The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Urban Literary Studies

Living Edition
| Editors: Jeremy Tambling

Dada and Surrealism and American Cities

  • Jeremy TamblingEmail author
Living reference work entry



This article is a necessarily selective tale of two cities: Paris, and New York, though other cities appear in it – Chicago especially. It traces the process by which the center of avant-garde artwork – Dada and Surrealist – moved away from Paris to New York, symbolized, perhaps, by the end of Mina Loy’s novel, Insel, in which the narrator, who is collecting artworks for an American gallery, expressive of how capital was moving across the Atlantic, moves back from Paris to New York. The decisive event which ended Paris as a center was the occupation by the Nazis on 14 June 1940.


The article traces Duchamp’s movement from Paris to New York, looks at the Dada circle in which he moved, and the Modernism of New York, before turning to Mina Loy and her time in Paris, and then in New York.

Duchamp and Futurism

Futurism, an art deriving from Marinetti in 1909, and inseparable from Cubism, travelled to the United States with Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase which had been turned back from being exhibited in Paris in 1912. The picture had been excluded perhaps because its interest was in showing movement as the woman walks down a spiraling staircase, as well as displaying those two aspects of art in which Cubism was interested: the rational analysis of the subject represented by geometricization, and, following the art of Expressionism, the liberation of color from realist optical vision. In Cubism, the form and the ground are not distinguished, which in psychoanalytic terms means that identity and its cultural contexts are not held apart, but are seen to be doubles of each other, and several views of an object appear. The contrast is with landscape, as in Impressionism, and in that contrast may be seen signs that Cubism and Futurism are both forms of urban art, where anonymity is the analogue of such new art – anonymity as expressed in the haiku-like “Imagist” poem by the American Ezra Pound (1885–1972), called “In a Station of the Metro” (1913) –“The apparition of these faces in the crowd, / Petals on a wet, black bough” (Pound 1977: 53).

Duchamp’s picture, in adding movement, implied that the image had to be seen in time, which was to be the “fourth dimension” in Einstein’s theory; but the “fourth dimension,” in which Duchamp was interested, as was the Futurist Umberto Boccioni (1882–1916), had less to do with time than with expanding space, which is not seen from the perspective of the subject, but which is now infinite. Boccioni, before he came to Paris, was associated with Milan, where he painted The City Rises (1910), as if equating the city with the sun, and so with life and movement; light breaking down separate forms, but not making them geometrical, which happens in Cubism, and which, perhaps especially in New York, relates more to the geometrical forms which city-building takes. Boccioni’s sculpture, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913), and his charcoal-on-paper “‘Muscular Dynamism” (1913) show reality in constant flux (as in the city), so that there is no privileged viewing point: it is the invisible beyond the visible (Henderson 1981: 317–323).

Duchamp in New York

Nude Descending a Staircase was shown in the New International Exhibition of Modern Art in New York, otherwise called the Armory Show, in January 1913 (Lexington Avenue and 25th Street). The Exhibition went on from there to Chicago and Boston, in cut-down forms. Duchamp (1887–1968) himself went to New York in 1915. Initially staying in Ridgefield, New Jersey, where Man Ray lived, he went on to New York, and to Buenos Aires in 1918 before returning to Paris in 1919. He made contact with the Dadaists there, and then returned to New York, to work on The Large Glass, also known as The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (La Mariée mise à nu par les celibataires, même) which was exhibited at the International Exhibition of Modern Art at Brooklyn Museum in 1926 (“The Bride Stripped Bare by Her 230 Bachelors, Even”).

Planned at the end of 1911, the organizers of the Armory Show were the artists Walter Kuhn (1877–1949), Walter Pach (1883–1958), and Arthur Bowen Davies (1862–1928); also included in it were works by artists such as van Gogh (Mountains at Saint Rémy), the Romanian Constantin Brâncusi (1876–1957 – Mademoiselle Pogany), Francis Picabia (Dances at the Spring), and Henri Matisse’s Fauvist Blue Nude (1907) and his Madras Rouge. Fully one third of the 1600 works in the exhibition came from Europe. But before it opened, there had been an exhibition at Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession Galleries, also called 291, (291 Fifth Avenue) of photographers who wanted to show the city in symbolic, rather than purely descriptive images. This was the work of the painter John Marin (1870–1953), who had come into contact with Cubism and Futurism in Paris (Reich 1969). He was particularly interested in capturing New York’s tall buildings, partly in comparison with the Cubist Robert Delaunay’s renderings of the Eiffel Tower.

