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Mass-Production on 14th Street

by Mina Loy

Streets of Commerce & the Surrealist Female Body

by Linda A. Kinnahan

Mass-Production on 14th Street

Ocean in flower
of closing hour

Pedestrian ocean
of whose undertow,
the rosy scissors of hosiery
snip space
to a triangular racing lace

in an iris circus of Industry.


As a commodious bee
the eye
gathers the infinite facets
of the unique unlikeness
of faces;
the diamond flesh of adolescence
sloping toward perception:

flower over flower,
corollas of complexion
craning from hanging-gardens
of the garment-worker.


All this Eros’ produce
dressed in audacious
fuschia,
orgies of orchid
or dented dandelion
among a foliage of mass-production:

carnations
tossed at a carnal caravan
for Carnevale.


The consumer,
the statue of a daisy in her hair
jostles her auxiliary creator
the sempstress — on her hip
a tulip —
horticulture
of her hand-labor.


From the conservatories of commerce’
long glass aisles,
idols of style
project a chic paralysis
through mirrored opals
imaging
the cyclamen and azure
of their mobile simulacra’s
tidal passing;


while an ironic
furrier, in the air,
combines the live and static
Femina
of the thoroughfare;


a windowed carousel
of girls revolving
idly in an unconcern
of walking dolls
letting their little wrists from under
the short furs of summer,
jolt to their robot turn.


Now, in the sedative descent of dusk
the street returns to stone;
alone
two lovers, crushed
together in their sweet conjecture
as to Fashion’s humour,
point at the ecru and ivory
replica of the dress she has on
doused in a reservoir of ruby neon;

only —  — her buttons are clothespins
the mannequin’s, harlequins.


 
iii. Loy and the Female Body of Surrealism

Long before the Surrealist movement, Loy’s migration among cities—London, New York, Florence, Berlin, Paris—imbued her poetry with a particularly cosmopolitan flavor. The importance to her poetry of these migrations between and habitations within specific at specific points of history shapes how we understand the “cultures of modernism,” as compellingly charted by Cristanne Miller.[i] Her initial years in Paris, living as an art student, model, and artist living in the city between 1903 and 1906, introduced her to the city scenes that Eugene Atget had begun to document, viewed by Loy and her friends years later; traversing turn-of-the-century streets, Loy trained her eye on their urban economies long before she was to view the photographic images of window displays, corsets, and prostitutes captured by Atget’s lens and that the Surrealists, along with Levy, embraced. Through privileging such images in Atget’s oeuvre, the photographer’s surrealist positioning was established most explicitly with posthumous publications of a few photographs in two central journals, in La révolution surrealiste (1927) – the selections engineered by Man Ray – and a year later in Varieté.  Interestingly, Atget, still alive at the time that Man Ray selected photographs for the 1927 publication, “was happy enough to sell his photographs but was hardly eager to be adopted by the movement, and he asked that the images be printed anonymously” (Ware 21). Within the next few years, nonetheless, the cultural critic Walter Benjamin insisted upon this association, linking Atget’s imagery of shop windows, brothels, social outcasts, and empty streets with the surrealists. [INSERT IMAGE 2.5 HERE] Benjamin would claim that Atget’s work captured urban settings as if they were the “scene of a crime,” for every city (he reasoned) was the scene of a psychic crime (or, in surrealist terms, a site of the modern unconscious).[ii]

Loy’s art school years overlap with the period of Atget’s most prodigious visual responses to changes prompted by modern forces as Paris emerged as a center of Western consumer culture.[iii] Boasting the first department stores, shopping arcades, and sophisticated displays of consumer goods meant to elicit desire for new things, the city’s networks of commerce and consumerism helped define its distinctive modernity. Responding to modern urban environs as particularly gendered spaces, several of Loy’s first published poems, written in the teens, imagine the female body in relation to spaces of commerce, such as “Virgins Plus Curtains Minus Dots” where girls are on the marriage market, or “Three Moments in Paris,” a set of three scenes located in commercial establishments. Prefiguring Surrealism’s fascination with the city streets, Loy’s iconographic depiction of shop windows, displays, and dolls first appears in the 1915 “Three Moments in Paris.” One moment in particular resonates with Atget’s images of store windows filled with dolls and doll parts, depicting displays that Loy and Atget alike encountered in walking by Parisian shops. In the final of three sections of the poem, two “cocottes” wander through the Magasins du Louvre, an early department store, walking down an aisle of

boxes
of dolls
propped against banisters
walls and pillars
Huddled on shelves
And composite babies with arms extended
Hang from the ceiling
Beckoning
Smiling

. . . All the virgin eyes in the world are made of glass. (17)

In this scene, the poem documents urban commerce in relation to the movement of women’s bodies and the display of mass-produced feminine artifice, both in the pose of the cocotte and in the multiplication of dolls that signify the intertwined marketing of feminized maternity and the market value of the “virgin.”[iv] The poem locates the image of dolls within a suggestive critique of modern misogyny, including the systemic ties between a male-dominated culture and the commodification of the female.

Most blatantly signified for Loy through the market value of virginity, as in her 1914 “Feminist Manifesto,” the pecuniary objectification of women is figured in the poem as “virgin eyes” and dismembered girl dolls, the dehumanized feminine within a masculinely organized space of commerce, politics, and social existence. These dolls make a feminist point, at the same time that their brokenness and disassembly resonates within a repertoire of violated female bodies promoted within the next few years within circuits of avant-garde imagery, especially in contexts of male artists connected to transatlantic formations of Dada and Surrealism. Loy’s “composite babies,” moreover, reflect the urban environs of Paris likewise framed by the contemporaneous photographs of Eugene Atget during the first two decades of the century. Although Loy would not know Atget’s photographs, including those of doll shop windows, until the twenties, his documented vision of the urban street coincides with Loy’s 1915 interest in the street as spectacle and the doll as eerily (Freud will later label it “uncannily”) and ambivalently mirroring human experience.

By the late teens, the doll image circulated widely in visual Dada, joined by a general interest among Dadaists in the automaton and mechanized representations of gender through coffee grinders, egg beaters, and other mechanical devices. Pursued by Surrealists with even greater vigor, the automaton became visually linked to the mannequin. An early example of the mannequin’s appeal for the Paris Surrealists underlies the selection of a photograph by Atget in the 1926 issue of La révolution surréaliste. Taken in 1912 (long before Atget was “discovered” by Man Ray and the Surrealists), this corset shop window frames rows of old fashioned mannequins, limbless and headless torsos wearing corsets. The photograph is

set in the ‘dreams’ section of the magazine. By implication, Atget’s photograph also acts as a fragment from a dream narrative, focusing on the compulsive repetition of the sequence of dummies in the shop window. It was the uncanny effect of such images that interested the Surrealists . . . . (Fer 190)

The textual placement of the photograph also suggests the frequent evocations of violated feminized bodies within Surrealist practice. The corset photograph is placed within “an account of a dream by Marcel Noll” about the rescue of a practically nude and horsewhipped young girl from a murderous mob: “one reads across from text to image and the photography also becomes charged with connotations of sexuality and violence” (Walker, City, 90).

