New York

Arthur Dove

Dintenfass Gallery

The Arthur Dove collages, which are largely concentrated in the 1920s, allude to curious and important historical problems. As a painter, Dove is associated with the tradition of landscape, which seeks to find signs or other visual equivalents for the landscape experience. In this desire Dove can be associated, say, with early Georgia O’Keeffe and that first phase of William Zorach’s career which he spent as a painter. In short, their landscape painting derives from aspects of Futurist theory. Remember, it was the Futurist who sought “unique forms” and “dynamic hieroglyphs.”

But, Dove’s collages put forth another aspect of American modernism, that strain of Dadaism which was fostered in the circle of Stieglitz, with whom Dove exhibited to the closing of An American Place, as Stieglitz’s gallery of the 1930s was called. (Although Stieglitz’s antipathy to Dadaist art and Dadaist enthusiasts—preeminently the Arensbergs—is well recorded, he was personally attracted to Dadaist artists as people, most notably Picabia.) There is still an occasional painterly collage with distinct references of Kandinsky such as we find in the George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue collages of 1927, in the first of which clock-springs are contrasted against nervous blue brush twirlings. But it is the specific Dada portraits which are more to the point of my argument which is that for Dove collage is before all else a Dadaistic technique rather than a Cubist or Futurist one. Dove’s Portrait of Alfred Stieglitz of 1925 contrasts the order and disorder of metal, clock-spring, steel wool and photographic plate above which the eye of Stieglitz is signified through the inclusion of a camera lens. Certainly Picabia’s incarnation of Stieglitz as a camera in his 1915 collage Ici, C’est Ici Stieglitz is the equivalent right down to the fraktur “Ideal” at the lens aperture. In a collage called The Critic, perhaps a portrait of the reactionary critic Royal Cortissoz, an empty-headed, red-hatted figure whose body is a cutout review as flat as his prose in support of Beaux Arts academicians, roller-skates by while sucking up tidbits with his Energex vacuum cleaner. This kind of sardonic Portrait, forerunner of Jasper Johns’ The Critic Sees, has a high increment of the irony we associate with German Dadaism such as in George Grosz’s collages. Even Joseph Cornell is firsted in Dove’s collage, Starry Heavens, of 1924, in which a gold-spattered circle of blue with the Big and Little Dipper carefully painted in calls to mind the many Cornell boxes which incorporate the theme of constellation and starry sky.

Robert Pincus-Witten