Duchamp, who had met the artist Francis Picabia (1879–1953), Cuban in ancestry and a Cubist, formed with him a nucleus for Dada in New York, in 1921, by which time Dada was losing momentum in Europe. The outstanding Dada artist in New York itself was the Philadelphia-born and Brooklyn-educated painter and photographer Man Ray, (i.e., Emmanuel Radnitzky, 1890–1976). Man Ray was the son of Russian Jewish emigres, who made a reputation in Paris in the years between the wars as a fashion photographer. One of Man Ray’s projects was photographing Duchamp who, after 1920, assumed an alternative identity as a woman, called Rrose Selavy – which sounds like “eros, c’est la vie,” and which also sounds Jewish, if the surname is read as “C’est Lévi.” This kind of verbal and visual punning, and the cross-over between the different types of punning (gender and linguistic) is typical of Duchamp, and reflects a then rare indebtedness to the word-play of the avant-garde writer Raymond Roussel (1877–1933). Duchamp in 1912 had been backed by the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) and his gallery and 291 magazine. Stieglitz, who in 1924 married the painter Georgia O’Keefe (1887–1986), was, of course, the definitive photographer of old and new New York.

New York and Dada

Duchamp and Picabia had associated in 1912 with Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918), poet, and critic of Cubism, a word which he is supposed to have invented in 1911, as he also seems to have been innovatory with the term “surrealism” in 1917. Common to all in this modernism was preference for machines, and a sense of being anti-nature, which was derived, in literary terms, from the Paris-based novel A Rebours (1884 – i.e., Against the Grain, or Against Nature), by Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848–1907). Dadaism, and Duchamp, were supported by Walter Conrad Arensberg (1878–1954) and his wife Louise (1879–1953). Arensberg was the son of a Pittsburgh steel factory-owner, an Imagist poet, and an amateur cryptographer (finding hidden meanings in Dante’s and Shakespeare’s texts, the latter being shown to be Bacon, and a patron of the arts). The art which the couple collected went eventually, after their deaths, to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Futurist artist, the Italian-born Joseph Stella (1877–1946), who took the Brooklyn Bridge as his subject matter was another member of the Arensberg group. Others associated with it, and all also well familiar with Paris, were the Pittsburgh-born artist John Covert (1882–1960), and Beatrice Wood (1893–1998), actress, artist, and editor of The Blind Man, a journal of 1917, and Charles Sheeler (1883–1965), photographer, and “Precisionist” artist, specializing in industrial images, and skyscrapers. Another “Precisionist” within this circle was Charles Demuth (1883–1935), from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, friend of William Carlos Williams. His I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928) recalls a Williams poem, “The Great Figure” (1920) which evokes fire-trucks and street-signs, and is thus wholly urban. In 1927, The Little Review (see below) sponsored “The Machine Age Exposition” in 1927, which exhibited Futurists and Cubists, and an essay. “The Americanisation of Art” by the Kiev-born Louis Lozowick (1892–1973), who wrote of “the rigid geometry of the American city … the verticals of its smoke stacks, … the parallels of its car tracks, the squares of its streets, the cubes of its factories, the arc of its bridges, the cylinders of its gas tanks” quoted, Sayre 1989: 325). Here, as with Sheeler, in these visions of skyscrapers, for instance, human figures disappear, a contrast with the “Ashcan” school (see below), and accentuated in his photography, and the film Manhatta, which he made with Paul Strand (1890–1976), one of Steiglitz’s associates, in 1921 (Corbett 2011: 559–580).

