ABSTRACT: This chapter is drawn from “Brides Stripped Bare: Women, American Surrealism, and the Imaginary Museum,” forthcoming in special issue of Dada/Surrealism, “Exhibitions and Display in Dada and Surrealism.” Ed. Kathryn Floyd
Introduction: The Large Glass and the Imaginary Museum
In 1949 André Malraux commented: “an Imaginary Art Museum without precedent has come into being…now that the [visual] arts have invented their own printing-press” (17). Thanks to technologies of reproduction, the public no longer had to visit actual art museums, but could simply look at photos of artwork, making possible the creation of personal collections, or “museums without walls,” a common translation of Malraux’s “musée imaginaire” (23). Thus Malraux connected the reproduction of art to its democratization, noting that “a new field of art experience, vaster than any so far known, is being opened up to-day” (52). Surrealist poets and artists in particular aimed to open up “a new field of art experience,” and the Museum would become a potent symbol of all they sought to challenge and transform in modern life. As poet André Breton wrote in the First Surrealist Manifesto, Surrealism sought to free the imagination from “a state of slavery” caused by the “absolute rationalism” and “reign of logic” in twentieth-century culture (Manifestoes 4, 9). Public art museums exemplified this logic in that they instructed citizens in the importance of different national traditions, aesthetic forms, and stylistic schools, through the rational arrangement and display of visual artifacts.[i] In contrast, Surrealists and those they influenced envisioned museums and exhibitions as portals to the imagination and the unconscious, capable of transforming the spectator’s perspective on everyday life, objects and habits, and of animating the aspects of human experience cordoned off by the established museum’s emphasis on rational, disinterested visual spectatorship. Taking the “museum as muse” Surrealists and their admirers created collections and installations that transformed the museum into a stage for Surrealist-inspired ends, including the fusion of dream and reality, disorienting perspectives on the “real,” urban wandering, the pursuit of pleasure and desire, and the merging of art with everyday life.[ii]
These innovative collections and exhibitions were fundamental to the reception of Dada and Surrealism in the U.S., and Marcel Duchamp is at the center of this history, through the example of his installations and his works that invite institutional critique, with perhaps no work more central than The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).[iii] As Dalia Judovitz argues, The Large Glass builds on the logic of the readymade and serves as a display for previous readymades, and has affinities with Duchamp’s other self-curated collections, such as The Boîte en Valise: Duchamp took the “museum as muse” so as to critically expose and challenge the role of the established museum in defining, evaluating, and displaying art as a visual commodity embedded in the art market.[iv] As a window to its surroundings, the Glass invites critical reflection on the broader context of display in which it is placed, while the abstract elements of the Glass work against its “visual allure,” seeking to activate an intellectual, verbal engagement (Judovitz 8; 38-41). Judovitz argues that the readymades and Glass created a new, active role for the spectator that blurred the distinction between artist and spectator and “opened up the productive potential of [Duchamp’s] works to future play and appropriation” (xxiii; 219-220).
The history of engagement with The Large Glass is rich, long, and varied: it has functioned as a virtual engine of the American avant-garde, inspiring work by visual artists, curators, poets, composers, and performance artists interested in questioning and transforming the frames through which art is viewed, experienced, and evaluated. The early part of this history includes figures such as Man Ray, Frederick Kiesler, Julien Levy, Alfred Barr, Charles Henri Ford, and Roberto Matta Eschaurren, all of whom appear in this essay. However, The Large Glass’s creation of an active role for the spectator also proved generative to women who were interested in establishing new models of producing, displaying, and consuming avant-garde art. A focus on women artists, poets, and collectors emphasizes one strand in the complex history of the Glass’s early reception in order to clarify how gender conjoined to ideals of women’s equality shaped the reception of Surrealism in the U.S., permitting a critical, democratizing twist on the tradition of innovative exhibitions initiated by Dada and Surrealism.[v] Responding to the provocations of Duchamp and The Large Glass, women used their position on the margins of both the museum and the avant-garde as an impetus to reimagine the museum, and in doing so, commented variously on institutional power, practices of Surrealist display, and gendered modes of looking.