Loy would have known the corset shop photograph, if not from its initial publication or perhaps from seeing Atget’s photographs earlier in Man Ray’s studio, then certainly in its reappearance in 1936 within the pages of Levy’s Surrealism.[v] Having hung the photograph first in his gallery, Levy included it in his anthology to accompany his (and others’) claim to Atget as the “precursor to the vision of an epoch” (Levy, Surrealism, 59). Echoing Dali’s surrealist understanding of photography expressed in “Photography as Fact,” Levy identified an exemplary surreality in Atget’s images, for he “photographed the palace and the hovel with the lens of reality but also with a sense surpassing reality” (Surrealism 59, emphasis added). For Andre Breton, the modern “epoch” revealed its “marvelous” Surrealism through such figures as the mannequin. In his first “Manifesto of Surrealism” (1924), Breton wrote that the “‘marvelous is not the same in every period of history: it partakes in some obscure way of a sort of general revelation, only the fragments of which come down to us: they are the romantic ruins, the modern mannequin,’ symbols that  . . . portray ‘incurable human restlessness’” (qtd. in Fer 191). A year later, in “Surrealism and Painting,” his discussion of de Chirico “drew attention to the mysterious effect of . . . ‘the age of mannequins, the age of interiors’”; as Fer comments, it was “largely under de Chirico’s influence, and in the light of Breton’s admiration of his work, that these elements — the mannequin, the interior, the street – came to occupy such a prominent position within Surrealism” (191). Loy’s appropriation of the mannequin imbricates the relation of Surrealism’s fascination with mass consumer culture, a response to the movement’s figuration of woman discussed in more detail shortly.

Surrealism’s adaptation of this visual iconography contributes to a larger context dominating Surrealist art and photography, in which representations of women’s bodies are variously mutilated, disfigured, and violated. Surrealism’s notorious obsession with the female body, in both writing and visual art, generates a gendered politics that vexes critical apprehensions, which range from accusations of overt misogyny to endorsements of a subversive (even proto-feminist) critique of male dominance.[vi] Nonetheless, it is well established that visual and literary Surrealism centralized the image of the female body as a terrain for violence, borne of desire and anxiety and manifest through myriad images of women’s bodies penetrated, bound, mutilated, gagged, or ominously manipulated. As one of many critics encountering Surrealism’s treatment of the female body, Briony Fer argues that “the violence required of the artist to correspond with the needs of an époque was incurred, symbolically, on the female body,” and that through “overtly sexualized images” the female body “was treated as suitable terrain for disfigurement and metaphorical decimation” (234).[vii] The Surrealists’ “liberation of desire,” asserts Hal Foster, “focused on women, but as sites of desire more than as subjects of desire; women were asked to represent it more than to inhabit it” (203).

Surrealist photography’s most dominant impact, however, transmigrated into the commercial world of fashion, ironically supporting the “commodity dream” that Benjamin, Breton, and others felt it could critique. Loy’s New York poems particularly reflect consumer culture’s distinctly visual absorption of Surrealist iconography of the “marvelous,” most emphatically focusing upon uses of the female body in this process. One of the first poems Loy would write about her urban environment, after living in New York’s Lower East Side since 1936, depicts the area around 14th Street and Union Square as a place where middle-class consumers would shop and where a sweat shop and a department store might be located practically side by side.[viii] This conjunction of production and consumption is a scene of feminine activity, compiling a vision of the commercial street as a frenetic, sensual, dynamic, and troublesome surreal spectacle. Composing “Mass-Production on 14th Street” in 1942, Loy renders the “mass production” of women’s fashion as though the street itself is a surrealist tableaux, drawing upon tropes, language, and iconography explored not only within Surrealism’s visual modes of painting and photography but also, beginning in the thirties, dominating the fashion world’s appropriation of surrealism in mass advertising, display, and design.[ix] The vexed treatment of the female body within Surrealism and fashion, heightened by their collaboration in the thirties and forties, shapes the figures of women in Loy’s poem, from the consumer to the “sempstress” (112), and from the walking dolls in window displays who mirror the shoppers on the street to the young lover and dopplegänger image of the mannequin.

After living during her Paris years among artists and writers who instigated and sustained the movement in the twenties, Loy’s re-entry into New York in the mid-thirties coincided with the pre-war immigration of many of these artists and the rising visibility of Surrealist art in the United States.[x] Loy’s associations with Surrealists would continue, both directly and indirectly, during this period and into the forties, when she wrote many of the New York poems. Levy showed several of the exiles in his gallery after Loy’s return (Burke, Becoming Modern, 401), and her own connections to New York Surrealism included a particularly close friendship with Joseph Cornell as well as contact with American Surrealist magazines, VVV and View (the latter of which published a reprint of “O Marcel” from The Blind Man, with an accompanying note by Loy).[xi] Levy’s gallery “became a Duchamp-Breton stronghold” by 1941, when Breton courted Loy once again for permission to publish Craven’s papers in VVV (Burke, Becoming Modern, 401).

At the same time that the thirties ushered in Surrealism’s visibility as a modern art movement in America—through significant events including Levy’s shows and MoMA’s 1936 “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism,” curated by Alfred Barr and marking the first major museum of Surrealism in the country-–its appeal to popular culture heightened, especially in the fashion world. Following the MoMA exhibit, Vogue featured it in its “Spot-Light” reports, calling the exhibit “enormous fun . . . where the Surrealists are still sending dinner parties into whoops,” making clear that the “Modern Museum is the only witty museum” (qtd. in Tashjian 67).[xii] Fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar latched onto the erotic and sexual allure of Surrealist imagery as compatible with advertising meant to entice desire through fantasies of pleasure, and the fashion magazine, “both in its design and in its advertising, became the chief point of dissemination for Surrealist style” (Martin 217).

In this popular vein, over the thirties and early forties, mass media attention to the movement particularly charted the activities of Salvador Dali, bringing Surrealism into the public’s eye. Vanity Fair cited him among the “New Reputations of the Year” in 1934, printing two Dalis, and his 1935 lecture at MoMA was followed by his New York Times interview at the Julien Levy Gallery (Levy was his agent) (Tashjian 53). Dali’s image, a photographic portrait by Man Ray, appeared on the cover of Time in 1936, one of many examples of Dali’s “manipulation of the media in the U.S.” that included notorious moments of surrealist expression in popular venues, such as his 1939 World’s Fair exhibit with nude mermaid “mannequins” and his window display that same year at Bonwit-Teller, where his antics led to part of the display crashing through the store window because of his rage at changes made without his permission (Tashjian 56). Both of these events, gaining wide attention in the popular press, were arranged by and involved Levy, who held Dali’s third exhibit in his gallery that year.[xiii] Dali’s keen sense of inherent cross-currents between Surrealist art and commercial, popular venues informed his acceptance of the invitation from Bonwit-Teller, for he commented on seeing “so much surrealist decorativism” in Fifth Avenue Shop windows, assuring him that the commercial display space offered a natural site for “an authentic Dalinian vision” (qtd.in Tashjian 86).

