Sunday afternoon was the perfect time to pay a visit to what at the moment is indisputably The Most Screamingly Amazing Art Bargain in Southern California: the UCLA Hammer Museum where, rather than hammers*, the galleries currently feature The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America. Admission to the Hammer is free through the end of the summer, the exhibition runs through August 20, and it is pure heaven for fanciers of the Original Moderns. Per the introductory essay:
The Société Anonyme, Inc., was an organization founded in 1920 by the artists Katherine Dreier, Marcel Duchamp, and Man Ray as America’s first 'experimental museum' for contemporary art. While diverse in their goals, the founders agreed that there was a dire need to counter the lack of appreciation of modern art in America and to nurture opportunities for its presentation through innovative exhibitions and related educational programs. They also believed it was important that the history of art be chronicled not by historians or academics but by artists. The original gallery of the Société Anonyme at 19 East 47th Street in New York City was the site of scholarly programs and lighthearted Dada pranks, as well as the first one-person exhibitions in America of artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, and Paul Klee. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Société Anonyme was the generative force for approximately thirty publications, over eighty exhibitions of contemporary art, and at least eighty-five public programs — a tour de force campaign to bring modernism to America and encourage international artistic exchange. The organization featured works by such renowned artists as Constantin Brancusi, Piet Mondrian, Man Ray, and Joseph Stella, along with lesser-known artists, such as Lawren Stewart Harris and Angelika Hoerle, who also made significant contributions to modernism.
By the time it wound down, the Société Anonyme had amassed the third largest collection of modern art in the U.S., behind only the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim, and that collection consisted of generally superb examples of the included artists' work. The collection fell largely into the care of Katherine Dreier, and she at the end of her life turned it over to the Yale Art Gallery, the organizer of this exhibition. (The show will be touring through 2010, with stops in D.C., Dallas and Nashville before returning to New Haven.)
Here we have a photo of Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp in the library of Ms. Dreier's Connecticut home sometime in the early 1930s:
Yes, Marcel is lounging with his back up against The Large Glass, which he has recently repaired. The Glass lived with Katherine Dreier, serving in fact as a window in her home (!), for some thirty years. It is not in this show -- the Glass resides in Philadephia and doesn't get out much -- but you do get The Small Glass, which appeared in the first Société Anonyme show in New York, as well as a seemingly endless selection of prime examples of Duchamp and Man Ray and Schwitters and Kandinsky and Ernst and Leger and De Chirico and Lissitztky and on and on and on. It is a Modern Art paradise. And did I mention that admission is free?
If your connection can handle it, be sure to visit the elaborate Flash-enabled site put together by the Yale University Art Gallery to accompany the exhibition. Those who hunt for it will find a short film of Duchamp's Revolving Glass, revolving. Trippy.
* There is a snow shovel, but it's just one of Duchamp's little jokes.