Another Dadaist, and Futurist, was the English poet Mina Loy (1882–1966). Yet another, a Dadaist poet, an artist of collages and “ready-mades” was the German-born Baroness Elsa Hildegaard von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874–1927), entitled by her third marriage, and a great admirer of William Carlos Williams; she practiced sound poetry, and used portmanteau words: her collection Body Sweats was not published until 2011; like the rest of her papers, it was preserved by Djuna Barnes (1892–1982), who started to write her biography. The feminist Freytag-Loringhoven may have at the very least influenced one of Duchamp’s examples of “ready-made” art, the famous “Fountain.” That was the urinal, certainly a modern urban form, which had been made sculptural by being turned on its side. It was rejected by the Society of Independent Artists when it was presented to them in New York in 1917, but it was photographed in Stieglitz’s studio (and the only way in which the work is known). This “ready-made,” signed “R. Mutt”, like Rrose Sélavy – another identity for Duchamp. As a “readymade” (tout fait), it parodied the idea of “humanist” art, being, rather, an example of anti-art, or what Duchamp called “an-art” (compare the word “anarchistic”); impersonal, classical, oppositional as much as Dada was an oppositional force, intended to shock, in Europe.

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even

One of Duchamp’s most famous pieces of Dada is the version of the Mona Lisa published in 391 (1919) which gives her a moustache and beard, called L.H.O.O.Q., (“Elle a chaud a cul” when said fast, to be variously translated, e.g., “‘she has hot pants”: Duchamp, more modestly; “there is fire down below”); the image has been hugely influential in graffiti art, and in advertisements, creating hybridity, dissolving high art/popular art distinctions, as the “readymade” was intended to do. It may be said to be urban art – how many posters showing stars of either sex have had moustaches added to them? – and it suggests androgyny, or all forms of bisexuality (Spector 1991: 31–35). But Duchamp’s masterwork was the “Large Glass,” as La Mariée mise à nu par les celibataires, même was called (the last word puns on “m’aime” – loves me, and as an illogical word in context, it shows the influence of Dada), one of the most decisive art-works of the twentieth-century. Another title for it is “Delay in Glass.” Duchamp wrote notes for it, which were also published, as The Green Box (1934), plus another volume later in 1980 (see Henderson 1999: 113–126).

The panel shows different forms of energy at work. It is worth noting some urban motifs. It comprises two oil and lead wire on freestanding glass panels, one above the other. The images are between two plates of glass each. The higher panel is the sphere of the “bride,” whose image, going back to an earlier painting of 1912, is simultaneously that of a spinal column, a blossoming tree, and the structure of an automobile: her sexual response is like the firing of a car’s gasoline combustion engine. She also has connections with wireless telegraphy, even with the antennae for wireless telegraphs on the top of the Eiffel Tower. (For cars, first put on the road in Mannheim, Germany in 1886, and their impact on the culture of space and time, see Kern 1983.) The lower panel contains the “bachelors” – urban types: a priest, a delivery boy, a gendarme, a cuirassier (i.e., a cavalryman), a policeman, an undertaker, a servant, a busboy, and a stationmaster. There is a connection between them – they look like chess pieces – and a chocolate-grinder, which perhaps indicates a mechanical sexual pleasure which they desire; certainly, there is no sexual relationship between them and the bride. Nonetheless, the connections are meant to be electrical, at a distance, which is conveyed in the separation between them; similarly, the grinder is a wave detector using electromagnets.

It has been suggested that the lower pane of glass is the world of the three-dimensional, whereas that of the bride is four-dimensional, pointing to the Cubist fascination with that, and to a non-Euclidean geometry which in revising the sense of how we see, shows ways of seeing to be purely conventional; that there is always more to be seen. For example, the city must be seen inside time; Duchamp wrote that “the shadow cast by a four-dimensional figure on our space is a three-dimensional shadow” (quoted, Adcock 1984: 252). Three dimensions become two-dimensional when seen as shadows; the realism of the three dimensions is a shadow of something else, of an infinite space, for which the three-dimensional world exists as a shadow. The plurality of dimensions is realized in the city which in any case, as an environment to be walked in and round, challenges any conventional description, and means that it can hardly be rendered in conventional painting, what Duchamp called “retinal art” (Ades et al. 1999: 70–71) – in which he included the realism of Courbet’s paintings. In which case, the Large Glass shows up how representation must inevitably fail.

