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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Arensberg Circle

It is hard to overstate the profound effect the 1912 Armory Show in NewYork had upon modern art in the U.S.  For example, on the last day of the show, a man named Walter Arensberg and his wife, Louise, happened to drop by.  Walter was a Harvard educated journalist who had studied in Italy and wrote poetry.  They were impressed.  With an almost spiritual zeal they began to collect work by many of the artists exhibiting at the show.  In no time the walls of their West Sixty-seventh Street apartment were covered with works primarily by Duchamp and Picasso, with representative pieces also by Braque, Gris, and Miro.  They apparently were also quite taken with the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi.  They owned 19 of them.  Their collection eventually grew to include some 400 works of contemporary art, with its centerpiece, Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase which coincidentally was the Arensbergs' first purchase that final day of the Armory Show.   
However, more than merely collecting, the Arensbergs, like their expatriat counterparts, the Stein's in Paris, let their apartment became a mecca for the Avant-Garde in New York.  Marcel Duchamp actually moved in with them for a time when he first arrived in the city, fleeing the conflict of WW I.  This may account for why they ended up with so many of his paintings.  In any case, out of this enclave of progressive artists and poets eventually grew The Society of Independent Artists founded in 1917.  Among the members of this group were Man Ray, Duchamp, Walter Pach, Katherine Dreier, George Bellows and William Glackens.  
By the 1920's, the Arensberg's had taken their art collection and moved to California, but the group they fostered, nicknamed the Arensberg Circle, continued to grow, at various times including such younger, American artists as Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler, Joseph Stella, even dancer Isadora Duncan.  Gradually, under the leadership of Duchamp and Man Ray, this group evolved into the American branch of the Dada movement and that in turn led to the founding of yet another group, the Societe Anonyme, which held annual exhibitions promoting some of the most progressive artistic experimentation to be done in America at the time.  The Societe even purchased works by many of their members, and though the organization remained active for only a few years, their art collection eventually became the basis for the founding of New York's famous Museum of Modern Art in 1929.  Makes one wonder what might have happened if Walter and his wife had decided to take in a movie that afternoon in 1912, rather than an art show.

New York's Museum of Modern Art
(MoMA) today

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