Envisioning the street as a conflation of surrealist imagery and spectacle, Loy’s “Mass-Production on 14th Street” is particularly fascinated with the fashion world’s embrace of Surrealism by this time, noting, like Dali, the visual correspondence between Surrealist art and fashion. Her own interest in commercial enterprises, following her lampshade designs in her Paris shop, continued in New York, where she began to think about selling designs to decorators and did successfully sell a design for a perfume bottle (tubes cut in various lengths) to the Helena Rubenstein’s cosmetics department (Burke, Becoming Modern, 390). In the year following their move to New York, her daughter Fabienne, who had hoped to work for Vogue, attended Parsons School of Design, selling some jewelry designs to Elizabeth Arden before becoming a model for a designer making clothes for celebrities. The window display as a canvas for art also captured Loy’s attention, and in 1939, she “prepared maquettes of window displays for department stores.” Although “no one wanted the window displays” (Burke, Becoming Modern, 390), this arena called to her visual sense, reappearing as a key image in “Mass-Production on 14th Street” at the same time that Surrealism enjoyed a “continuing stronghold among the fashion publications” and displays (Martin 218). Through quick shifts between images of the natural and the artificial, of mirrors and reflections, Loy’s poem blurs lines between the window display and the street scene, signifying a mirrored sensibility of modern simulacra through evoking the “common vocabulary” arising from the crossover of Surrealism with fashion commerce (Ware 57).

This crossover is well documented by critics like Ware, Tashjian, and Martin. That “Surrealism itself could be used to sell fashion” became apparent to the fashion world in the thirties, recognizing that “Surrealist and near-surrealist imagery, which stressed dream and fantasy, eroticism and sexual reverie . . . could be effectively converted to serve fashion rhetoric” (Tashjian 71). As “the fashion arts came to serve as a statement of the Surrealist vision” (Martin 9), the French, English, and American fashion magazine “reflected the art movement through the specific invocation of Surrealism or by the adoption of a Surrealist style in photography, graphics, and design” (Martin 217). The decade’s heightened visibility of Surrealist art in the world of galleries, museums, and literary/art publications was carried even further and wider by the purveyors of fashion, as “Surrealism moved decisively into the world of fashion” and major “surrealist figures entered the realms of fashion, fashion advertising, and window display in the 1930s and 1940s” (Martin 217). While many Surrealists, notably Breton, disagreed with fashion’s appropriation of Surrealism and the collusion of artists with such powerful commercial interests, the public would associate Surrealism increasingly with the fantastical visions promoted in fashion venues and outrageous images of the artist, such as Dali surrounded by naked women who hold lobsters over their genitalia, photographed at his World’s Fair exhibit before it was shut down as obscene. Indeed, the “new imagery of fashion in the 1930s” particularly drew upon Surrealism’s imagery of the body, so that the “partial figure, the dislocation of body parts, and the placement of the figure and/or parts in unanticipated settings” became part of the advertising, display, and clothing design (Martin 218).

Loy’s “Mass-Production on 14th Street” stands at this intersection of Surrealism and fashion, an intersection particularly facilitated by the movement’s view of both the urban street and the female body as sites of the surreal and displays of the uncanny, the irrational, and the simulacra’s blurring of “real” and “artificial.” Indeed, the shop window early on became an important part of the “repertory of images” making up the “urban iconography” of Surrealism. Louis Aragon, for example, in the Surrealist narrative of the modern urban flâneur, stresses the “‘geography of pleasure’  . . . [as the masculine street wanderer is] irresistibly drawn to ‘the simulacra on display in the shop window’” (qtd. in Fer, 191, emphasis added). Revising the Surrealist attraction to urban simulacra, the simulacra activated in the street and thus named with this vocabulary in Loy’s “Mass-Production on 14th Street” stimulates not pleasure, however, but a kind of dehumanizing violence enacted upon the female by consumer culture. The poem captures popular culture’s consumerist specularity through a surreal lens, a process abetted by the mechanisms of mass production.[xiv]

Parodying the Surrealist flâneur, the “eye” of the poem “gathers the infinite facets” of the street, the “iris circus of Industry,” and its “faces” (111). These faces will include, by poem’s end, the anonymous shoppers or the “Femina / of the thoroughfare”; a single female “consumer”; the “sempstress”; a window display of “walking dolls”; a young woman with her lover; and a mannequin in a display window (112-113). They all are part of and pass through “a foliage of mass-production,” all part of the circuit of energy sustaining modern commercial, consumerist culture undergirded by mass forms of production and the unceasing stimulation of consumer desire. Fashion’s equation of clothing with sexuality and desire leads to the presentation of “Eros’s produce” in “audacious” colors, suggesting visual tactics to make the ordinary (the mass-produced) seem marvelous or transformative (becoming “foliage”), tactics that fashion drew from Surrealism’s repertory to enhance an increasingly sophisticated set of design and advertising techniques. The “hanging-gardens” of dresses are managed (pushed on a rack, perhaps) by the “garment-worker,” whose early appearance subtly interrupts the surreal circus of illusion, as does the reference to “mass-production,” calling attention to the process of production (111). As the eye, operating like a camera lens, moves from the general scene to specific locations, it lingers on the contrasting figures of the “consumer”—the figure of desire—and the “sempstress”—the figure of labor, but also a figure connected to the surrealist trope of the sewing machine in photography and art. The pairing of sempstress and consumer, as the consumer “jostles” the sempstress on the street, is also a conjoining of words denoting the natural and artificial at once, as the consumer wears a “statue of a daisy in her hair” and the “sempstress” wears “on her hip / a tulip” that is the “horticulture / of her hand-labor.” This “hand-labor,” a phrase insisting on the body’s role in production of the fabric or accessory deploying the tulip or daisy design (the “horticulture”), also engenders the consumer, for the sempstress is the “auxiliary creator” of her fellow female in the street (112).

The interaction of the female consumer and the laboring female recalls images of sewing and sewing machines associated with female bodies in Surrealist visual works. Dali would use the sewing machine image as a “sinister, saturnine, diabolical, and even destroying machine” in illustrations for the 1934 edition of Chants de Maldorer, figuring the sewing machine “in the process of creating woman,” and his 1934 catalogue cover for a print exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery similarly evokes the sewing machine (Martin 15). Oscar Dominguez’s painting, “Electrosexual Sewing Machine,” also from 1934, displays a nude woman run through the needle of a sewing machine, dripping blood down her back. Certainly familiar to Loy, Man Ray’s 1933 photo “Beautiful as the Fortuitous Encounter on the Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella,” juxtaposes an umbrella and sewing machine to stand as symbols, respectively, of male and female.[xv] Joseph Cornell’s 1931 collage of images of corn and flowers evolves into the image of a fashionable woman’s body flattened and moving through a sewing machine needle, while a row of seamstresses at their assembly line machines are barely discernible in the background. Cornell’s collage, its female subject partially clothed and suggestive of the old-fashioned wax mannequin, was included in Levy’s 1936 Surrealism and reprinted in Harper’s Bazaar “under the rubric ‘The Pulse of Fashion’” in 1937, exemplifying the movement of surreal imagery from avant-garde to commercial contexts.[xvi] In the collage, “[f]lowers and corn appear as the raw materials of textile and ultimately of the fashionable woman who emerges as the machine’s creation” (Martin 12); in Loy’s poem, such natural elements merge with the artificial in the “foliage of mass production,” where “orgies of orchid / or dented dandelion” decorate “Eros’ produce,” the fashions that are described as “flower over flower” that are “craning from hanging-gardens/ of the garment worker” (111). Cornell’s inclusion of the assembly line of women seamstresses as a vague background performs a contrast of seamstress and consumer similar to Loy’s, acknowledging the labor of “creating” the consumer, a labor that remains in the background or completely elided within the modern consumer’s mind and in the commercial apparatus of consumer culture. Loy’s garment worker and sempstress subtly remind us of the laboring bodies mass producing the “circus of industry” for the “consumer,” interrupting fashion’s illusions of transformation and fantasy by insisting upon the physical labor of the female body within the actual making of fashion (112).