I discuss Katherine Dreier’s exhibitions of The Large Glass, Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery, Maya Deren’s film “Witch’s Cradle,” and Mina Loy’s novel Insel as innovative collections that framed and animated Dada and Surrealist artwork, enabling critical and at times feminist perspectives to emerge.[vi] Dreier, Guggenheim, Deren, and Loy each took up the invitation of The Large Glass to challenge well-worn ways of looking at art, variously merging the role of female spectator, spectacle, and collector with that of artist. In doing so each woman figuratively “stripped bare” the Bride, transforming the “readymade” feminine roles and ideals they encountered in mainstream culture and the avant-garde. While the Surrealist movement inspired many women poets and artists, Breton and other male Surrealists tended to cast women in the role of muse, aesthetic ideal, medium to irrational states, lover, patron, or spectator.[vii] To take on the metaphorical role of the Bride in The Large Glass was to acknowledge the simultaneity of being both the agent of a female vision and object of the bachelor’s gaze; of being defined by the readymades of gender, commerce, and an institutionalized history of art that marginalized women, but also capable of critically altering and re-framing them. As Duchamp wrote in the Notes to the Glass, “The bride reveals herself nude / in 2 appearances: the first, that of / the stripping by the bachelors, the second / appearance that voluntary-imaginative one / of the bride [. . .] On their collision, depends the whole / blossoming” (26).
In approaching the “museum as muse,” these women like Duchamp regarded the museum not simply as a physical space for exhibition, but also considered it as an arbiter of cultural value, a repository of cultural memory, a script for viewing modern art, an epistemology, and as a malleable, hybrid form of collection and display that could include, for instance, the exhibition catalog, the little magazine, the poetic collection, the private living space, and the gallery-based film or performance. Thus while their museums took concrete form, they were “imaginary” and at times “without walls” in their transformations of the scale, materials, and aims of museum collection, and in their efforts to elicit the spectator’s poetic imagination. [viii] Their collections enlarged the potential meanings of museums and of Surrealism, creating an art that is at once an exhibitionary frame and an independent vision, a form of reception and a critical transformation. Through these reflections in The Large Glass, then, we find a history of an American female avant-garde, reflecting upon the mixtures central to its genesis.
These collections provide an important counterpoint to the influential history of modernism recorded at the Museum of Modern Art, which as Griselda Pollock has commented, “systematically failed to register the intensely visible artistic participation of women in making modernism modern” (34).[ix] This was particularly true of Alfred Barr’s 1937 Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism exhibition, which serves as both a touchstone for and foil to the collections I discuss.[x] Indeed, widening a historical focus to include “museums without walls” clarifies the importance of women to Surrealism’s reception in the United States.
In imaginatively entering these installations and collections that take the museum as muse, we find a history of Dada and Surrealism in the U.S. as it was being democratically absorbed, contested, and transformed, inviting a rethinking of what constitutes Surrealism beyond the bounds of the movement controlled by Breton and beyond the constraints of the history advanced by Barr and his successors at MoMA.
Mina Loy’s Insel, The Julien Levy Gallery, and Surrealism’s trans-Atlantic Crossing
Also appearing in the pages of View’s Duchamp issue was Mina Loy’s “O Marcel: or I Too Have Been to Louise’s” reprinted from The Blind Man (1917), transcribing Duchamp’s conversation at a Blind Man ball (Burke 245-6). A poet, painter, designer, sculptor, participant in New York Dada and widow of Surrealist icon Arthur Cravan, Mina Loy was held in high esteem by the French Surrealists (Burke 328). Loy’s association with Duchamp began in New York in 1916 as part of the Arensberg circle, and would continue into the late 1950s, when he helped arrange a 1959 exhibition of her Dadaist “constructions” built from discarded materials found in the Bowery (Burke 214-18, 433-3). Like Duchamp, Loy cultivated an engaged but ironic distance from a number of avant-garde movements over the course of her career – Futurism, Dada, Surrealism – and her importance as an interpreter of Dada and Surrealism resonated well beyond her slight appearance in View.[xi]
In the early 1930s, following her daughter Joella’s marriage to Julien Levy, Loy served as the Paris agent for the Levy Gallery (1931-49), which not only held the first Surrealist exhibition in New York in 1932, but throughout the 1930s and 40s served as the premier American gallery for Surrealist work of all kinds.[xii] Although the Museum of Modern Art’s 1937 exhibition brought Surrealism to wide public prominence, Levy’s gallery had provided the blueprint and some of the art for the MoMA exhibition. In its innovative layout (the Gallery had curved walls) and embrace of literature as well as painting, film, and photography, Levy’s Gallery had much in common with Surrealist-curated exhibitions (Schaffner and Jacobs 21, 33). As the agent in Paris who arranged the purchase and transportation of Surrealist art to New York, Mina Loy was a key figure in Surrealism’s U.S. reception, but she was also involved as an artist who exhibited her paintings at the Levy Gallery in a solo show in 1933 and group show in 1937, and as a writer, who engaged the museum economy and Surrealist exhibition practices in her poetry and in her novel Insel, completed when she moved permanently to New York in1937.[xiii] As a work that precedes Guggenheim’s Gallery, Insel provides a window onto Surrealism’s trans-Atlantic crossings in the 1930s.
