Download Alfred Stieglitz’s Proto-Dada Art Journal, 291, The First Art Magazine That Was Itself a Work of Art (1916)

291 Cover 1

You’ve like­ly heard a good deal recently—especially if you hang around these parts—about the 100th anniver­sary of Dada, sup­pos­ed­ly begun when poet and Cabaret Voltaire own­er Hugo Ball penned his man­i­festo in 1916 and began dis­sem­i­nat­ing the ideas of the nascent anti-art move­ment. This makes a con­ve­nient ori­gin sto­ry, as they say in the comics, and helps us con­tex­tu­al­ize the avant-garde explo­sion that fol­lowed. But, his­tor­i­cal­ly speak­ing, there is no such thing as cre­ation ex nihi­lo, and the begin­nings of Dada—before Ball coined the name—lie fur­ther back in time. (We might refer to the dis­tinc­tion Edward Said makes between a divine “ori­gin” and a sec­u­lar “begin­ning.”)

291 Cover 3

We could, as many do, sit­u­ate the begin­nings of Dada in the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry, in Alfred Jarry’s bizarre 1896 play Ubu Roi or Erik Satie’s min­i­mal­ist late 19th cen­tu­ry Gymno­pe­dies. We might also refer to an arts mag­a­zine in New York that pre­ced­ed Tris­tan Tzara’s Dada and Ball’s sin­gle issue Cabaret Voltaire. Edit­ed by famed pho­tog­ra­ph­er and art pro­mot­er Alfred Stieglitz, the jour­nal 291 ran for 12 issues between 1915 and 1916 and is known, writes, as “the first expres­sion of the dada esthet­ic in the Unit­ed States; pro­to-dada, actu­al­ly, dada avant la let­tre, before dada had start­ed in Zürich in 1916.” Along with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa, Ubuweb hosts the entire 12-issue print run, “a finan­cial fias­co” in its day, “fail­ing to sell more than eight sub­scrip­tions on vel­lum and a hun­dred on ordi­nary paper…. In the end Stieglitz sold the entire back­stock to a rag­pick­er for $5.80.”

291 Cover 2

Despite this inglo­ri­ous end, 291 is notable not only for its pro­to-dada status—and for fea­tur­ing the work of mod­ernists like Georges Braque, Guil­laume Apol­li­naire, and lat­er Dada and Sur­re­al­ist artist Fran­cis Picabia; the mag­a­zine also “occu­pies an inter­est­ing posi­tion among the jour­nals of mod­ernist art” as “the first mag­a­zine to style itself as a work of art in its own right.” You can get a sense of its artistry in the cov­ers you see here, and down­load every issue of the mag­a­zine at Ubuweb or at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa’s Inter­na­tion­al Dada Archive. You’ll also see the magazine’s unusu­al format—from odd lit­tle top­i­cal items of the sort you’d find in a local news­pa­per to fas­ci­nat­ing visu­al poet­ry like “Men­tal Reac­tions,” below, by Agnes Ernst Mey­er. What we can’t get from the dig­i­tal copies, unfor­tu­nate­ly, is the full sense of 291’s “dra­mat­ic form” in its “gigan­tic folio for­mat.”

291 Mental Reactions

The mod­ernist jour­nal “took its orig­i­nal inspi­ra­tion from Apollinaire’s Soirées de Paris,” a jour­nal found­ed in 1912 by the French poet and crit­ic and his friends, “empha­siz­ing caligram­mat­ic texts and an abstract­ed kind of satir­i­cal draw­ing.” And though 291 may have had a very lim­it­ed reach dur­ing its mate­r­i­al exis­tence, its influ­ence con­tin­ued into the era of Dada when Fran­cis Picabia styled his own jour­nal, 391, after Steiglitz’s pub­li­ca­tion. “Pub­lished 1917–1924 in Barcelona, New York, Zürich, and Paris in nine­teen issues,” writes Book­tryst, 391 helped Picabia dis­trib­ute his own take on Dada, until he denounced the move­ment in 1921 and “issued a per­son­al attack against [Sur­re­al­ist Andre Bre­ton] in the final issue.” The Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa also hosts dig­i­tal ver­sions of all 19 issues of Picabia’s 391, which you can view and down­load here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load All 8 Issues of Dada, the Arts Jour­nal That Pub­li­cized the Avant-Garde Move­ment a Cen­tu­ry Ago (1917–21)

Three Essen­tial Dadaist Films: Ground­break­ing Works by Hans Richter, Man Ray & Mar­cel Duchamp

The ABCs of Dada Explains the Anar­chic, Irra­tional “Anti-Art” Move­ment of Dadaism

Dada Was Born 100 Years Ago: Cel­e­brate the Avant-Garde Move­ment Launched by Hugo Ball on July 14, 1916

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

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