The laboring female body is insinuated as the “undertow” of the “circus of Industry” that opens the poem, in the image of “the rosy scissors of hosiery” that “snip space / to a triangular racing lace” in the “closing hour” of the garment district’s commerce (111). A Surrealist view of this femininized work, and one that transposes the gendered body of labor into the generalized “industry” (thus eliding the working body again), is suggested by Man Ray’s 1937 “Couture,” a drawing that Tashjian suggests might communicate “contempt for the fashion industry” that the photographer served. The drawing depicts “a slender woman in the latest gown,” as she is “sexually assaulted by a pair of scissors . . . the source of the violence is . . . ambiguous. . . . yet the image could be taken to expose the violence perpetrated by the fashion industry on women, turning them into sex objects, isolating parts of the body for display in a process that shares more with the pornographic than the erotic”—a process, nevertheless, in which Man Ray was complicit (103).[xvii]

The mannequin or dummy’s form, standing in for the female body in fashion, was a popular choice for images that Levy collected, in addition to examples from his Atget collection. The Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s “Mannequin with Voice” shows a tailor’s dummy standing upright next to a large gramophone horn, seen straight-on as if looking into the cavity of the horn. The vaginal suggestions of this photograph’s emphasis on the dark cavity would appeal to Surrealists and Levy, as did the work of the German photographer Alice Lex-Nerlinger, whose prints Levy collected on the same buying trip he acquired Bravo’s. Hinting at the menacing nature of fashion for women and exhibited in Levy’s 1932 “Modern European Photography Show,” Lex-Nerlinger’s work speaks “of experience in the advertising and commercial realms” (Ware 60). Collecting her work on a European gallery trip in 1930, when he often stored his finds in Loy’s Paris apartment, Levy purchased and later exhibited several images that included “Schniederpuppe” (or “Tailor’s Mannequin”), picturing a dressmaker’s dummy “toppled on the floor, stretched diagonally across the picture near a menacing pair of open shears” (Ware 60).[xviii]

[INSERT FIGURE 2.6 HERE]

2.6: Alice Lex-Nerlinger, “Tailor’s Mannequin”  (“Schneiderpuppe”) © Sigrid Nerlinger. Image courtesy of the Julien Levy Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art.

 

The positioning of the dummy’s headless neck in the top left corner compositionally reinforces the visual impact of the neck as severed, as though by the frame of the image, and the arched breasts rise to touch the top edge of the picture, creating a tension and weight that the body seems arched to combat. The long blades of the open shears direct the eye dually toward the severed neck and the severed hip, for the dummy’s form ends below the waist where an empty black oval replaces the rest of the body on what, upright, would be the bottom of the dressmaker’s form. Here, the angle of the shot renders the underside, usually invisible, quite visible and prominent in the picture plane, as the black void or cavity sits at the image’s center. In its diagonal placement, the dark cavity repeats the visual line of the scissor blade pointing toward and almost touching it. Extending out of the cavity is a long wooden pole that would hold the dummy upright, but here conveys strong phallic and penetrating resonances. The odd angle and ominous sense of threat—physical and sexual—to a feminized body anticipate the doll (also “puppe”) photographs of another German photographer, Hans Bellmer, whose work with the dummy-like doll will be discussed shortly.

These various visual images suggest a common vocabulary linking fashion, the female body, and a threat of violence elucidated in Loy’s poem. She echoes Surrealist imagery of scissors and fashion to define the space of femininity, but insists upon the female body as a part of the process of production that contrasts with, while contributing to, the power of the “conservatories of commerce,” of consumer desire, to transform the “consumer” into the automaton, part of the “windowed carousel . . . of walking dolls” that the poem’s eye sees behind the plate glass and reflected in the street of shoppers (112). The violence done by the fashion industry to the female body registers on the body of the worker and the consumer alike, as the “wrists” of the “walking dolls . . . jolt to their robot turn,” merging the industrial assembly line and Taylorism’s emphasis on efficient, machine like motion with the automaton of the consumer in her “short furs of summer,” the “Femina / of the thoroughfare” a consumer-driven simulacra of the real. That Loy potentially embeds her own persona, as “mina” within “Femina” — which in French would correspond to “fée Mina” or “fairy Mina” — adds further to circuits of simulacra and illusion shaping re-presentations of the female body through consumerist schemes and locals. [xix]

Indeed, the image of the shop window – ostensibly modern plate glass that would adorn department stores by the 1940s – compels perceptions of doubling and mirroring, for as the poem’s “eye” gazes into the shop window it also sees a reflection of the street, evoking a Surrealist fascination with mirroring and repetition as forms of the uncanny. Evoking the flâneur while undoing the erotic possessiveness of his urban gaze, the eye of the poem looks into and upon the shop window, seeing through it to the “long glass aisles,” while simultaneously perceiving the reflected street in the “mirrored opals” of the display window, “imaging /the cyclamen and azure / of their mobile simulacra’s / tidal passing.” The “long glass aisles” suggest the staged consumer display, both the department store aisles and the long glass display windows that are “conservatories of commerce” serving as “idols of style” that “project a chic paralysis” through all that they reflect. The (often unclear) movement between reflection and interior suggests the displacements and recombining rendered by Surrealist photography’s “exploration of desire” through an “examination of intersubjective spaces and sexual ambiguities”: “The camera lens in the service of surrealism is a mobile agent which alters and displaces its objects, blurs clear-cut identities and contracts and expands space” (Ades 186).

The image of reflection recalls photographic treatments of the city by Surrealist and “straight” photographers alike, particularly in a fascination with the photographic image’s simultaneous capture of a window display and the reflection in the window, together creating overlaid surfaces on the visual plane of the image. Part of the fascination with documenting window displays, for photographers like Abbott and Evans (and influencing them, Atget), resided in recording the act of observation signified in the reflection, just as Loy’s poem foregrounds an act of observation as part of the dynamic of the poem’s comment on the commercial street scene. In an untitled photograph by Walker Evans, for example, shown by Levy in the thirties, two men at a lunch counter face out of a display window, over a placard reading “Ice Cold Milk.”  Without the window frame in view, only the superimposed reflection of the photographer’s shadowy presence on the glass allows us to understand that we are looking both through and at glass, a material though transparent surface separating us from the scene at hand. Emphasizing the photographic medium and the selective role of the photographer, the image belies a claim to authentic mimesis. For many Surrealists, attracted to the visual simultaneity of the shop window’s reflection (say, in Atget’s “Men’s Fashions,”), a dialectic of window surface (emphasized by the reflection) and what is seen through the window suggested a conflation of inner and outer, of surface and “beyond,” of veil and the veiled.