Insel is based on Loy’s role as an agent for the Levy Gallery, chronicling her relationship to German Surrealist painter Richard Oelze. [xiv] Loy’s Paris apartment would often serve as a transient gallery for works awaiting shipment to New York: Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” (1931) and Oelze’s painting “Expectation” (1935-36) briefly hung there before heading to Levy’s Gallery and on to MoMA’s permanent collection (Burke 385, Schaffner 72).[xv] Loy approached her apartment as a space of both creation and display, exhibiting works of art next to original designs and finds from the flea market, and it is likely that she painted many of her Surrealist-inflected works of the early 30s there, including “Surreal Scene” (1930).[xvi] While her apartment served as a studio and impromptu gallery, in Insel Loy created an innovative textual gallery at once inspired by and critical of Oelze and his paintings.[xvii] The novel, like Deren’s film, is both an exhibitionary framing of Surrealist art and an “x-ray,” an indirect portrait of the artist. And like “Witch’s Cradle,” Insel animates the scene of Surrealist art’s transmission to and reception by a female spectator to create a critical, feminist twist on Surrealist exhibitionary practices. Loy’s poem “Lunar Baedeker” (1923) can be read as a response to The Large Glass and to Man Ray’s photo “Dust Breeding” (1920)[xviii], while Insel takes less direct but no less important inspiration from the Glass in its status as a hybrid collection that blurs the roles of spectator and artist, visual and verbal art.
More pointedly, Loy’s treatment of her protagonist Mrs. Jones, based on her own role as Levy’s agent, allowed her to explore the difficulty of being slotted into the role of spectator, collector or “patroness” rather than painter or writer, and to subtly merges these roles. Mrs. Jones like Loy is a writer who has arranged not only to serve as Oelze’s agent but to write his biography (32). She meets Insel on the “unexplored frontiers of consciousness” (159) and finds him to be a “congenital surrealist” who “had no need to portray. His pictures grew, out of him, seeding through the interatomic spaces in his digital substance to urge tenacious roots into a plane surface” (103). Insel possesses a “conjurative power of projecting images” (53) but Jones learns that “he suffered… from the incredible handicap of only being able to mature in the imagination of another. His empty obsession somehow taking form in obsessing the furnished mind of a spectator” (156). Mrs. Jones must also supply the literal furnishings for Insel’s art: while she sometimes feels that Insel “has found a short cut to consummation in defiance of the concrete. That he is filling the galleries of the increate” (125), at other times she sees him as a blocked artist whom she must urge to finish work for New York in her role as gallery agent. In this role she allows the destitute Insel to stay in her apartment, and undertakes housecleaning duties that distract her from her own art, commenting “the effort to concentrate on something in which one takes no interest… is the major degradation of women” (39). In preparation for Insel’s stay, Jones stuffs her own “scribbles” into a “corpse-like sack” which she locks in a room (40), a suggestive image that alludes to Man Ray’s “Enigma of Isidore Ducasse” (1920), a sewing machine tied in an army blanket, meant as an homage to Lautreamont’s likening of beauty to the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella. In that Mrs. Jones sews to support herself, and in this instance sews to make room for Insel through her “housecleaning,” Loy conveys the realities of gender and economics that shaped women’s engagement with Surrealist ideals.
