Marcel Duchamp, The Arensbergs, And The American Avant-Garde

Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker:

The word “salon,” for a starry convocation of creative types, intelligentsia, and patrons, has never firmly penetrated English. It retains a pair of transatlantic wet feet from the phenomenon’s storied annals, chiefly in France, since the eighteenth century. So it was that the all-time most glamorous and consequential American instance, thriving in New York between 1915 and 1920, centered on Europeans in temporary flight from the miseries of the First World War. Their hosts were Walter Arensberg, a Pittsburgh steel heir, and his wife, Louise Stevens, an even wealthier Massachusetts textile-industry legatee. The couple had been thunderstruck by the 1913 Armory Show of international contemporary art, which exposed Americans to Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and, in particular, Marcel Duchamp. Made the previous year, his painting “Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2),” a cunning mashup of Cubism and Futurism, with its title hand-lettered along the bottom, was the event’s prime sensation: at once insinuating indecency and making it hard to perceive, what with the image’s scalloped planes, which a Times critic jovially likened to “an explosion in a shingle factory.”

more here.