[INSERT FIGURE 2.5]

2.5: Eugéne Atget, “Men’s Fashions.” Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.  Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-99198 (b&w film copy neg.)

LCCN Permalink  https://lccn.loc.gov/90707267

Loy’s poem moves beyond the surface of the “veil” – the store window displays — while indicating how the “inner” dynamics of consumer culture depend upon an “outer” artifice of womanhood. The reference to “girls” as “dolls” – and the poem’s final focus on the store mannequin – replays a visual slippage between female bodies and dolls in photographs of shop windows, especially by artists Loy would have known. Both Atget and Abbott, for example, produced eerie shots of doll shop windows, with dolls in rows of boxes and dolls dismembered, parts of the bodies hung throughout window displays. A more self-consciously disturbing exploration of such imagery occurs in the doll series, which I will discuss further on, produced by Surrealist Hans Bellmer in images of disfigured dolls and strewn parts that are emphatically feminized.

Loy’s evocation of automata, like her final image of the mannequin, situates this image of the doll-as-automata in relation to Eros, fashion, and womanhood, a familiar chain of associations within Surrealist works and thought that Loy is seeking here to disrupt and disturb.[xx] The “carousel” of “girls revolving” like “walking dolls” that “jolt to their robot turn” strikingly picks up Surrealist imagery of the automata and the mannequin, forecasting the appearance of the actual shop window mannequin at the poem’s end. The attraction of Surrealists to shop windows coincides with a fetishizing of the female figure as both automata and mannequin. Levy’s 1930 exhibit of Atget’s photography at the Weyhe Gallery picked up on this visual circuitry in its exhibition announcement, which displayed a headless mannequin in the old-fashioned style, posed in front of department store displays.[xxi]

[INSERT 2.7 HERE]

2.7: Eugéne Atget, Weyhe Gallery show invitation, unfolded, 1930, image courtesy of the Julien Levy Papers, Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art.

 

“Images of mannequins and other automata can be found scattered through the pages of various Surrealist magazines,” and by the early 40s, this imagery is woven through visual Surrealism and circulating beyond the movement per se (Fer 189). Within Surrealist iconography and discussions, the

mannequin was associated with automata, to which a whole article was devoted in Minotaure, with photographs drawn from a 1928 history of automata by Alfred Chapuis and Édouard Gélis. The idea that the female figure in particular could be invoked in this way, as merely a semblance of the real, a simulacrum, to be endlessly repeated around the streets of Paris, was the ultimate expression of the idea of woman as object, which also triggered the most uncanny of effects. (Fer 191, emphasis added)

Loy’s specific vocabulary referencing simulacra and automata—to refer to both the shoppers and the contents of the window display—transfigures into the mannequin appearing at the poem’s end, as a young girl and her lover gaze into a display window at the fashion mannequin wearing a “Replica of the dress she has on” (113), continuing the circuits of doubling and mirroring and, ultimately, amplifying the “simulacra” of Loy’s surreal street.

Loy’s selection of the figure of the mannequin registers within deep and multiple layers. The actual image of a young girl and a mannequin wearing the same dress stresses fashion’s attraction to Surrealism’s “ability to juxtapose the real and the unreal,” and to use photography to “portray the fashion object as desirable within the constraints of the camera’s eye” wherein the “most ordinary garment could be rendered magical,” and the “simultaneity of an optical truth and its dreamed doppelgänger could render the product enticing” (Martin 218). The girl, positioned next to her “dreamed” double, is “doused in a reservoir of ruby neon,” the language of gems and commercial lighting evoking both a magical promise of glamour and a harsh light of monetary exchange (113). Surrealism’s intense interest in doubling and mirroring recognized the camera’s “natural affiliation with the mirror” that “opened new forms of dialogue with self-images” across a range of photographic works (Ades 186). Signaling a host of culturally specific associations, these lines also highlight how the figure of the mannequin circulated through visual renderings of the Surrealist city and in the urban scenes captured by photographers Loy admired, such as Abbott or Claren John Laughlin, an American photographer who befriended Loy during this period. Loy’s own relationship to art and artists during these New York years reinforced her own longstanding interest in the visual registers of modernity in urban spaces. Laughlin, for example, was shown by the Julien Levy Gallery in 1940. Recording “haunting portraits of vanishing urban scenes,” Laughlin “in a phrase that Mina could have written . . . called the old-fashioned mannequins he had photographed in a shop window ‘phantoms out of the fourth dimension’” (Burke, Becoming Modern, 400), reminiscent of Atget’s Paris photographs and Abbot’s photographic record of the old and new city in Changing New York.

However, placed within visual Surrealism’s most public contexts of the thirties and early forties, the feminized forms on display in Loy’s poem suggest the complicity of Surrealist iconography in representing “woman” as an object to be violated. Although the doll, mannequin, and automata had been a part of a Dadaist and Surrealist repertoire since the late teens, by the late thirties these images had taken on an energetically public visual presence. Particularly notorious uses of the mannequin culminated the thirties decade in fashion venues, public displays, and exhibits that together construct a “surrealist mannequin” surely familiar to Loy and the general public.

  1. The Surrealist Mannequin


Surrealism’s attraction to the mannequin was multi-layered, at times resistant to the commercial culture it represented and at others, embracing its fantastical possibilities. The mannequin develops as an important image and instrument of modern consumer culture in the twentieth century, a culture Loy knew well, especially from her periods of residence in Paris and New York. Paris windows early on used life-like mannequins to construct elaborate dream worlds, recreating a beach or a luxurious parlor or a cruise, all peopled with mannequins to sell products (Parrot 76-80). The increasing stylization marking the modern style of mannequins during the twenties reflected art movements of Cubism, Surrealism, and Art Deco, departing from realism. Léon Leyritz, a mannequin designer in Paris at this time, commented upon the influence of the surreal in fashion display: “We had to break with lifelike images that were stiff imitations of nature. And so we plunged into the realm of dreams and fairies; surrealism offered us a fascinating solution that was not without danger” (in Parrot, 86). In the twenties, Man Ray’s early interest in the mannequin is well-documented, with his photographs of mannequins showing up in fashion magazines like Vogue at the same time that they appeared in the more experimental La révolution surrealiste.