As a collector and spectator of Insel’s projected images, Mrs. Jones not only allows Insel to “mature in [her] imagination,” but in writing down her diverse encounters with him and his art, creates her own visionary gallery of Surrealism as filtered through a feminist perspective, rendering spectatorship an artistic, transformative act. Key scenes in the novel that involve the framing and display of Insel include Mrs. Jones’s transformation of her apartment into a Surrealist installation featuring Insel as a sleeping sea creature; Mrs. Jones’s critical response to Insel’s painting Die Irma; and Mrs. Jones’s use of analogies to surrealist film and photography to “develop” her images of Insel as they stroll around Paris. Loy also employs popular contexts of exhibition in her portrayals of Insel as a means of undercutting his spiritual, ascetic pretensions: Mrs. Jones describes Insel as an exhibit in a wax museum, as the walking dead star of a horror film, as an actor “playing” Kafka to eke out his meager living, as a Broadway showman, and as a circus freak.[xix] Thus the novel offers itself as a hybrid exhibition, one that subjects Oelze’s Surrealist ideals to feminist critique, gothic humor, and an American popular culture keen for Dali-style “extravagant publicities” (27).
Mrs. Jones’s visit to Insel’s studio exemplifies Loy’s critical framing of Surrealism’s depictions of women. Insel shows Jones his painting “Die Irma,” which resembles Oelze’s “Frieda” inspired by a character in Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle (fig. 3).[xx] Mrs. Jones implies that Die Irma is Insel: her eyes are “flat disks of smoked mirror” that reflect her “creator” (131), and she has “male hands that hardly made a pair” (132); “Die Irma, he repeated lovingly to introduce her to me, and the magnetic bond uniting her painted body to his emaciated stature – as if she were of an ectoplasm proceeding from him – was so apparent one felt as if one were surprising an insane liaison at almost too intimate a moment” (131). Mrs. Jones raises up the sexual subtext to Insel’s painting when she observes “He hung over Die Irma like a tall insect and outside the window in the rotten rose of an asphyxiated sunset the skeleton phallus of the Eiffel Tower reared in the distance as slim as himself” (132). Creating her own Surrealist painting in this description, Mrs. Jones reveals the phallic aggression expressed by Insel towards his female muse and echoed by the culture through its revered symbols. Mrs. Jones objects to Insel’s use of the female form as a thinly-veiled medium for his own narcissistic preoccupations: Die Irma as muse is mere “material” for Insel’s artistic self-expression, the “bride” a projection of the “bachelor,” just as Insel feeds parasitically off of female prostitutes and patrons.[xxi] She comments ”You have formed her of pus. Her body has already melted” and adds “I don’t care for it” (132-3). As Insel grows angry and threatens to destroy the painting, she quips ironically, “What does my opinion matter? I’m not the museum” (133). However, by articulating the sexual subtext of Frieda, Mrs. Jones refuses Frieda’s role as a silent, sexually and formally pliable muse.
Oelze claimed in a letter to Alfred Barr that he destroyed the painting Frieda, but a charcoal sketch (1936) – likely mailed by Loy – was included in Barr’s 1937 Surrealist exhibition, along with the painting “Daily Torments” (1934).[xxii] In contrast, despite James Laughlin’s early interest in publishing the novel, Insel would remain unpublished until Elizabeth Arnold’s 1991 edition, and is currently out of print. Yet the novel transforms “I’m not the museum” into a badge of honor, a sign of Mrs. Jones’s creation of independent avant-garde work that critically absorbs but is not obligated to Surrealism. Although Jones in her role as patron and spectator risked a paralyzing “disintegration” and “dematerialization” (150-1), it is Insel who remains blocked and fragmented: Mrs. Jones advises Insel to “pull yourself together…you’ve got to finish this for the museum” (134), while she “had reached the stage…for creation, when all that one has collected rolls out with the facility of the song of a bird” (177, italics mine).
While economically bound to the role of agent, patron, and spectator, Jones merges these roles with those of creator and curator of her own textual exhibition. Jones rather than Insel proves to be the master of Surrealism’s “magical” techniques in her writing, using Surrealist imagery culled from various media to animate Insel, even as she debunks Insel’s “black magic” as showmanship, trickery, and the effects of morphine addiction.[xxiii] Peggy Guggenheim’s appearance in Insel as Mlle Alpha, a patron of Surrealist art who had been similarly “duped” by Oelze (124-6), suggests the intangible yet significant connections between Loy’s and Guggenheim’s galleries.
In the end it is Loy, not Oelze, who presents us with a gallery of the “increate,” which in its very marginality both to the Surrealist movement and to the gallery-museum network Loy served, makes the subtle claim that avant-garde ideals were most powerfully realized on these margins, in “museums without walls.”
