reaching consequences: the history of modern art has to be rewritten. Modern art did not start with a patriarch, but with a matriarch."

Learn more about Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven at The Art Story.

via See All This

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Brief, Visual Introduction to Surrealism: A Primer by Doctor Who Star Peter Capaldi

Surrealism, according to this short Unlock Art video from the Tate, began in Paris, at the cafe Les Deux Magots, in 1924. You can still go there, but among its habitués you won't find the fellow on whom the camera zooms in: André Breton, author of the Surrealist Manifesto. That influential text drew inspiration from the work of Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, specifically his book The Interpretation of Dreams.

"Breton believed art and literature could represent the unconscious mind," says the video's narrator Peter Capaldi, well known as one of the Doctors of Doctor Who. He then names some artists who agreed with Breton on this point, such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, and Rene Magritte — just a few of the Surrealists. "Surreal," as an adjective, has perhaps fallen victim to debasement by overuse in the past 84 years. But Breton had specific ideas about Surrealism's potential effects, its sources of power, and its methods.

Desire, for instance, "was central to the Surrealist vision of love, poetry, and liberty. It was the key to understanding human beings." Surrealist artistic practices included putting objects "that were not normally associated with one another together, to make something that was playful and disturbing at the same time in order to stimulate the unconscious mind." Think of Dalí's 1936 Lobster Telephone, made out of those very objects. "It's about food and sex," Capaldi pronounces. The Surrealist vision also extended to more complicated endeavors, such as elaborate paintings and films that still fascinate today.

You can catch up on Surrealist film here on Open Culture, beginning with Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dalí's nightmarish 1929 short Un Chien Andalou, continuing on to the Surrealist feature Dreams That Money Can Buy (a collaboration by the likes of Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger and Hans Richter), and the history of Surrealist cinema as presented by David Lynch, a filmmaker widely considered one of the movement's modern heirs. Whether Breton would recognize the Surrealist sensibility in its current manifestations will remain a matter of debate, but who could watch this Unlock Art primer and fail to sense the fascination its basic ideas — or basic compulsions, perhaps — still hold today?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Meditative Look at a Japanese Artisan’s Quest to Save the Brilliant, Forgotten Colors of Japan’s Past

We might assume that 21st-century technology enables us to produce fabric in all imaginable colors, most of them totally unknown to our ancestors. Yet none of it has ever quite replicated the striking hues achieved by dyers of centuries and centuries ago. That premise underlies the slow and painstaking work of Sachio Yoshioka, whose family's fabric-dyeing heritage goes back to Japan's Edo period of the 17th to the mid-19th century. Having taken over his father's workshop Textiles Yoshioka in 1988, he has spent the past thirty years working only with traditional plant dyes, the kind that once, in a time long before his family even got into the dyeing business, made his homeland so colorful.

The Japanese dyeing tradition, in this reading of its history, reached its long apex of brilliance in the Nara and Heian periods, which together lasted from the years 710 to 1185. Most of the world admires Japanese aesthetic sensibilities, but often with reference to internationally well-known concepts like wabi-sabi that idealize the rustic, the imperfect, and the subdued. Unlike in the Edo period, when the strict Tokyugawa Shogunate mandated that common people stick to grays and browns, Nara and Heian cities would have been rich with vivid reds, blues, yellows, oranges, and even purples, all in varieties one seldom sees even today, in Japan or anywhere else.




Hence Yoshioka's mission to practice and even refine the same labor-intensive dyeing methods used back then. Formerly a student of philosophy as well as a publisher of books on the history of color and fabric arts, he now seems devoted to what goes on in his Kyoto workshop. You can watch what he and his assistants do there in the video from the Victoria and Albert Museum above. Composed of four short films, it includes a segment on Yoshioka's production of paper flowers for the Omizutori festival at the Tōdai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara, the historical capital outside Kyoto, that culminates in an evening fire ceremony.

