Published: February 26, 2002
Yale Recreates 1948 Exhibition of Modernist Art
NEW HAVEN, CONN. – “The 1948 Directors of the Société Anonyme Exhibition,” on view at the Yale University Art Gallery through March 30, represents an exhibition that opened at Yale in March of 1948, showing work of the artist/directors of the Société Anonyme: Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Henry Campendonk, Wassily Kandinsky Naum Gabo, and the group’s prime mover, Katherine Dreier.
The exhibition celebrates the six decades that the Société Anonyme Collection has been a pivotal part of Yale’s art holdings and shares a period view with the concurrent exhibition “The Tiger’s Eye: The Art of a Magazine.” The 2002 manifestation of the exhibition was organized by Jennifer Gross, the Seymour H. Knox, Jr, curator of European and Contemporary art.
In 1920 the American artist/collector Katherine Dreier (1877-1952) and the artists Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and Man Ray (1890-1976) formed an association to promote “the so-called Modern Expression of Art.” At Duchamp’s suggestion, they discarded the original name “The Modern Ark” and chose instead “Société Anonyme,” the French phrase for incorporated. The group assembled and circulated what art historian Robert L. Herbert has described as, “art too recent to be salable, hence, of insufficient interest to dealers to exhibit.”
In the fall of 1941, Dreier, who was passionately dedicated to educating young people about modern art and frustrated in her desire to found a public museum at her estate in Redding, Conn., signed a deed of gift and the Yale Corporation accepted the collection of the Société Anonyme. The donation included 135 oil paintings, seven sculptures, 186 drawings, and 180 prints, photographs and miscellaneous works, by 141 artists. Dreier continued to add to the collection until her death in 1952, and by the time her estate was settled more than 1,000 objects were in the combined Société Anonyme and Dreier Collections at Yale, among them some of the most significant works of the first half of the Twentieth Century.
In addition to Yale, the chief beneficiaries of Dreier’s private collection were the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Phillips Collection and American University, Washington, D.C.
The current exhibition is based on a loosely formed checklist and five installation photographs made of the 1948 directors exhibition, which celebrated Dreier’s 70th birthday. Dreier herself inaugurated the exhibition with the first of “Three Lectures on Modern Art,” followed in succeeding weeks by art historian and Museum of Modern Art curator James J. Sweeney and sculptor Naum Gabo.
There were 59 works in the original exhibition – an eclectic grouping of Dada, Constructivist, Expressionist and Realist art, covering the period 1921 to 1947. Regrettably, owing to loss or fragility, only 43 of these works can be shown in the present exhibition, with 30 coming from Yale’s collection and the remainder generously loaned by other institutions and private collectors.
The Yale University Art Gallery, at Chapel and York Streets in New Haven, exhibits a permanent collection from every period in the history of art, with special changing exhibitions throughout the year. Admission is free for individuals. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm; Thursday, 10 am to 8 pm; Sunday, 1 pm to 6 pm. For information, 203-432-0606 or yale.edu/artgallery.
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