In Ghostlier Demarcations, Keener Sounds: the U.S. Avant-Garde through The Large Glass
Katherine Dreier had designated Duchamp as the director of an imagined but never-realized independent, permanent museum for the Société Anonyme collection, and as tempting as it might be to mourn the loss of a Museum of Modern Art directed by Duchamp, I have suggested that it exists: if we follow the path of The Large Glass as reflected in the variety of collections it generated, we enter an imaginary museum with Duchamp as instigator of new conceptions of the avant-garde’s possibilities. Eschewing permanance and stability, these often ephemeral, hybrid collections relied for their longevity not on institutions built of stone but on varied media and the transformative power of the spectator’s thought and imagination. Dreier, Guggenheim, Loy, Deren and a number of other women found in the Glass an opportunity to rethink the museum, Surrealism, and the readymade role of Bride, permitting critical purchase on and imaginative transformation of the conditions of everyday life.
Theirs is but one history opened up by The Large Glass. As a portal to the imagination, the Glass is open to animation and transformation of its various “plots” (whether involving the museum, the bride and the bachelors, the history of art, vision and spectatorship, the readymade, science and technology, consumer culture, photography and film), and changes shape through the dialogue and responses it sets in motion, potentially becoming a window, a shop display, a film screen, a looking glass, a mirror, a photographic negative, or something yet to be imagined. The Glass is at once structure and opening, or as Kiesler put it: “Normally one looks through a translucent plate glass from one area into another, but in painting an opaque picture (like this) one also accentuates the space division optically. The painting then seems suspended in midair negating the actual transparency of the glass. It floats. It is in a state of eternal readiness or action, motion and radiation” (“Design-Correlation” 55). Malraux foresaw that the “museum without walls” would open up “a new field of art experience, vaster than any so far known” (52). As it helps us to see this new field, The Large Glass changes, too: its democratizing legacies are still being written.[xxiv]
[i]On the history of independent museums and wings of national museums dedicated to works of modernism, see e.g. McBride, Carrier, Lynes, Kantor; on the art museum more generally, see Bennett, Duncan, McLellan.
[ii]On the museum as a muse for modern visual artists, see McShine, Bronson, Kachur, Storrie; on the museum as muse for modern poets, see Bergmann-Loizeaux, Fischer, Heffernan, and Paul; on the museum and collection as a rich cultural trope and epistemology see Stewart, Crane.
[iii]Given his skepticism of any readymade idea or institution, Duchamp was involved in but maintained an ironic distance from a number of avant-garde movements, including Surrealism. Lewis Kachur has emphasized Duchamp’s importance to Surrealism, and particularly to Surrealist exhibitions beginning in the 1930s (8, 217-219): “more than any other individual, Duchamp may be said to be the ‘inventor’ of the disorienting, obstructionist mise-en-scene that is late Surrealist exhibition display” (8). Kachur stresses the role of The Large Glass (219) in this history, and adds that “Duchamp stretched Surrealism in an ecumenical direction, thereby contributing to the critical space for offshoots” (217).
[iv]Judovitz xvii-xix, 38, 181-193, 205; Filipovic; Kachur.
[v]Amelia Jones observes “the tendency within surrealism to rationalize in its own fashion – by orienting its explorations toward the ultimate recontainment of femininity, flux, homosexuality, and other kinds of dangerous flows that intrigued the surrealists but which they could not bear to allow to remain unbounded” (Irrational 252). The history of Surrealism’s reception by women and other marginalized groups in the U.S. can be seen as a history of resistance to such containment; see Pawlik, Rosemont and Kelley, Rosenbaum.
[vi]Other modernist women artists and writers who responded to the Large Glass include the Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven, Berenice Abbott, Djuna Barnes, possibly Marianne Moore and Gertrude Stein, and following World War II, Grace Hartigan, Niki de St. Phalle, Barbara Guest, and Laura Moriarty, among others.