That fire ceremony, called Otaimatsu, remains as compelling a spectacle today as it must have been more than a millennium ago, just as surely as the colors Yoshioka has rediscovered have lost none of their allure since then. His dedication to the work of traditional dyeing — work his daughter Sarasa will take into its sixth generation — comes not out of a desire to pay tribute to Japanese history, nor even out of filial piety, but something much simpler: "The colors you can obtain from plants are so beautiful," he says. "This is the one and only reason I do what I do." 

via Kottke/Metafilter

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Visit the Largest Collection of Frida Kahlo’s Work Ever Assembled: 800 Artifacts from 33 Museums, All Free Online

Some films achieve the rare feat of being both colorful escapist fantasy and artful means of reconnecting us with our imperiled humanity. Pixar’s wonderful, animated Coco is such a film, “an exploration of values,” writes Jia Tolentino at The New Yorker, “a story of a multigenerational matriarchy, rooted in the past—whereas real life, these days, feels like an atemporal, structureless nightmare ruled by men.” Central to its fictionalized celebration of Mexican culture and history is a historical figure every grown-up viewer knows—that foremother of Mexican modernism, Frida Kahlo, an artist who seems as necessary to remember now as ever.

Not that Frida Kahlo is in danger of being forgotten. She is adored around the world, an icon for millions of people who see themselves in the various intersections of her identity: Mexican, mestiza, queer, disabled, feminist, uncompromisingly radical, etc….




Kahlo’s identities matter, and she made them matter. She would not be erased or let her edges be planed away and sanded down. Like other confessional artists to whom she is often compared, Kahlo turned her tragically painful, joyously vibrant life into enduring art. To crib Audre Lorde’s description of poetry, her work is a “revelatory distillation of experience.”

But the confessional understanding of Kahlo can present a critical problem, namely the emergence of what Stephanie Mencimer calls “the Kahlo Cult.”

…her fans are largely drawn by the story of her life, for which her paintings are often presented as simple illustration…. But, like a game of telephone, the more Kahlo’s story has been told, the more it has been distorted, omitting uncomfortable details that show her to be a far more complex and flawed figure than the movies and cookbooks suggest.

In any case, we may not need more hagiography of Frida. We find her life, flaws and all, in her work. From the ravages of childhood polio and a horrific traffic accident at 18 (depicted in the drawing below but never in a painting), from love affairs, a deep immersion in Mexican folk art, and a commitment to socialism and the Mexican Revolution, Kahlo created an autobiographical oeuvre like no other. That said, Kahlo herself is so undeniably fascinating a character that "no one need appreciate art to justify being a Kahlo fan or even a Kahlo cultist," as Peter Schjeldahl once wrote. "Why not? The world will have cults, and who better merits one?"

For the art appreciators and Kahlo cultists alike, Google Arts & Culture has created a project that brings together her life and work in ways that illuminate both, with biographical and critical essays, and a thorough exhibit of her work from museums all over the world, including many little-known pieces like her sketches, drawings, and early works; a look at her letters and many photographs of her throughout her life; an online exhibition of her famous wardrobe; several features of her influence on LGBTQ artists, musicians, fashion designers, and much, much more. It's "the largest Kahlo curation ever assembled," notes My Modern Met. "The best part? No need to pay a museum fee—it's available online for anyone to enjoy for free."

A collaboration "between the tech giant and a worldwide network of experts and 33 partner museums in seven countries," notes Hyperallergic, Faces of Frida contains 800 artifacts, "including 20 ultra-high resolution images... never digitized till now." Some of these artifacts are extremely rare, such as "early versions of her work, sketched and etched onto the backs of finished paintings, unseen by anyone without the ability to touch them." You can also see the places that most influenced her career through five Google Street view tours, "including the famous Blue House in Mexico City in which she was born and died."

This comprehensive online gallery seeks to encompass every part of Frida’s life, but rarely takes the focus from her work. “Of the 150 or so of her works that have survived,” notes Mencimer, “most are self-portraits. As she later said, ‘I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best.’” Working outward from herself, she also painted the specific resonances of her time and place, and explored human experiences that transcend personality. “As with all the best artists,” says author Frances Borzello in one of the Google Arts features, “Kahlo’s art is not a diary ingeniously presented in paint but a recreation of personal beliefs, feelings and events through her particular lens into something unique and universal.”

Though a superstar in the land of the dead, during her life Kahlo’s work was greatly overshadowed by that of her famous husband Diego Rivera. She only had two shows in her lifetime, one of them arranged by surrealist Andre Breton, who called her painting “a ribbon around a bomb.” After her death in 1954, she “largely disappeared from the mainstream art world.” There is a certain irony in pointing out that fascination with Kahlo’s work sometimes reduces down to interest in her biography, since it took a 1983 biography by Hayden Herrera to bring her back into the public consciousness. “When it was published” Mercimer writes, “there wasn’t a single monograph of Kahlo’s work to show people what it looked like, but the biography, which could have been the basis for a Univision telenovela, sparked a Frida frenzy.”