Moreover, until the 1940s, the term “mannequin” could be used interchangeably to refer to either artificial dummies or real-life models (mannequins vivant), and Man Ray was sent on many assignments to photograph the latter. The mirroring of “real” and “artificial” in this literal sense translates to the function of the mannequin, theorized usefully by Liz Connor, to present woman as spectacle and to encourage a modern womanhood conceived of as display. Connor offers what could be a gloss on the final moment of Loy’s poem, in which the store mannequin and the woman on the street are mirrored in their dress:

The Mannequin  . . . presided over feminine street presence as a reproduced and commodified spectacle of the Modern Woman. It remained fixed before the fleeting, distracted gaze of the metropolis, while reinforcing the sense of anonymity in city presence as spectacle without identity. As a commodity spectacle it maintained the ambiguity of women’s street presence, standing in the shadow of the prostitute before the distracted gaze of the street . . . . The Mannequin also exemplified the rationalization of the feminine body through scientific management, and exhibited the importance of advertising and merchandise in that rationalization. Standardized, assembled, idealized, and fixed before the cosmopolitan gaze, the Mannequin embodied the effects of integration into modernity’s visual economy. (110-111)

Loy’s image of the lovers gazing into the shop window at the mannequin dressed like the woman recalls advertisements positioning the shopper and the mannequin in a relation of emulation. Conner cites, for example, a 1927 Lux advertisement, in which “the Shopping Girl positions herself as a street spectacle by standing on one side of the department store window. She emulates the Mannequin [suggesting how] . . . [i]cons of feminine visibility were culturally imagined as producing new types of young women” (116). Advertising’s construction of the Modern Woman in this regard ironically resonates with Surrealist gestures, such as the positioning of Atget’s photograph of old-fashioned mannequins juxtaposed with an image of prostitutes in a Surrealist journal’s arrangement of his work. That Loy’s couple might also suggest illicit associations with prostitution is not beyond reason, particularly given her articulation (as far back as the 1914 Feminist Manifesto) of woman’s choice, as an object of exchange even in marriage, between either parasitism or prostitution.

The mirroring function of the mannequin as part of the gendered dynamic of a scopic consumerism seems exactly the point in Loy’s final image of the young girl and the mannequin, dressed alike except for the buttons on their ecru and ivory dresses. In these details, the concurrence of Surrealist imagery and consumer culture seems most pointed in the difference that punctures the mirrored image: the girl’s “buttons are clothespins / The mannequin’s, harlequins” (113). The poem’s insistence on a concurrence of mirroring with difference seems both a defiance of this scopic process of identity production and a tacit acknowledgement of the pernicious role of emulation in generating consumer desire, for the mannequin holds out to the girl what she should be, could be. Moreover, the poem is unclear as to whether the buttons are shaped like clothespins, or whether the dress is held together through the literal use of clothespins, thereby suggesting a poverty pointedly contradicting the myth of transformation and abundance promoted by consumer forms of display.

The buttons also can be seen to operate as sly acknowledgement of one of the women associated with Surrealism, the designer Elsa Schiaparelli, whose friendships with Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Tristan Tzara, and Francis Picabia coincided with Loy’s Paris years in the 1920s. Her boutique on rue de la Paix in the early 1930s sold accessories that she called “inventions”—costume jewelry, handbags, hats, and buttons designed to look like other objects, such as vegetables or bird cages. A series of buttons simulated insects, for example, and her fashion designs included hats shaped like shoes, inkpots, or mutton. She gained fame for her collaborations with [, who designed display windows for her Paris fashion house (Ware 57), while she developed dress designs from his Surrealist images, including ones that directly manipulate the female body. Most famously, her “desk dress” drew inspiration from Dali’s “City of Drawers” series, one of which appeared on the cover of a Levy Gallery exhibit showing a woman’s head and upper torso with a drawer protruding from the chest and a foldout from each breast depicting the paintings on exhibit.[xxii]

[INSERT FIGURES 2.8 and 2.9 HERE IN SEQUENCE]

2.8: Salvador Dali exhibit announcement, designed by Dali, Julien Levy Gallery, December 10, 1936-January 9, 1937. Image courtesy of the Julien Levy Papers, Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art.

 

2.9: Salvador Dali exhibit announcement, designed by Dali, with two pages unfolding from breasts that reproduce every painting in the exhibition, Julien Levy Gallery, December 10, 1936-January 9, 1937. Image courtesy of the Julien Levy Papers, Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art.

Her 1937 lobster dress played with an object that “most frequently Dali associated . . . with covering female pudenda, where its role was both menacing and modest” (Martin 140). In her work with mannequins, she designed a mannequin scenario for the Pavillon d’Elégance, Exposition Internationale in Paris (1937), entitled “Nude Mannequin Partially Covered with Flowers.” Published in Harper’s Bazaar in September of that year, the Surrealist “tableau caught public attention at the exhibit; she placed the nude figure on the ground and hung an evening dress on a nearby line,” visually enacting scandal through the interchange of the artificial mannequin with the live female body (Martin 56).

Loy’s store window mannequin is wearing harlequin buttons, a detail most explicitly referencing Schiaparelli, whose Harlequin collection of 1938 received much fashion notice. As early as 1931, Loy was hoping to get her daughter Fabienne a job in Paris as a “mannequin vivant” with Schiaperelli, appealing to Levy for help.[xxiii] Arguing a common sensibility between Schiaparelli and Loy, Susan Dunn recalls that both “were models as well as designers who were photographed by Man Ray, Lee Miller, and others,” and they “also shared a fanciful capriciousness in their use of accessories,” such as hats and, presumably, buttons (452). In Insel, Loy herself would slyly position herself (as her narrating persona, Mrs. Jones) as an inspiration to Schiaparelli, as she describes her lamp shade design made with “equidistant holes punched in a crystalline square” on “a still celluloid coil of the color that Schiaparelli has since called shocking pink” (143). Connecting commerce, art, and innovative uses of found materials, Mrs. Jones claims to have picked up the celluloid at Bon Marché, Paris’ first modern department store, which sold all manner of goods, including this material made “to be worn round pigeon’s ankles for identification” (143). Recycled materials, especially common materials such as clothespins or celluloid coils for pigeons, constituted Loy’s own inspirations for design and art. Mrs. Jones suggests that her materials inspired – and perhaps were appropriated by – the woman designer closely associated with male surrealists, Schiaparelli. What are we to make of this evocation of the Surrealist designer, embedded in a poem as part of a circuit of female figures that include the consumer, the sempstress, and the young girl of the romantic couple?  Is the designer marked here as part of the process of illusion that entraps women, and does the “difference” in buttons suggest this process?  Are the harlequin buttons marking an alliance of art and commerce that fashion’s appropriation of Surrealist aesthetics prompted and that Schiaparelli’s designs promoted, and do the clothespins signal a different economy, one of the street scavenger – Loy – creating art from debris? Arguably, this moment in the poem operates both as a recognition of the creative Surrealist work by a woman – a critique of the “Surrealists’ tendency to view women as passive muses incapable of the work of the serious artist” –and the simultaneous outsider status of women in relation to Surrealism, explored by Loy through her novel’s relationship of Mrs. Jones and Insel (Arnold 174). In the poem, this allusion to women artists’ relations with Surrealism also acknowledges larger systems of economics and aesthetics that shape designer and consumer alike.

