Mama Dada: Gertrude Stein's Avant-Garde Theater

Mama Dada: Gertrude Stein's Avant-Garde Theater

Mama Dada: Gertrude Stein's Avant-Garde Theater

Mama Dada: Gertrude Stein's Avant-Garde Theater


This book addresses the growing interest in Stein's theater by offering the first detailed analyses of her major plays, and by considering them within a larger history of avant-garde performance. In addition to comparing Stein's plays and theories to those generated by Dadaists, Surrealists, and Futurists, this study further explores the uniqueness of Stein via these theatrical movements, including discussing of her interest in American life and drama, which argues that a significant and heretofore unrecognized relationship exists among the histories of avant-garde drama, cinema, and homosexuality.


"Supposing no one asked a question. What would be the answer."


"I am violently devoted to the new."


Although Picasso's earlier painting Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906) is better known, his later Homage à Gertrude Stein (1909) is the more prophetic of the two. The painting features several winged female figures bearing a still-life bowl of fruit and a trumpet. Picasso's honoring of Stein includes both the staples of figurative art, the fruit bowl and the female nude, and the classical image of the biblical herald-a winged figure with a trumpet. Picasso paints his version of Stein with visual references to painting's long history of biblical subjects (a style popular until the emergence of the Impressionists in the mid-nineteenth century). And yet, despite the references to classical figurative painting, the work is recognizable as an avant-garde painting. The bodies are disproportionate and abstracted; the color palette is muted and blurred with no discernible light source; and the relationship between the figures ambiguous. It is with this tension between the historical and the innovative, the figurative and the abstract, the classical and the modern, that Picasso honors Gertrude Stein. That he should also include a herald seems entirely appropriate, for while Stein embraced the past, she continually sought "the new." In her appreciation of art (as, arguably, the first great collector of modern painting with her brother Leo) and in her own artistic efforts, Stein foreshadowed much of the artistic progression of the twentieth century, though she would live to see less than half of it.

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