Realism, and the Ashcan School

It should be noted how the Armory Show was in contrast to the realism of the urban “Ashcan” school, which was so named, and derogatorily so, by the cartoonist Art Young (1866–1945) in 1916. The “Ashcan” school was also radical, and opposed to bourgeois New York. It was led by Robert Henri (1865–1928), who had been in Europe, and taught in Philadelphia, and then in New York. Henri mounted an exhibition of “The Eight” – painters associated with him – in New York in 1908. His work, wanting art to be like photography, was paralleled by the slightly earlier photography of New York by Jacob Riis (1849–1914), author, and photographer of How the Other Half Lives (1890) about living conditions on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Another of these artists associated with the “Ashcan” group was the documentary photographer Lewis W. Hine (1874–1940), another, the painter George Bellows (1882–1925), Henri’s student. John Sloan (1871–1951, from Philadelphia, also followed Henri to New York in 1904, and his work included satire in the style of Honoré Daumier (1808–1879). George Luks (1867–1933) depicts Hester Street (1905) and that, as an example of his work has been compared with the novel by Abraham Cahan (1860–1851). Cahan was Jewish, from Belarus, and had come to New York in 1882, to write about it most famously in The Rise of David Levinsky (1917) (Craven 1994: 428). He had already begun by writing about Jews in the New York Lower East Side in Yetl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto (1896). These artists stressed localities in what they painted. They took their “naturalist” inspiration from Zola, while another parallel to be drawn is with Stephen Crane (1871–1900), author of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets; (1893), set in the Bowery; another was Theodor Dreiser (1871–1945), still another, Frank Norris (1870–1902).

Ashcan artists, and Arthur Bowen Davies, drew for the radical socialist monthly The Masses (1911–1917), centered on Greenwich Village, and edited by Max Eastman (1883–1969) who slowly moved in his lifetime from the left – supporting Trotsky – to the right. Art Young, whose anti-capitalist cartoons had appeared in a book Hell Up to Date (1893) worked for it, while writers for it included John Reed (1887–1920), who had witnessed the October Revolution in 1917 first-hand and wrote about it, with, in 1919, Ten Days that Shook the World, and the Chicago-based Carl Sandburg (1878–1967), and Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941), whose Winesburg, Ohio (1919), based on the small town of Clyde, Ohio, where he had grown up, emerged from it.

Anderson himself was a friend of Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), who praised him: “Sherwood Anderson had a genius for using the sentence to convey a direct emotion, this was in the great American tradition, and … except Sherwood there was no one in America who could write a clear and passionate sentence” (Stein 1996: 236); the gap then, between these realists and the American modernists, of whom Stein is a good instance, was not absolute. Similarly, Louis Lozowick was an editor of The New Masses (1919–1948), which was the Marxist journal which succeeded The Masses, when criticism of the War, and American involvement in it, brought about its closing. Yet perhaps this realism, however revolutionary, could not match up to the Modernism of what the Armory Show represented. Though the Armory Show knew nothing of Dada, nor of Surrealism, it helps to remember one simple way of approaching “surrealism”: it means “above realism.”

Chicago and Greenwich Village

Some of the Dadaist Baroness Freytag-Loringhoven’s work appeared in The Little Review, which was founded in 1914, by Margaret Anderson (1886–1973), during a certain revival of literary interest in Chicago. The Review published Pound and T.S. Eliot (1888–1965), and the first 13 chapters of Ulysses. Of surrealists, it published such writes as Aragon, Picabia, and Soupault. The Little Review belonged to the same modernism that had made Harriet Monroe (1860–1936) found the journal Poetry in Chicago in 1912, having persuaded a hundred business leaders to back it. Poetry equally published Wallace Stevens (1879–1955), and Eliot, and Pound, and Carl Sandburg’s poem Chicago, about the “city with the big shoulders.” It should be remembered that Chicago itself, a new city after its fire of 1871, and so well described in Frank Norris’s The Pit (1903), was highly conflictual on account of the Haymarket Square massacre (May 4 1886) when in support of a strike for an 8-h day, anarchists killed seven police, and four – but not the bombers – were subsequently hanged. The event launched International Workers’ Day (May 1). The Chicago Race Riots (1919) compounded this; now with a different set of workers; i.e., blacks, who were provoked by white workers, when 38 in all were killed.

