FROM THE BOOKExcerpt from ‘The Blind Man Sees the Fountain: An Introduction’
by Sophie Seita
History, Editorial Practice, Networks
In April 1917, the short-lived little magazine The Blind Man opened its first issue with a statement of defiance—“The Blind Man celebrates to-day the birth of the Independence of Art in America”—and a catalogue of promises:
The Blind Man’s procedure shall be that of referendum.
He will publish the questions and answers sent to him.
He will print what the artists and the public have to say.
He is very keen to receive suggestions and criticisms.
So, don’t spare him.
These promises drew their inspiration from the conviction that “Russia needed a political revolution. America needs an artistic one.” With such avant-garde fanfare, the editors Beatrice Wood (an actress, artist, writer, and later ceramicist), Marcel Duchamp, and Henri-Pierre Roché (a journalist, writer, art collector and dealer from Paris) launched The Blind Man
initially to support the inaugural exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, established by Katherine Dreier, Duchamp, Man Ray, Walter Arensberg, Joseph Stella, and others in New York in 1916. Seeking greater curatorial democracy than the 1913 Armory Show, the new society sponsored art under the tag line “No Jury, No Prizes.” Inspired by the upcoming exhibition and its motto, Duchamp, Roché, and Wood adopted a similarly jury-free, democratic editorial policy (modeled on a “referendum”) for their magazine.
Like many little magazines, The Blind Man
was the product of a friendship and a small, local community. Duchamp arrived in New York in 1915, Roché arrived in November 1916 and shortly thereafter met Duchamp who subsequently brought him along to the Arensberg’s salon. Wood met Duchamp through the composer Edgar Varèse in September 1916 and was introduced to Roché by her friend, the bohemian journalist, Alissa Frank. The wider Blind Man
circle included artists and writers now-associated with Modernism, Dada, Cubism, Simultaneism, and the Photo Secession, and the magazine’s two issues published the editors, Mina Loy, Walter Conrad Arensberg, Francis Picabia, Gabrielle Buffet, Allen Norton, Clara Tice, Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Demuth, Charles Duncan, Alfred Frueh, Robert Carlton Brown, Louise Norton, Frank Crowninshield, and Frances Simpson Stevens. But crucially, the magazine emerged from a network of other little magazines published in the 1910s and early 1920s, all of which had overlapping contributors, in particular those with a proto-Dada bent: 291 (1915-1916), The Little Review
(March 1919), The Ridgefield Gazook
(March 31, 1915), New York Dada
(April 1921), 391 (1917-1924), and several others. To place The Blind Man
within its publishing networks acknowledges that texts and artworks are not isolated objects but always appear within a social and material context. Magazines, which are generically serial and heterogeneous forms with multiple contributors of usually multiple affiliations and changing practices, allow us to recover and celebrate the dialogues taking place between contributions, between publications, and beyond the page.
In its opening editorial statement, the personified “Blind Man” fashioned itself as precisely such a dialogic format, as “the link between the pictures and the public—and even between the painters themselves,” since it “realize[d] the need of the public and the artists educating each other.” Insisting on the magazine’s communal and collaborative endeavor, this educative and social “link” necessitated speaking the same language. For that, the public had to learn to appreciate new art “like learning a new language,” a new conceptual vocabulary and a cultural openness to otherness. But the public had “spectacles on wholesome eyes,” as Mina Loy lamented in ‘In . . . Formation’, one of her two polemical pieces in The Blind Man
. Drawn to “information” rather than new art and writing which were still in the process of ‘formation’, the public, for Loy, saw only ‘something that has been seen before’, instead of ‘seeing IT for the first time’, as artists do. If the public did not practice “pure uneducated seeing”—free from traditional frameworks that were “blind” to new art—artist and public would never meet, Loy concluded caustically. Indeed, the public’s blindness was further satirized in Alfred Frueh’s cover which portrays a guide dog leading a blind man past a painted and framed nude who is thumbing her nose at the blissfully unaware man.