How things have changed. No reader of Herrera’s book, or any of the many treatments of Kahlo’s life since then, will come to it sight unseen. Frida’s face—defiant, mustachioed, monobrowed—stares out at us from everywhere. The Google exhibit guides us through a comprehensive contextualization of that haunting, yet familiar gaze. The letters and biographical entries contain insight after insight into the artist’s private and public lives. But ultimately, it’s the paintings that speak. As Borzello puts it, when we really confront Frida’s work, we may be struck by “how helpless words are in the face of the strange richness of those images.” She invented new visual vocabularies of pain, pleasure, pride, and perseverance. Visit Faces of Frida here.

via Google's blog

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Visualizing Dante’s Hell: See Maps & Drawings of Dante’s Inferno from the Renaissance Through Today

The light was departing. The brown air drew down
     all the earth’s creatures, calling them to rest
     from their day-roving, as I, one man alone,

prepared myself to face the double war
     of the journey and the pity, which memory
     shall here set down, nor hesitate, nor err.

Reading Dante’s Inferno, and Divine Comedy generally, can seem a daunting task, what with the book’s wealth of allusion to 14th century Florentine politics and medieval Catholic theology. Much depends upon a good translation. Maybe it’s fitting that the proverb about translators as traitors comes from Italian. The first Dante that came my way—the unabridged Carlyle-Okey-Wicksteed English translation—renders the poet’s terza rima in leaden prose, which may well be a literary betrayal.

Gone is the rhyme scheme, self-contained stanzas, and poetic compression, replaced by wordiness, antiquated diction, and needless density. I labored through the text and did not much enjoy it. I’m far from an expert by any stretch, but was much relieved to later discover John Ciardi’s more faithful English rendering, which immediately impresses upon the senses and the memory, as in the description above in the first stanzas of Canto II.

The sole advantage, perhaps, of the translation I first encountered lies in its use of illustrations, maps, and diagrams. While readers can follow the poem’s vivid action without visual aids, these lend to the text a kind of imaginative materiality: saying yes, of course, this is a real place—see, it’s right here! We can suspend our disbelief, perhaps, in Catholic doctrine and, doubly, in Dante’s weirdly officious, comically bureaucratic, scheme of hell.

Indeed, readers of Dante have been inspired to map his Inferno for almost as long as they have been inspired to translate it into other languages—and we might consider these maps more-or-less-faithful visual translations of the Inferno’s descriptions. One of the first maps of Dante’s hell (top) appeared in Sandro Botticelli’s series of ninety illustrations, which the Renaissance great and fellow Florentine made on commission for Lorenzo de’Medici in the 1480s and 90s.

Botticelli’s “Chart of Hell,” writes Deborah Parker, “has long been lauded as one of the most compelling visual representations… a panoptic display of the descent made by Dante and Virgil through the ‘abysmal valley of pain.’” Below it, we see one of Antonio Manetti’s 1506 woodcut illustrations, a series of cross-sections and detailed views. Maps continued to proliferate: see printmaker Antonio Maretti’s 1529 diagram further up, Joannes Stradanus’ 1587 version, above, and, below, a 1612 illustration below by Jacques Callot.

Dante’s hell lends itself to any number of visual treatments, from the purely schematic to the broadly imaginative and interpretive. Michelangelo Caetani’s 1855 cross-section chart, below, lacks the illustrative detail of other maps, but its use of color and highly organized labeling system makes it far more legible that Callot’s beautiful but busy drawing above.

Though we are within our rights as readers to see Dante’s hell as purely metaphorical, there are historical reasons beyond religious belief for why more literal maps became popular in the 15th century, “including,” writes Atlas Obscura, “the general popularity of cartography at the time and the Renaissance obsession with proportions and measurement.”

Even after hundreds of years of cultural shifts and upheavals, the Inferno and its humorous and horrific scenes of torture still retain a fascination for modern readers and for illustrators like Daniel Heald, whose 1994 map, above, while lacking Botticelli’s gilded brilliance, presents us with a clear visual guide through that perplexing valley of pain, which remains—in the right translation or, doubtless, in its original language—a pleasure for readers who are willing to descend into its circular depths. Or, short of that, we can take a digital train and escalators into an 8-bit video game version.

