Modern Art USA: Men, Rebellion, Conquest, 1900-1956

By Rudi Blesh | Go to book overview

8. Modern Art's First Museum

Twenty years after the event, Katherine Dreier wrote that her museum was founded with gaiety.1 And yet with more than gaiety, for she had recorded earlier that "the serious works of serious men were shown and studied, and left to act as the desired leaven in the art world of the community."2 Miss Dreier has left small doubt that Marcel Duchamp was the central force. "Funds were only sufficient," she wrote, "to make a demonstration, [yet] Marcel Duchamp, with the help of Katherine S. Dreier, Andrew McLaren, Man Ray, and Henry Hudson, had the courage to incorporate this Museum of Modern Art as the Société Anonyme."3 It is said, in fact, that $6,000 comprised the total "funds" with which this historic project was launched.

This modest amount even then might have bought only one important modern picture by one of the recognized contemporary masters. But, whatever her announced plans of expansion and magnitude of operation, Miss Dreier actually operated, not in terms of huge collections and important buildings, but in terms of a continuing review of new developments. She was trying to provide the landing-field for new ideas which modern art, as a living thing, so urgently required.

The Société Anonyme opened on April 30, 1920, at 19 East 47th Street, in quarters so small that the first show was limited to sixteen paintings. It was almost like 291, which had been closed for three years, come to life again. That there was more than this one resemblance between the Dreier and the Stieglitz ventures, time would show.

____________________
1
Katherine Dreier in catalogue of the Société Anonyme Collection at Yale University ( New Haven, 1941).
2
First Annual Report of the Société Anonyme, Inc. ( New York, 1921).
3
Katherine Dreier: Société Anonyme . . . Its Why and Wherefore ( New York, 1920).

-103-

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Modern Art USA: Men, Rebellion, Conquest, 1900-1956
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • 1. the World Stirs in Its Sleep 3
  • 2. Home Life on the Other Side of the Moon 9
  • 3. Plot in an Attic 23
  • 4. Rebellion in an Amory 41
  • 5. Aftermath 57
  • 6. Independents' Day 68
  • 7. Dada and Despair 85
  • 8. Modern Art's First Museum 103
  • 9. Art in a Skyscraper 114
  • 10. the Artist is the Man Next Door 131
  • Ii. Passage to Permanence 145
  • 12. Termite, Time Capsule, and Pedestal 162
  • 13. Isms and Wasms 185
  • 15. Go West, Young Art, Go West 222
  • 16. Arriving 241
  • 17. Presences 262
  • 18. the Present 282
  • Index i
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