[vii]Penelope Rosemont argues that the early surrealist movement was male-dominated and many male surrealists were not feminists, yet they were nevertheless “the irreconcilable enemies of feminism’s enemies, and thus in many ways could be considered feminism’s allies. They concentrated their attacks on the apparatus of patriarchal oppression: God, church, state, family, capital, fatherland, and the military” (xliv). Breton idealized women as muse, erotic or romantic ideal, and as a child-like medium to irrational unconscious states, but also “championed the sorceress, vamp, succubus, temptress, seer, sphinx, wanton, outlaw, and dozens of other models of unconventional women” (xlvii). On women and Surrealism, see also Chadwick; Caws, Kuenzli, and Raaberg; Fort and Arcq; Lusty; Riese Hubert.
[viii]My use of the word “imaginary” is not equivalent to “unrealized,” even in the case of collections that took the form of textual or visual plans for a more permanent structure that was never built, as in the case of Kiesler’s Endless House or Dreier’s Country House Museum. Broadening the forms and media of collection that we consider under the rubric of the museum allows us to engage collections that are visionary, imaginative, or virtual, and that rely on the role of the verbal arts and of the audience’s imagination. My understanding of “imaginary museums” coincides with Wall-Romana’s understanding of the “cinematic imaginary” as an expansion and transformation of the poetic imagination through new media, primarily the cinema (16-18, 29-30). Elsewhere I discuss the imaginary museum as originating in the Surrealist effort to expand the poetic; Breton called the activity of revealing the commingling of dream and reality “poetry,” and thus the poetic act was as central to film, photography, and painting as it was to poems proper (Rosenbaum 2012).
[ix]Pollock notes that of the 2,052 exhibitions held at Moma since 1929, 95, or 5%, have focused on women (42).
[x]Barr’s show included work by Eileen Agar, Meret Oppenheim, Leonor Fini, Hannah Hoch, and Valentine Hugo. Works by Katherine Dreier and Georgia O’Keeffe were included in a section titled “Artists independent of the Dada-Surrealist movements.” See Barr, Fantastic Art.
[xi]Although Loy did not exhibit her visual art with the Société Anonyme, she participated in a 1921 reading of Gertrude Stein’s poetry sponsored by the society. (Greenberg 102).
[xii]Barr, Levy, and Arthur Everett Austin Jr (head of the Wadsworth Atheneum) were all students of Paul Sachs at Harvard, who taught museum administration, part of a group of influential interpreters of modernism that Steven Watson calls the “Harvard modernists” (Schaffner and Jacobs, “Introduction” 12; Steven Watson, “Julien Levy: Exhibitionist and Harvard Modernist” in Schaffner and Jacobs 80-83). MOMA acquired many works through the Levy Gallery, including its collection of Atget photos (Schaffner, “Alchemy of the Gallery” in Schaffner and Jacobs 29, Watson, “Julien Levy” in Schaffner and Jacobs 89).
[xiii]On the exhibitions of Loy’s artwork at the Levy Gallery, see Carolyn Burke, “Loy-alism: Julien Levy’s Kinship with Mina Loy” in Schaffner and Jacobs 70-1, “Chronology of Exhibitions” in Schaffner and Jacobs 175, 180, Burke, Becoming Modern 379.
[xiv]On Loy’s role as Levy’s agent see Burke “Loy-Alism” 67-74 and Becoming Modern 377, and Arnold Insel 182. Loy negotatied acquisitions with the Bermans, Giacometti, Tchelitchew, De Chirico, Massimo Campigli and commissioned work from Ernst, Dali, and Magritte. On Levy’s instructions Loy contacted the German surrealist painter Richard Oelze who had lived in Paris since 1933; Levy instructed Loy to “draw him out, offer moral and financial suport, and select those canvases that seemed suited to America” (Burke “Loy-Alism” in Schaffner and Jacobs 73). In October 1936 after the failure of his friendship with Loy, Oelze sent his paintings to Levy and left for Switzerland (Burke Becoming Modern 381-383, Burke “Loy-Alism” in Schaffner and Jacobs 72-4).
[xv]Expectation was purchased from the Levy Gallery in April 1940 (MoMA website) and was shipped to the U.S. in Fall of 1936 (Burke, “Loy-Alism” in Schaffner and Jacobs 74).
[xvi]On Loy’s apartment see Burke Becoming Modern 377-8 and “Loy-Alism” in Schaffner and Jacobs 67-8.
[xvii]Arnold proposes that Insel is at once “an experiment in surrealist narrative” and a “satire on the whole surrealist endeavor,” with Breton’s Nadja in its sights (“Afterword” Insel 186). Miller and Bronstein concur, arguing that Insel inverts Nadja by positioning the male surrealist painter as the muse to the female narrator’s quest for self-definition.
