A 1913 Children’s Book Lampoons Duchamp, Picasso & Other Avant-Garde Artists: Read The Cubies’ ABC Online

Igor Stravin­sky’s The Rite of Spring pre­miered in 1913, and its vio­lent break from musi­cal and chore­o­graph­ic tra­di­tion, so the sto­ry goes, pushed the gen­teel Parisian audi­ence to vio­lent rebel­lion. That tale may have grown taller over the past cen­tu­ry, but pub­lic dis­taste for then-nov­el trends in all forms of “mod­ern art” has left a paper trail. Here we have a par­tic­u­lar­ly amus­ing exhib­it, and long an obscure one: The Cubies’ ABC, a pic­ture book by a cou­ple named Mary Mills and Earl Har­vey Lyall. They were inspired by anoth­er major cul­tur­al event of 1913, the Inter­na­tion­al Exhi­bi­tion of Mod­ern Art, or “Armory Show,” which offered the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca its first look at ground­break­ing work by Mar­cel Duchamp, Pablo Picas­so, and Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky, among a host of oth­er for­eign artists.

The Lyalls, evi­dent­ly, were not impressed. In order to ridicule what they seem to have con­sid­ered the pre­ten­sions of the avant-garde, they came up with the Cubies, a trio of angu­lar, wild-haired trou­ble­mak­ers bent on dis­card­ing all estab­lished con­ven­tions in the name of Ego, the Future, and Intu­ition.

Those three con­cepts get their own pages in this alpha­bet­i­cal­ly orga­nized book, as do artists — not that the authors would uniron­i­cal­ly grant them the title — like Duchamp, “the Deep-Dyed Deceiv­er, who, draw­ing accor­dions, labels them stairs”; Kandin­sky, painter of “Kute ‘impro­vi­sa­tions’ ”; and even Gertrude Stein, “elo­quent scribe of the Futur­ist soul.” X stands, of course, for “the Xit,” a direc­tion “Xtreme­ly allur­ing when Cubies invite us to study their Art.”

“We tend to for­get, now that the Cubists and Futur­ists have become as inte­gral to the his­to­ry of art as the painters of the Dutch Gold­en Age and the Ital­ian Renais­sance, how hos­tile most peo­ple — even most artists — felt toward the non-rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al inno­va­tions of the artists on dis­play at the Armory,” says the Pub­lic Domain Review, where you can read The Cubies’ ABC in full.

You can also buy a copy of the reprint orga­nized by gal­lerist Fran­cis Nau­mann in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Armory show’s cen­te­nary. “Peo­ple in those days thought that they could stop mod­ern art in its tracks,” says Nau­mann in New York­er piece on the book. Did the Lyalls think the Cubies’ antics would land a deci­sive blow against abstrac­tion and sub­jec­tiv­i­ty? Then again, could they have imag­ined us enjoy­ing them more than a hun­dred years lat­er, in a time unknow­able to even the most far-sight­ed Futur­ist?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of the 1913 Exhi­bi­tion That Intro­duced Avant-Garde Art to Amer­i­ca

The Nazi’s Philis­tine Grudge Against Abstract Art and The “Degen­er­ate Art Exhi­bi­tion” of 1937

The Guggen­heim Puts Online 1700 Great Works of Mod­ern Art from 625 Artists

24,000 Vin­tage Car­toons from the Library of Con­gress Illus­trate the His­to­ry of This Mod­ern Art Form (1780–1977)

The Anti-Slav­ery Alpha­bet: 1846 Book Teach­es Kids the ABCs of Slavery’s Evils

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.


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  • Alburq Publications says:

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