Francis Picabia (French, 18791953)
Pen, brush and ink, and cut and pasted printed papers on paperboard; 29 7/8 x 20 in. (75.9 x 50.8 cm)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.70.14)
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Francis Picabia created Here, This Is Stieglitz Here (Ici, c'est ici Stieglitz) in 1915, after having relocated to New York from Paris earlier that year. While in New York, the Cubist painter met the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who would later organize an exhibition of Picabia's works at his legendary gallery 291 and collaborate with him on the Dada publication 291 in which Here first appeared. In this portrait, Picabia is clearly referencing Duchamp's machinist aesthetic as well as his ironic wit. Part of a series of machine portraits of his artist-friends in New York, Here depicts Stieglitz as a broken bellows camera with an automobile brake attached to it that is in motion. It is important to underscore that this series of machine portraits did not celebrate the hyper-mechanized culture of the early twentieth century. Machinist imagery formed a vocabulary that Picabia drew upon in order to capture the modern human spirit. His work is not a comment on the frenzied fascination with which contemporary culture viewed the machine but, rather, a demonstration of how such mechanized symbols can successfully articulate the seemingly opposed values of an individual's sensibility. Picabia has written "Ideal" in an old-fashioned, delicate, highly detailed script that effectively contrasts with the modern-day, sleek machine upon which it perches. The elaborate Gothic font hearkens back to an outdated mode of portraiture and, generally speaking, of painting, against which Picabia is clearly working. More importantly, it addresses Stieglitz's own idealism that, according to those in his circle, had failed to inspire Americans toward self-discovery through art and photography. Indeed, Stieglitz's goal was too grandiose, hence the lofty placement of "Ideal" above the mass-produced objectan object that connotes a commercially driven reality more characteristic of America at this moment in history. Spearheading the effort to introduce the dominant artistic practices of Europe to American artists, Here embraces the humor with which Picabia and Duchamp mocked traditional artistic styles and techniques, and that would characterize their proto-Dada practices during the time they lived in New York.