[xviii]Like Man Ray’s close-up of dust on a section of the Glass, which transforms the glass into a strange new landscape, Loy’s poem transforms the Glass into the surface of the moon: “Cyclones / of ecstatic dust / and ashes whirl / crusaders / from hallucinatroy citadels / of shattered glass / into evacuate craters” (Lost Lunar 82). Like the Glass, Loy’s poem reflects on the museum (“And ‘Immortality’ / mildews… / in the museums of the moon”) and on failed romance or “Eros obsolete,” specifically meditating on the cliched figure of the bride as rendered in the poetic tradition: “ ‘Crystal Concubine’ / — — — — — — / Pocked with personification / the fossil virgin of the skies / waxes and wanes — — — — ” (Lost Lunar 82). The bourgeois institution of marriage and the constraining idealizations of romantic love, bride, wife, and mother were a repeated topic of Loy’s satire. Her reclamation of “parturition” as a literal and aesthetic birth of the new built upon negation of readymade feminine roles: hence her 1923 collection begins with Lunar Baedeker and ends with Parturition.
Like Lunar Baedeker and Dust Breeding (Abbott had worked as Man Ray’s assistant), Berenice Abbott’s photos in Architectural Digest (see note *) of The Large Glass at Dreier’s house similarly transformed it through a detailed close-up of the Bride, and a photo which turns the “oculist witnesses” and “scissors” portion of the Bachelor section on its side and incorporates the background of the room to create an abstract composition, reminiscent of a cityscape with sky and stars.
[xix]Insel reminds Mrs. Jones of “one of those magically animated corpses described by William Seabrook” (Insel 51).
[xx]Christina Walter has argued for this connection between “Die Irma” and “Frieda” (682-3).
[xxi]Mrs. Jones exposes Insel’s appetite for “beefsteak” and for prostitutes as a means of undercutting his romantic and aesthetic pretensions. Thus the double meaning in Insel’s comment that “Die Irma is wet” and Jones’ reply “She isn’t, she’s bone dry, I felt her” (133-4). Insel is impotent as both a man and artist, Mrs. Jones implies, and vampirically draws his power from the female form. Thus when Jones refuses the metaphorical role of “bride” Insel behaves like an “alienated husband” (167) and tries to strangle Mrs. Jones to make her “give in” (158).
[xxii]In a January 24, 1937 Letter to Alfred Barr, Oelze states, “I was in such a bad condition this last month in Paris – especially psychically – so that I could not finish the picture, Frieda, and at the end destroyed it. I am very sorry for it – because I promised it to you – but I do hope you understand and will forgive me.” Oelze to Barr, January 24, 1937. Registrar Exhibition Files, Exh. #55. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, NY. Burke notes that when Oelze traveled to Switzerland in October 1936, his paintings were shipped to Levy (“Loy-Alism” in Schaffner and Jacobs 74). Barr included the sketch of Frieda in the 1937 Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism exhibition and catalog; the catalog mentions the Kafka connection (228) and that the sketch was “given anonymously,” although MoMA’s provenance research suggests that the museum purchased the painting (http://www.moma.org/collection/provenance/provenance_object.php?object_id=78518).
In his correspondence with Oelze about the exhibition, Barr refers to Loy’s role as agent. Loy apparently disliked Barr; her daughter Joella reassured her mother that “not very many Americans are like Barr.” Joella Bayer to Mina Loy, September 2, 1936. Carolyn Burke Collection in Mina Loy and Lee Miller. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
[xxiii]Indeed, read as a gothic novel, Insel charts the narrator’s (and reader’s) absorption into the Insel spectacle, followed by the assertion of an everyday, skeptical rationalism that enables an exit from the Insel “show.”
[xxiv]The Surrealist dedication to an absolute freedom was capacious enough that it enabled such transformation, and Surrealism is perhaps unique in the history of the avant-garde in its openness to adaptation by artists and poets marginalized due to gender, sexual orientation, race, and class Breton noted “The freedom it possesses is a perfect freedom in the sense that it recognizes no limitations exterior to itself. As it was said on the cover of the first issue of La Revolution Surrealiste, ‘it will be necessary to draw up a new declaration of the Rights of Man’” (This Quarter 22).