Margaret Anderson, with her lover, Jane Heap (1883–1964), moved the Little Review to Greenwich Village, New York, in 1917, and continued to publish outstandingly famous English, French, and American modernist writing, until the journal closed in 1929 (effectively, however, in 1926). Greenwich Village, a parallel to the Lower East Side, had been exempted, from the 1811 grid-plan which imposed straight streets and avenues on Manhattan, because of its colonial crooked lanes; and unlike the Lower East Side, it became a fashionable area after it had freed itself from cholera attacks in the 1820s. It had become ethnically diverse (German, Irish, Italian) at the end of the century. It increased its reputation for radicalism with the Pageant in Madison Square Gardens on 7 June 1913, which was organized by the journalists John Reed, Walter Lippman (1889–1979), Max Eastman, and Mabel Dodge (1879–1962 – who was to go on to Taos, inviting D.H. Lawrence to stay there in 1922). The Pageant was aimed at supporting striking workers who were demanding an 8 h day in the 5-month long strike in 1913 of silk mill workers in Paterson, New Jersey (the city of William Carlos Williams’s poem Paterson). The neighborhood of the urban theorist Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s, Greenwich Village began, on June 28 1969, to become the headquarters of gay and lesbian rights, after the Stonewall riots, which were centered on Christopher Street.

Margaret Anderson had begun her career with another journal which had started in Chicago in 1860, The Dial: its editor, Martyn Johnson, was also to move from Chicago to New York in 1918, where it was refounded in 1919, under the editorial control of Scofield Thayer (1889–1982) and James Sibley Watson (1894–1982), in which form it was essential for Modernist writing, not least publishing The Waste Land (under the advice of Ezra Pound) in 1922: the same issue included Mina Loy’s poem “Brancusi’s Golden Bird.” Also having publishing offices in Greenwich Village, it was more “respectable” than The Little Review, which seemed more anarchistic, more avant-garde: both ended in 1929, the year the Depression began.

Mina Loy

Mina Loy, the daughter of an Hungarian-Jewish tailor (Sigmund Felix Lowry) – she tells a joke about an Hungarian immigrant in London in Insel (Loy 2014: 90–91) – and a Protestant mother; artist, poet, and novelist, left London for art-school in Munich, and Paris, and a first marriage to Stephen Haweis (until 1917). She then went on to Florence, where she came across Futurism, and had an affair with F.T. Marinetti, who inspired her to write. In New York, she was associated with Dadaism, and here she met Arthur Cravan (Fabian Avenarius Lloyd, born 1887), the poet and boxer, who said he was the nephew of Oscar Wilde, and whom she married in Mexico City in 1918. They planned to leave for Europe, via Buenos Aires; she went on there first, but he was apparently drowned in the boat he intended to escape in. She went on to Europe, and settled in Paris in 1923 where she published a collection of poems Lunar Baedeker (1923). The Paris she lived in included Joyce, Brancusi, and Ezra Pound, and the American Sylvia Beach (1887–1962), who with her lover Adrienne Monnier (1892–1955) set up the bookshop “Shakespeare and Company,” which ran from 1919 to 1941, and published Ulysses (1922), a highly risky undertaking; another American was Gertrude Stein, who writes about Mina Loy in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklass (she also gave her financial support). Another, and a friend of Stein, was Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), who, born in Oak Park Chicago, lived in Paris after 1921, and wrote about the English and Americans there in The Sun Also Rises (1926). Finally, another associate of Mina Loy was Man Ray, who appears in Insel (42).