See more maps of Dante’s Inferno here, here, and here.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

David Bowie Memorialized in Traditional Japanese Woodblock Prints

The East beckons me — Japan — but I’m a bit worried that I’ll get too Zen there and my writing will dry up. - David Bowie, 1980

David Bowie’s longstanding fascination with Japan pervaded his work, becoming the gateway through which many of his fans began to explore that country’s cultural traditions and aesthetics.

Perhaps the entry point is designer Kansai Yamamoto’s Ziggy Stardust togs, Yukio Mishima’s 1963 novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace from the Sea—one of Bowie’s top 100 books—or the 1000s of images photographer Masayoshi Sukita captured of the rocker over a period of four decades.




Maybe it was Aladdin Sane’s kabuki-like makeup or director Nagisa Oshima's World War II drama,  Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, in which Bowie played a British officer in a Japanese POW camp.

The recent release of two modern ukiyo-e woodblock prints featuring the rocker has caused such mass swooning among legions of Japanophile Bowie fans, the reverberations may well be powerful enough to ring temple bells in Kyoto.

For each print, artist Masumi Ishikawa casts Bowie as both himself and an iconic Japanese figure.

In the image at the top of the page, Bowie’s Aladdin Sane assumes the pose of the central character in Edo Period artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s Kidômaru and the Tengu, below.

The other print relocates the dashing Bowie from Terry O’Neill’s Diamond Dogs publicity photos to the realm of magician Takezawa Toji, whose spinning top performances had the power to summon dragons, at least as depicted by Kuniyoshi.

The prints were ordered by the Ukiyo-e Project, whose mission is to portray today’s artists and pop icons on traditional woodblock prints. (Bowie follows previous honorees Kiss and Iron Maiden.)

The prints and the blocks from which the impressions were made will be on display at BOOKMARC in Tokyo’s Omotesando neighborhood from June 23 to July 1.

via Spoon and Tamago

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker, Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and Bowie fan.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight opens June 12 at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Ralph Steadman Creates an Unorthodox Illustrated Biography of Sigmund Freud, the Father of Psychoanalysis (1979)

Sigmund Freud died in 1939, and the nearly eight decades since haven't been kind to his psychoanalytical theories, but in some sense he survives. "For many years, even as writers were discarding the more patently absurd elements of his theory — penis envy, or the death drive — they continued to pay homage to Freud’s unblinking insight into the human condition," writes the New Yorker's Louis Menand. He claims that Freud thus evolved, "in the popular imagination, from a scientist into a kind of poet of the mind. And the thing about poets is that they cannot be refuted. No one asks of 'Paradise Lost': But is it true? Freud and his concepts, now converted into metaphors, joined the legion of the undead."

The master of a legion of undead psychological metaphors — who, in the ranks of living illustrators, could be more suited to render such a figure than Ralph Steadman? And how many of us know that he actually did so in 1979, when he produced an "art-biography" of the "Father of Psychoanalysis"?




Sigmund Freud, which has spent long stretches out of print since its first publication, tells the story of Freud's life, beginning with his childhood in Austria to his death, not long after his emigration in flight from the Nazis, in London. It was there that he met Virginia Woolf, who in her diary describes him as "a screwed up shrunk very old man: with a monkey’s light eyes, paralyzed spasmodic movements, inarticulate: but alert."

There, again, Freud sounds like one of Steadman's drawings, sometimes outwardly unappealing but always possessed of an unignorable vitality generated by a solid core of perceptiveness. Earlier chapters of Freud's life, characterized by intellectual as well as physical vigorousness aided by the 19th-century "miracle drug" of cocaine, also give the illustrator rich material to work with. One can't help but think of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which forged a permanent cultural link between Steadman's art and Hunter S. Thompson's prose. How "true" is the drug-fueled desert odyssey that book recounts? More so, perhaps, than many of Freud's supposedly scientific discoveries. But as with the work of Freud, so with that of Thompson and Steadman: we return to it not because we want the truth, exactly, but because we can't turn away from the often grotesque versions of ourselves it shows us.

You can pick up a copy of Steadman's illustrated Sigmund Freud here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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