‘The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America’ opens this month at The Frist

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On Friday, Oct. 26, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts will open the major traveling exhibition The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America, which features works by more than 100 artists who shaped the development of modern art in the early to mid-20th century. The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America is on view at the Frist Center through Jan. 27, 2008.

Organized by Yale University Art Gallery, the exhibition draws from Yale’s collection, which was given by the Société Anonyme in 1941 and the Katherine S. Dreier Bequest in 1953. The Frist Center is the final venue—and the only Southeastern stop—on the exhibition’s traveling itinerary, before it returns to the Yale University Art Gallery.

Founded in the 1920s by artists Katherine S. Dreier, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, this “anonymous society” was intended to be an “experimental museum” for modern art, created to promote avant-garde art to American audiences. A founding philosophy of the Société Anonyme was that the story of modern art should be created and chronicled not by historians or academics, but by artists.

During its 30 years of activities, the Société Anonyme presented more than 80 exhibitions as well as lectures and other educational programs. The organization amassed an exceptional—and exceptionally broad—collection of European and American art, dating primarily from 1920 to 1940, which was shown to the public in exhibitions that challenged the tidy categorizations of conventional art history. 

The exhibition at the Frist Center charts the development of the Société Anonyme and its establishment as one of the great collections of modernist works in America. Including approximately 240 paintings, sculptures and works on paper, The Société Anonyme:

Modernism for America features works by such renowned artists as Josef Albers, Alexander Archipenko, Alexander Calder, Arthur Dove, Max Ernst, Paul Gauguin, Arshile Gorky, Wassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Roberto Matta, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Stella and Jacques Villon among many others. 

The Société Anonyme: Modernism for Americais designed to help visitors experience the vitality of the group’s presentations by reconvening several of the most important of its exhibitions. The installation begins with a version of the inaugural 1920 exhibition designed by the playful Dadaist Marcel Duchamp. This is followed by groundbreaking one-person shows of works by artists such as Heinrich Campendonk, Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Léger. A large section is devoted to the 1926 exhibition held at the Brooklyn Museum, which emphasized the dynamic cross-fertilization of styles and themes that characterized modern art throughout Europe and North America between the two world wars. The exhibition also features a section on educational initiatives launched by the Société Anonyme.

“This is truly one of the most significant collections of modern art in America,” says Susan H. Edwards, Ph.D., executive director and CEO of the Frist Center. “When we first announced the exhibition last year, we immediately received calls from art educators around the Southeast, who view our presentation of this collection as a unique teaching opportunity. Academia aside, it’s important for all visitors to understand that modern art is meant to be at times confounding and thought provoking. No one needs to feel as if he needs a background in art to view or to appreciate these interesting works, which were revolutionary…even shocking…in their time.”

“This collection is about discovery,” says Anne Taylor, curator of interpretation at the Frist Center. “In the early 20th century, Dreier and Duchamp wanted to inspire audiences with the opportunity to encounter new and perhaps unfamiliar artists and artworks. This still holds true today when viewing the collection.”

The exhibition includes a large selection of paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints, as well as historical photographs and other memorabilia documenting the Société Anonyme’s history and activities.

Works by important American pioneers of modernism include Joseph Stella’s Brooklyn Bridge (1919–20), one of the artist’s signature images; Man Ray’s sculptural Lampshade (1921); and Arthur Dove’s Sunrise III (1936–37).

Other highlights include a major work by Duchamp: Tu m’, a 10-foot-long canvas commissioned by Dreier in 1918 (see image to the right); Kandinsky’s The Waterfall (1909); Constantin Brancusi’s Yellow Bird (1919); Francis Picabia’s Midi (ca. 1923–26); and Mondrian’s Fox Trot A (1930).

Related Programs

Friday, Oct. 26, Noon
Curator’s Perspective: “The Living Legacy of the Société Anonyme”
Frist Center for the Visual Arts
Free

Join Jennifer R. Gross, the Seymour H. Knox, Jr., curator of modern and contemporary art at Yale University Art Gallery, as she presents unique insights into The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America exhibition.

Saturdays, Nov. 3, 10, 17, 24
Frist Center Kids Club: Kandinsky Kolors, 1–2:30 p.m.
Meet in the Upper-Level Foyer
Ages: 5–10
Free: call 615-744-3357 to reserve a space

Saturdays in November, Kids Club members will experiment with colors and shapes in the style of artist Wassily Kandinsky. Kids Club offers exciting opportunities for children to discover, explore and create art. Free membership includes a Kids Club card, art classes and additional rewards for participation. 2007 Kids Club Sponsor: Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, the Pruett Financial Group.