Mina Loy stayed in Paris, at 9, Rue St- Romain, until 1936, collecting art-works for her son-in-law Julien Levy’s art gallery in New York (see Insel 55). Levy had married her daughter Joella and returned to New York, was friendly with the American surrealist artist Joseph Cornell (1903–1972) whose artwork comprised “assemblages” products of things found, junk materials apparently randomly put together, obeying chance (His work is referenced in Insel [144–145]). Mina Loy herself lived in the Bowery, still the area of Lower East Side given over to the destitute and tramps, the “ragpickers” of Baudelaire’s poems. She faded from view from the art-world which the more fashionable New York had become, especially post-war, though Duchamp curated an exhibition of her work in the Bodley Gallery, New York (Upper East Side) in 1959. She moved to Aspen, Colorado, to be near her daughters, and died in 1966. One more volume of poetry appeared in 1958: Lunar Baedeker and Timetables, and two more came out after her death: The Last Lunar Baedeker (1982) and The Lost Lunar Baedeker (1997), plus her novel Insel (1991).


Insel is a fictionalized account of Mina Loy (called Mrs Jones) and her meetings with Richard Oelze from 1933 to 1936: Oelze (1900–1980) was a German Jewish surrealist artist, who had been, apparently, a drug-addict, and was probably schizophrenic (he is said to be “at variance with himself” [16]). He anticipates the destitutes of the Bowery – where the novel was completed – for “he had solved the problem of keeping alive without any money and thus had lived for sixteen years” (6). He “tramps the streets” (57). As “irreal” (6), as “a congenital surrealist” (44), he is able to “possess some mental conjury enabling him to infuse an actual detail with the magical contrariness surrealism merely portrays” (33). The definition of surrealism will be noted; it is awareness of life as double (hence the importance of chance encounters which engender “assemblages,” and generate surprises) and as comprising antitheses. Such a strong antithesis exists between Mrs Jones, an habituée of the Left Bank, and with a flat in fashionable Saint-Cloud, a suburb to the west of Paris, and Insel (the name implies his isolation, his “insularity”). Meeting places include the Café le Dôme in Montparnasse, famous for those intellectuals and artists who met and wrote there; and the Hotel Lutetia, and the Gare d’Orléans (now Gare d’Austerlitz).

Mina Loy collected Oelze’s painting Expectation, where middle-class people (with hats) stand looking away to the distance, as if like refugees going to death camps (Insel’s desire is to get to New York, “from a threatening war” (44): he has already been in World War I). Another is a picture called Die Irma (110) is identifiable as Oelze’s extant work Frieda. This portrays a woman, another Bride stripped bare by her bachelors, whom Mrs Jones dislikes for its sense of being a projection of this “bachelor” (even, possibly, resembling him). There is a sense in which Insel is a critique of Surrealist male confidence over women, especially as that was practiced by Breton, whom Insel alludes to under the name of Moto, along with Max Ernst, called “Sex” (5). Indeed, Insel reads as a reverse version of Breton’s Nadja, where the privileged male takes up, briefly, the prostitute, and mad, Nadja, as a “found object.” This comparison works the more since Mrs Jones returns to New York, but to no happy future, leaving Insel behind. Yet in the last fragments of the novel she has the sensation of him being there, having made a “visitation” to New York (167).

Communication between the two also breaks down distance. Insel seems to have mesmeric powers emanating from him (121); he “seemed to collect electricity from the air” (72), making him, contradictorily, “a gray man and an electrified organism at one and the same time” (77). This “uncommon derelict” (43) is like a radio transmitter, which recalls the Bride in Duchamp’s installation-art, and shows a reversal of gender-types from Duchamp. Insel can see “right into these people,” he says of others at the Hotel Lutetia (44), recalling both the impact of X-ray photography (1895) on Cubists, and the transparency of Duchamp’s work, where the Bride and her bachelors are within glass; similarly Insel “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” (110–111): the Eiffel tower existing here as another transparency, and strangely de-realized.

Insel seems unconscious of time, even when he has been kept waiting for an hour and a half (56). And it is said “time hovered, suspended in the attic air as the powders of life in the noxious mist of the exhausted city below” (111). The best moments between the man and the woman recall the Cubist and Duchampian interest in the fourth dimension – now adding to the infinity of space a “prolongation of time” (148) which permits a “communicative impersonality” (147) between the man and the woman. Insel is “rich in postponement” (151), a term which recalls Duchamp’s subtitle for his work: “Delay in Glass”; for this implies prolongation of duration, expansion, and the sense that because the “picture” evokes delay, it makes it impossible to see it as a picture, to totalize vision in such a way; a point which is also relevant for the city: it is not possible to see it in landscape terms.