In part, the circuit from department store window to harlequin buttons to Schiaparelli directs us to other fantastical deployments of the mannequin in Surrealist displays and exhibits. Dali’s Bonwit-Teller window display, for example, used old-fashioned wax mannequins, left naked. When a store customer complained, the management changed the display in Dali’s absence. When he saw the changes (the mannequins were clothed, for one thing), he grew outraged and began to tear apart the display. In his frenzy, he overturned a cast-iron bathtub he had used for the display, and both he and the bathtub crashed through the plate window onto the street. The episode was greeted by parody and humorous media treatment in venues like The New Yorker. As to why he had chosen the old-fashioned “manikins” – which seemed to customers so offensively presented — he would later explain his attraction to them: “I detested modern manikins, those horrible creatures, so hard, so inedible, with their idiotically turned-up noses. This time I wanted flesh, artificial flesh, as anachronistic as possible. We went and unearthed in the attic of an old shop some frightful wax manikins of the 1900 period with the long natural dead woman’s hair. These manikins were marvelously covered with several years’ dust and cobwebs” (quoted in Tashjian 86). In the public’s imagination, the link between Surrealism, spectacle, and manipulations of women’s bodies intensified with the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Julien Levy had submitted a proposal to the exhibitions director in 1938 for a “surrealist House,” “modeled upon an amusement ‘walk-through’ and transformed by surrealist theory and principles,” and the proposal requested live female “mannequins,” to be called “liquid ladies,” in the pavilion (Tashjian 57). The exhibition, designed by Dali and called “Dream of Venus,” was constructed as two large tanks, one filled with water and containing three “liquid ladies,” and the other a dry tank with a giant facsimile of “Venus on a Shell,” lining the tank’s bottom.[xxiv] Pictures from the exhibit show the female models resting around the giant image, and their costumes leave breasts bare. A (clearly staged) photograph of Dali and Levy with a “liquid Lady” shows her nude and seated, with a lobster covering her genital area.[xxv] LIFE magazine covered the exhibit, describing a water tank containing a “writhing woman, chained to a piano, with the piano keys carved out of her rubberoid stomach,” and a dry tank containing Venus and “mannequins with birdcage heads” in addition to live mannequins resting in the dry tank (qtd. in Tashjian 62).[xxvi]

For Loy to introduce a mannequin in a store display window would immediately evoke this Surrealist trope while also identifying a standard feminized figure deployed for purposes of inciting consumer desire, as Conner argues, through objectifying modern womanhood as essentially a form of display. The Surrealist treatment of the mannequin, carries heightened suggestions and demonstrations of violence to the body and finds focused expression in the Paris International Surrealist Exhibition of 1938, an exhibit of mannequins “organized by Paul Eluard, André Breton, and Marcel Duchamp, with the participation of all the major Surrealist artists in France” (Martin 50). Nineteen artists  (all male) each constructed a mannequin exhibit, using female mannequins and applying all manner of materials to them to create a “sexual tableaux” of “half-dressed mannequins” (Mahon 282). Duchamp’s mannequin played upon his alter-ego of “Rrose Sélavy,” wearing “artist’s clothes (hat, tweed jacket, waistcoat, shirt and tie)” with the name (pronounced as “Eros, c’est la vie” or “Eros, that’s life”) “scrawled on her naked sex, suggesting a complicated interplay of male and female masquerade” (Mahon 280). Photographs of the event appeared in LIFE magazine, including a panoramic long-shot of a series of the partially nude mannequins, a number of which are bound by ropes, fabrics, wires, and/or gagged.[xxvii]

Breton, in a 1939 article on André Masson in Minotaure, singles out his mannequin for particular praise. Writing about Masson’s paintings in relation to the circumstance of war, Breton claims he is a rare artist in dealing with the “epoque’s tragic sense of dread,” primarily through eroticism, the “keystone” of his work. “Mannequin Masson,” exhibited for the International Surrealist exhibition, featured a nude female figure with her head in a birdcage and her mouth bound and gagged with a strip of fabric, a pansy inserted in the space of her mouth.[xxviii] For Breton, “the mannequin’s green gag with a pansy for a mouth” demonstrated Masson’s ability to achieve “a general sense of dizziness” through “plastic metaphor in its pure state, by which I mean a literally uninterpretable metaphor” (qtd. in Fer 231). About Breton’s conclusions, Fer comments that “the force of metaphor, for Surrealism, was that it involved a dislocation of conventional patterns of interpretation” (234). Whether conventional patterns of interpreting female bodies are actually dislocated rather than spectacularly reinforced is questionable.

Certainly, the extended metaphor of kidnapping and rape that structures Man Ray’s 1966 reminiscence of the International Surrealism Exhibit is difficult to exempt from accusations of complicity, as is much Surrealist treatment of women along these lines. Man Ray, photographing the mannequins at the Exhibit, wrote the following climactic account of it in which the photographer’s instrument is likened to his phallus, aroused by the male “frenzy” and female compliance the scene suggested to him:

In 1938 nineteen nude young women were kidnapped from the windows of the large stores and subjected to the frenzy of the surrealists who immediately deemed it their duty to violate them, each in his own original and inimitable manner but without any consideration whatsoever for the feelings of the victims who nevertheless submitted with charming goodwill to the homage and outrage that were inflicted on them, with the result that they aroused the excitement of a certain Man Ray who undid and took out his equipment and recorded the orgy, not in the interests of history but merely because he felt like it.[xxix]

Numerous artists who were friends of Loy and/or Levy participated in the International Exhibit, including Man Ray, Andre Masson, Juan Miro, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Dali, whose mannequin “Rainy Taxi” would be installed as part of his pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, showing a mannequin covered with snails attached to her body.[xxx]

Loy’s poetic mirroring of mannequin and real woman in “Mass-Production on 14th Street” occurs within a context conflating erotic and consumer desire with violence, as the “two lovers” are “crushed / together in their sweet conjecture” and are “doused in a reservoir of ruby neon” (113, emphasis added). The suggestion of scopic processes operating upon the female body implicitly points to the complicity of the Surrealist, voyeuristically violent iconography of the mannequin. The appearance of the “Femina,” the automata, and the mannequin in “Mass-Production on 14th Street” resituate these iconographic Surrealist urban elements through questioning the related scopic processes of consumerism and suggesting a kind of violence has been enacted.

[i] See Miller’s Cultures of Modernism, which especially considers the impact of New York and Berlin on Loy’s work in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

[ii] p. 228, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), in Illuminations. Ian Walker notes that Benjamin also makes this observation in “A Small History of Photography” (1931), writing “Not for nothing have Atget’s photographs been likened to those of the scene of the crime. But is not every square inch of our cities the scene of a crime?” (in Walker, City, 100).

[iii] See Rosalind Williams’s Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late 19th-Century France, for an excellent history of Paris and the beginnings of consumer culture in the twentieth century.

[iv] See Chapter 1 for a discussion of the imagery of eyes in this poem.

[v] The interest that Loy’s friends Abbott and Man Ray demonstrated in Atget was amplified by Levy’s involvement in his archives and subsequent claims made, by different camps, for Atget’s role as a progenitor of both documentary (via Abbott, Evans, and others) and surrealist photography. At the same time, Abbott grew disenchanted with Surrealism’s claim to Atget. After devoting some four decades to saving, preserving, and printing Atget’s work, while tirelessly championing him to a largely unresponsive set of art institutions, Abbott somewhat testily argued in her 1964 introduction to The World of Atget (the first major collection published) that he was the father of the “objective” style of photography, or of a straightforward documentary style. She maintained that the surrealists had been misguided in championing him as a proto-Surrealist.

[vi] For arguments against Surrealism as anti-feminist, see, for example, Rosalind Kraus and Dawn Ades.

[vii] For discussions of the body in Surrealist art, see Jennifer Mundy, ed., Surrealism: Desire Unbound and Rosalind Kraus, Jane Livingston, and Dawn Ades, eds.  L’Amour Fou: Photography and Surrealism.