Thursday, Nov. 8
Teacher Workshop, The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America
9 a.m.–3 p.m.
$20 Frist Center members/$25 non-members
Pre-registration required: call 615-744-3247 or visit www.fristcenter.org to register online

This exhibition-related teacher workshop will provide information and resources about the art presented in the exhibition and its historical content. Educators will examine original works of art, participate in gallery discussions and studio activities, and develop teaching materials. Frist Center Teacher Workshops are open to teachers of all subjects, pre-K through grade 12. Required registration fees include all materials, teacher resources, gallery admission, free parking, breakfast and lunch.

Friday, Nov. 9 
Société Anonyme Lecture Series, Part One: “Insights into Marcel Duchamp”
6:30 p.m.

Auditorium
Free

Jim Womack, art history teacher and visual and performing arts department chair at Montgomery Bell Academy, will begin a three-part lecture series that will look at selected individual artists involved in the Société Anonyme. The first lecture in the series will examine the life and works of Marcel Duchamp, a co-founder of the Société Anonyme.

Saturday, Nov. 10
Teacher Workshop: The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America
9 a.m.–3 p.m.

$20 Frist Center members/$25 non-members
Pre-registration required: call 615-744-3247 or visit www.fristcenter.org

This exhibition-related teacher workshop will provide information and resources about the art presented in the exhibition and its historical content. Educators will examine original works of art, participate in gallery discussions and studio activities, and develop teaching materials. Frist Center Teacher Workshops are open to teachers of all subjects, pre-K through grade 12. Required registration fees include all materials, teacher resources, gallery admission, free parking, breakfast and lunch.

Friday, Nov. 30
ARTini, 7 p.m
Meet in Frist Center Grand Lobby
Included with gallery admission

Susan H. Edwards, Ph.D., executive director and CEO of the Frist Center, will lead a fun, informal conversation about The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America exhibition. Complete your evening with music in the Grand Lobby, martinis at the cash bar and visiting with friends.

Thursday, Dec. 13
Gallery Talk: TheSociétéAnonyme: Modernism for America
7 p.m.

Meet at the Information Desk
Free with gallery admission

Join Mark Scala, Frist Center chief curator, for a walk-through tour of the exhibition, The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America.

Friday, Dec. 14
Société Anonyme Lecture Series, Part Two: “Focus on Wassily Kandinsky”
6:30 p.m.

Auditorium
Free

Jim Womack, art history teacher and visual and performing arts department chair at Montgomery Bell Academy, will present the second lecture in a three-part series that will look at selected individual artists involved in the Société Anonyme. This lecture will examine the life and works of Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian artist whose abstract art greatly influenced the art of the 20th century.

Friday, Jan. 11, 2008
Société Anonyme Lecture Series, Part Three: “Focus on Piet Mondrian”
6:30 p.m.
Auditorium
Free

Jim Womack, art history teacher and visual and performing arts department chair at Montgomery Bell Academy, will present the final lecture of a three-part series that will look at the life and work of Piet Mondrian, a Dutch artist known for his abstract paintings of reduced colors and geometric shapes. 

Friday, Jan. 4, 2008
Films at the Frist: “Metropolis,” 7 p.m.

Auditorium
Free

Perhaps one of the most famous and influential of all silent films, Metropolis takes place in 2026. Lavish and spectacular, with elaborate sets and modern science fiction style, Metropolis presents a vision of the 21st century that remains a modern classic. This film shows a world of a populace divided between workers who must live in the dark underground and the rich who enjoy a futuristic city of splendor. Restored with state-of-the-art digital technology, and the original orchestral score added. (Fritz Lang, black and white, 1924, silent with intertitles, 124 minutes)

Oct. 26, 2007–Jan. 26, 2008
The Art of Chess

Grand Lobby
Free

Marcel Duchamp once said, “And why isn’t my playing chess an art activity?” During the exhibition The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America, Frist Center visitors can enjoy a casual game of chess in the Grand Lobby. 

Coming Soon

Future/Now: Mid-State Art Majors
Nov.16–Dec. 30, 2007

Upper-Level Galleries

This exhibition presents works by studio majors in college and university programs across Middle Tennessee. The exhibition will provide students with a first-hand experience of the role that museums play as an intermediary between artists and the public, while also celebrating the quality and diversity of art training programs throughout the region. Organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist
Jan.18–April 13, 2008
Upper-Level Galleries

Aaron Douglas was a leading artist of the Harlem Renaissance whose signature style includes silhouetted figures, flat forms and radiating bands of light. This is the first touring retrospective of his work and includes approximately 100 paintings, works on paper and book illustrations. Born in Kansas and a resident of Harlem for many years, Douglas spent much of his life in Nashville, Tenn., as head of the art department at Fisk University. Organized by the Spencer Museum of Art, the University of Kansas, Lawrence, with support from the Henry Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.