TAmid the crowds at the Venice Biennale, a woman stands in her forties in a homemade wild costume, which includes matador pants with decorative ribbons and a hat like an inverted pot. In another photograph, she was much smaller and taken around 1920, she is bent on one leg like a stork, sprouting feathers and dripping jewelry.
Baroness Elsa von Freitag-Loringhoven Elsa Hildegard Plotz was born in Swinoujssee, now part of Poland, in 1874. Her surname—which she received in New York in 1913—was a souvenir of a short marriage. “The Baroness” became not only her name but her character: an avant-garde creativity that defies bourgeois decency. At Venice this year, she was honored as a Dada pioneer who reimagined her everyday life as a performer.
She spent her early years performing vaudeville in Berlin, then moved to New York where she supported herself as a model. She made sculptures and costumes from found objects (her wedding ring was a rusty metal collar plucked from the sidewalk) and wrote experimental poetry, which she also performed. Memorable sets included a bra made from cans of tomato soup and a canary in a cage; hats ring with stolen tea spoons; Postage stamps worn in place of blush. Modesty, whether in the studio or on the street, was for the squares. She collaborated with fellow surrealists Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray on the film The baroness shaved off her pubic hair. Unfortunately, only a few snapshots survived the editing process.
New exhibition in London Mimosa house Celebrate the baroness. A few of the found objects and assemblies—including a rusty Enduring Ornament and a jagged wood split thorn called the Cathedral—accompany the homage to current admired artists. “I don’t want to reduce it to the readymade,” says curator Daria Khan. “There is so much to her. She is an extraordinary poet.” Each artist recorded one of her poems. “I wanted to put the volume in the middle,” Khan adds. “We don’t have any recordings of Elsa, but we do have a lot of memories of how she looked and performed.”
Jamaican-American poet Claude McKay She wrote of the Baroness as she called out a poem “in her lively, masculine voice, cheerfully dressed in rainbow robes, adorned with Berber beads, bangles and bangles, held along her inescapable dog in gilded belts.” Her performance was enthusiastic. “The walls are shaking, the ceiling rocks, life is real, life is serious!” recalls Mike Gold, who edited Liberator with McKay.
in 2018 Susanna Janineone of the artists exhibited at Mimosa House, founded Poland’s Women’s Art Prize in honor of the Baroness and Surrealism Maria Anto. Janine sees the Baroness’s work more than Dada. Seemingly desecrating God’s sculpture – Plumbing’s U-curve on a pedestal, jointly attributed to Morton Schamberg – can also be read as a celebration of modernity.
Janine asks “What does it mean, when the cities of Europe began to build a common sewage system, which completely changed hygiene in the daily lives of citizens? She was not only a poetic Dada artist, but perhaps also a socially committed and futuristic artist in her revolutionary use of everyday items and her passion for geometry” .
Inspired by the Wooden Fragments Cathedral of the Baroness, based in Birmingham Linda Stobart He built a structure using “tree skins” collected during the “walking tours” they took along the banks of the River Cole in the Midlands. Stubart describes the cathedral as “a ready-made that speaks of both refraction and the magic of every day – an ancient being with a halo.” Exhibited in New York in 1918, the cathedral was a tribute from the Baroness to the city’s skyscrapers, or cathedrals for commerce. What does Stubart think we can learn from her as a historical art figure? “Sleep with everyone!” they respond. “Grow up! Be awkward and hyperactive! “
However, there is a shadow of Duchamp in this story. Was the Baroness wholly or partly responsible for Duchamp Fountain, his famous upside-down ceramic urinal, signed “R Mutt”? The controversy is still raging. For Janine, the evidence seems clear. “Her life, her writing, the way she works, her use of pipes and plumbing all confirm this,” says the artist. “It deserves a place in the art world. I was very surprised that a few years ago the urinal was shown at the Tate Modern without any comment on Elsa’s possible authorship.”
Khan worries that the sensational debate about Fountain is distracting from the Baroness’s other work. “We don’t want to make a woman important just because she has submitted work attributed to a male artist,” she says. Of Duchamp, the Baroness once wrote: “When I was / a young man – a fool – / I loved Marcel Duchette / He acted in a polluted manner -” Yet Fountain appeared in Mimosa House, along with the lines of the Baroness projected on the toilet door.