[viii] My thanks to Emily Rutter for her comments on New York’s geography in this section.

[ix] Susan Dunn’s discussion of Loy, commercial art, and fashion in “Mina Loy, Fashion, and the Avant Garde” is useful, as she traces Loy’s production of “commercial art such as magazine covers, dress designs, and theater sets. By 1927, she [Loy] was working in a lampshade studio, selling dress designs, and modeling.” (446-447). Dunn claims that “Loy’s clothing designs ranged from bathing suits to evening gowns, and her forays into fashion were published in magazines as diverse as the drolly avant-garde Rogue of the teens of the sophomorically randy Playboy of the fifties. Many of her designs were for modern women, who wore Ertre-styled evening gowns and flapper dresses as well as Chanel-styled sportswear” (447).

[x] See Tasjian, especially Chapter 7, “View and the Surrealist Exiles n New York,” for a comprehensive accounting of Surrealists migrating to America just before or in the early years of the war.

[xi] Charles Henri Ford asked Loy to contribute a reprint of this poem, which commemorated the Blindman’s Ball, for a special issue on Marcel Duchamp in 1941 (Burke, Becoming Modern, 402).

[xii] Harper’s Bazaar (Jan. 1936) ran an article on “The Surrealists” at the time, forecasting their omnipresence on the American scene, warning “you aren’t going to find a solitary place to hide from surrealism this winter” (qtd. in Tashjian 67). The magazine featured a cover by Man Ray—an astrological chart—on its first issue in 1937, with fashion photographs by Man Ray and Georges Platt Lynes inside, including “a visual allusion to Man Ray’s Observatory Time—The Lovers in an article on cosmetics called ‘Lip Service,’ and Man Ray’s own gloss on Marcel Duchamp’s Paris Air (1919)” (Tashjian 67).

[xiii] Levy, with Loy’s help in Paris, had bought Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” in 1931, and when his gallery opened, he showed Dali’s work consistently through the thirties, giving him three one-man shows over the decade. Joella Levy, Loy’s daughter, organized the “Bal Ornique,” held on the eve of Dali’s 1935 departure to Europe, a costume ball of Surrealism organized with Cresse Crosby (who, as Black Sun Press, published Levy’s anthology Surrealism the following year).

[xiv] See Chapter 1 for a discussion of the male flâneur and the female flânuese.

[xv] Man Ray takes his title after a quote by the Isidore Ducasse, Comte de Lautréamont in the nineteenth century.

[xvi] Martin recounts that Joseph Cornell “was employed in the 1930s as a textile designer for the Traphagen Commercial Textile Studio in New York,” where he “recognized the sewing machine as an instrument of fabrication and fantasy. The sewing machine makes the clothing, but it also makes the woman, as if sewn/sown from the fruition of the machine” (12).

[xvii] “Couture” was printed in Man Ray’s 1937 visual/verbal collaboration with Paul Eluard, Les Mains Libres.

[xviii] See Ware and Barberie for a reproduction of “Tailor’s Mannequin” (or “Schneiderpuppe”), c. 1930, Plate 243, p. 283.

[xix] The use of “femina” is intriguing as an instance of a word that embeds “mina,” a kind of name word-play that fascinated Loy. Years earlier, she commented upon with this word’s inclusion of her name, locating it within the scene of Parisian commerce. She relates, in a letter to Joella and Julien Levy, a story of Fabienne while still a child, who “has a great sense of words—were you here when she saw the word femina—on a shop, and said look what that means its quite true     fée Mina (fairy Mina) —- ?” (sic) (Letter dated Sunday, September 25, 1928, Julien Levy Papers Box 30 Folder 7, Philadelphia Museum of Art). Perhaps her use of this word in this later poem suggests the ironic promise of enchantment in the fashion world that has actually led to the automatic conformity of consumer culture.

 

[xx] Brian Fer, in a striking example, describes a collaboration of visual imagery by Man Ray and an article by Tristan Tzara, illuminating the linkage of automatism (valued by Surrealists), automata, Freudian theory, and the erotic objectification of women through fashion. Citing the article, “On a certain automatism of taste,” published in Minotaure in 1933 and accompanied by Man Ray’s photographs of hats  (see Fer 228, plates 209-210), Fer explains:

The article dealt with the contemporary fashion in women’s hats for the fedora . . . and other styles, which followed the form of male attire but where the split in the crown was taken as a metaphor for the female genitals. Indeed, to Freud, the hat was an obscure symbol capable of either a male or a female significance, and this ambiguity was exploited by Man Ray. The photographs focus on the form of the hat rather than on the hat as an accessory or an adjunct of the head, and the camera angle skews the form to make the metaphor, thereby putting a sexual construction on an everyday object of clothing. . . . Man Ray follows Tzara’s article by finding metaphors of sexual difference at work in the up-to-date, the smart even. Tzara appears to have taken many of the key points of Freud’s essay ‘Femininity,’ published at the beginning of 1933, and applied them to the female consumer of fashion.

Fer goes on to describe the photos’ “excessive” angles of vision as a example and expression of the process of fetishism—the “angle reproduces the fixation of the sight of the hat concealing the face and symbolically invoking the female body without even depicting it” (228).

[xxi] See a copy of this announcement in Ware, 23, Fig. 4.

[xxii] See, for example, Dali’s sculpture “Venus de Milo with Drawers” and his pencil drawing “Study for Anthropomorhpic Cabinet,” both from 1936 (Martin 106).

[xxiii] Writing to Levy, Loy explained, “Faby is trying to get a job as mannequin and found one place wehre she was just what they wanted . . . . But they wouldn’t take her because she had no experience . . . . Could you write to Betty Jones and ask her to get her taken by Schiarperelli —? Its very urgent” (sic). (August 6, 1931, Julien Levy Papers B30F11, Philadelphia Museum of Art).

[xxiv] In the proposal stage, George P. Smith, co-director of Amusements, expressed concern about the request for live models as possible “peepshows” (Tashjian 60), and indeed, the New Yorker would call the pavilion a “girly show” in its review of the actual pavilion.

[xxv] See examples of these photos in Tashjian, 59, 63.

[xxvi] By 1941, when LIFE did a feature article on Dali and his MoMA exhibition of that year, he was negatively considered by other Surrealists (many of whom have come to America to escape the European war) as too commercial and, hence, nonrevolutionary. Breton was especially critical of Dali at this time. Attempting to revive the Marxist-influenced revolutionary basis of Surrealism, as he theorized it, he had visited Trotsky in exile in Mexico in the late thirties, drafting new manifestoes for a revolutionary art in the face of coming war. (See Tashjian for this history).

[xxvii] See Alyce Mahan, “Staging Desire,” for a discussion of the exhibition spaces as “emphatically corporeal environments that were often visibly feminine-anatomical in appearance” (280).

[xxviii] See Fer 234, plate 217.

[xxix] Quoted in Parrot, 153. Originally found in “La resurrection des mannequins” by Man Ray, Paris: Editions Petithory, 1966, p. 152.

[xxx] According to Carolyn Burke, Loy’s daughter Fabienne worked during the summer at the 1939 World’s Fair.