One hundred years ago, the New York Dadaists self-published two editions of a small art journal called The Blind Man — a title chosen to satirize the general public’s impaired vision when it came to seeing radical modernist art. Edited by the journal’s founders Marcel Duchamp, Beatrice Wood, and Henri-Pierre Roché, this seriously funny community rag contained contributions from the three editors, along with Mina Loy, Walter Conrad Arensberg, Francis Picabia, Gabrièle Buffet-Picabia, Allen Norton, Clara Tice, Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Demuth, Charles Duncan, Erik Satie, Carl Van Vechten and Louise Norton. As part of the Dada centennial celebrations, the admirably agile non-profit has published a 1000-copy, boxed-set, limited-edition facsimile of the two editions of The Blind Man. Meticulously edited and introduced by Sophie Seita, it is called The Blind Man: New York Dada, 1917.
Also included in the boxed set is a copy of Rongwrong that briefly appeared in May of 1917, following the early demise of The Blind Man (which ended as a result of a Roché losing an infamous chess match to Picabia). Also edited by Duchamp, Roché, and Wood, Rongwrong contains contributions from Arensberg’s circle of writers included in Others: A Magazine of the New Verse. The Rongwrong title is a printer’s error (it should have been Wrongwrong) which Duchamp gaily accepted with his spirit of welcoming chance operations. Every Dadaphile with an eternal gaze needs The Blind Man: New York Dada, 1917.
Also included in the boxed set are facsimile reprints of the pun-heavy Ridgefield Gazook, a four-page, hand-drawn newsletter, written and edited by Man Ray, and the striking poster for the Bohemian fête Blind Man’s Ball at the East Village’s Webster Hall designed by Wood to raise money for The Blind Man. Additionally, The Blind Man: New York Dada, 1917 contains a highly useful and amusing booklet of translations by Elizabeth Zuba of all the French texts and free verse poems in The Blind Man and Rongwrong. These include the “domesticated disquiet” of Picabia’s peculiar poem Platfonds Creux (Empty Rafters).
The Blind Man No. 2, which came out a month after The Blind Man No. 1 was published in April, 1917, is the real treasure here. The cover presents a reproduction of one of Duchamp’s paintings “Chocolate Grinder (No. 2)” (1914) from the collection of Louise and Walter Arensberg. The image is a symbol for male onanism that metaphorically replaces the male genital system with the rotating drums of the chocolate grinder Duchamp discovered in a confectioner’s window in Rouen in 1913. The grinding machine reappears several times in Duchamp’s work, most notably in the lower section of his erotic masterpiece “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” (1915–1923) a.k.a. “The Large Glass.”
This second (and last) issue was launched following the opening of the Society of Independent Artists’ 1917 exhibition — based on the French Société des Artistes Indépendants — and contains the tale of the rejection of Duchamp’s infamous “Fountain” (1917): a banal porcelain urinal that Duchamp signed with the nom de plume “R. Mutt” and submitted as sculpture. This ultimate expression of the Dada spirit and a major landmark in 20th-century art may have in fact been partially instigated by the outrageous artist and poet Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Certainly it is considered a complimentary companion to her “God” (1917) objet trouvé sculpture that she was assisted in making by painter and photographer Morton Livingston Schamberg. Page four of this issue features Stieglitz’s photograph of “Fountain” that he roguishly homo-eroticized by placing it in front of Marsden Hartley’s rumpus painting “The Warriors” (1913).
Pages five and six contain “The Richard Mutt Case” text which discusses the rejection of Duchamp’s entry. Also included in this issue were contributions by Loy, Arensberg, Buffet-Picabia, and Picabia. In addition to the regular run of The Blind Man No. 2, fifty special-edition copies were printed on imitation Japanese paper and numbered and signed by Wood as an additional fund raiser.
Within four years, by the end of 1921, Dada came to an end in New York, leaving behind the few remnants like The Blind Man in which we may take pleasure to this day. Most of its original coterie departed for Paris, where Dada was enjoying its volatile culmination.