The city, as always, is the only place for the strange, chance encounters which, because they are measured in terms of electromagnetic rays, defeat the idea of single subjects meeting; this is the subject of Insel. Similarly, the city gives the sense of “delay,” nonhomogeneous time, which Duchamp himself in the 1930s and 1940s amplified with a new concept – only it is not a concept, because he said the word was an adjective, the “infra-thin” (Ades et al. 1999: 183–186). What is “infra-thin” conveys the idea of an almost imperceptible difference between things, a separation and a passage between them. Duchamp wrote “in Time the same object is not the/same after a 1 second interval – what/Relations with the identity principle?” (Singer 2004: 347). The cryptic nature of this should not prevent the thought that all picturing, all portrayal, because it has to do with delay, is impossible, because there is no identity to what be caught. Perhaps the city is the place for the realization of nonidentity, while the infra-thin enlarges a sense of dimensions, a subject of Insel, and what the geometrical/Cubist images of cities give.


New York received the benefit of what European cities, especially Paris, worked out before the First World War, and the art and writing that shaped New York in the 1910s and 1920s became definitive for thinking about the modern city. New York received much as a result of the oncoming Second World War, and the return of artworks there especially from Paris. It was warfare which promoted cultural exchange, and which perhaps ended it.


Further Reading

  1. Adcock, Craig. 1984. Conventionalism in Henri Poincaré and Marcel Duchamp. Art Journal 44: 249–258.Google Scholar
  2. Ades, Dawn, Neil Cox, and David Hopkins. 1999. Marcel Duchamp. London: Thames and Hudson.Google Scholar
  3. Baumann, Jason. 2019. The Stonewall reader: The New York public library. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  4. Benstock, Shari. 1987. Women of the left bank: Paris, 1900–1940. London: Virago.Google Scholar
  5. Burke, Carolyn. 1996. Becoming modern: The life of Mina Loy. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.Google Scholar
  6. Corbett, David Peters. 2011. The problematic past in the work of Charles Sheeler, 1917–1927. Journal of American Studies 45: 559–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Craven, Wayne. 1994. American art: History and culture. Boston: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  8. Gaedtke, Andrew. 2008. From transmissions of madness to machines of writing: Mina Loy’s Insel as clinical fantasy. Journal of Modern Literature 32: 143–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gibbons, Tom H. 1981. Cubism and “the fourth dimension” in the context of the late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century revival of occult idealism. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 44: 130–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Henderson, Linda Dalrymple. 1981. Italian futurism and “the fourth dimension”. Art Journal 41: 317–323.Google Scholar
  11. Henderson, Linda Dalrymple. 1983. The fourth dimension and non-Euclidean geometry in modern art. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Henderson, Linda Dalrymple. 1999. The large glass seen anew: Reflections of contemporary science and technology in Marcel Duchamp’s “hilarious picture”. Leonardo 32: 113–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kern, Stephen. 1983. The culture of time and space, 1880–1918. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.Google Scholar
  14. Loy, Mina. 2014. Insel. Ed. Elizabeth Arnold. Brooklyn: Melville House Publishing.Google Scholar
  15. Pound, Ezra. 1977. Selected poems. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  16. Reich, Sheldon. 1969. Paintings of New York, 1912. The American Art Journal 1: 43–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sayre, Henry M. 1989. American vernacular: Objectivism, precisionism, and the aesthetics of the machine. Twentieth Century Literature 35: 310–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Singer, Thomas. 2004. In the manner of Duchamp, 1942–1947: The years of the “Mirrorical return”. The Art Bulletin 86: 346–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Spector, Jack J. 1991. Duchamp’s androgynous Leonardo: ‘Queue’ and ‘Cul’ in LHOOQ. Notes on the History of Art 11: 31–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Stein, Gertrude. 1996. The autobiography of Alice B. Toklass. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  21. Zurier, Rebecca. 2006. Picturing the city: Urban vision and the ashcan school. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LondonUK