Beatrice Wood: The Mama of Dada

L.A. Louver presents drawings, prints, and ceramics by Beatrice Wood from the collection of scholar and curator Francis M. Naumann. This selection of works, dating from 1917 to 1996, represents the breadth and variety of Wood’s art and provides remarkable insight into her extraordinary life and creative process.

Celebrated as the “Mama of Dada,” Beatrice Wood (1893–1998) was an iconoclastic figure. A creative polymath, Wood was involved in a range of artistic pursuits, particularly acting, drawing, and sculpting.

She sat in on life-drawing classes at the famed Académie Julian in Paris when she was only 17-years old, her only formal artistic training. When World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, she returned to the United States where she would pursue a career as an actress for the French Repertory Company in New York.

It was during these years in New York that Wood maintained notable and impactful relationships with Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roché, a French government envoy living in New York during the war. Through them she was introduced to the collectors Louise and Walter Arensberg, whose Upper West Side apartment is known to have been the historical nexus of New York Dada. These connections are memorialized in Wood’s drawings and works on paper which depict situations and people drawn from the artist’s memory.

This exhibition offers a unique opportunity to understand Beatrice Wood, in full relief, through her drawings and the prints made from her drawings, many of which exist now only in the form of these reproductions.

Wood’s draftsmanship is best described in three phases: (I) Dada: drawings made in New York from 1915 through 1920; (II) Art Deco: drawings and prints made from 1926 through the mid-1930s, produced while living in Los Angeles; and (III) Late Drawings: prompted by the discovery and display of her drawings in the mid-1970s.

These periods are all accounted for among the 38 drawings and 13 prints of this exhibition and witness the relational, emotional, and spiritual flows of Wood’s life.

The lithograph Blindman’s Ball (1917) for instance, documents Wood’s editorial involvement with “The Blindman,” an independent publication created in collaboration with Duchamp and Roché. Wood’s design was used as the poster announcing the ball held in honor of the second, and what would be final, printing of the magazine.

Throughout the 1920s, Beatrice Wood lived a somewhat peripatetic life as she traveled between the east and west coasts of the United States, merging completely and seemingly effortlessly with influential avant-garde circles wherever she went.

Works such as Possession (1925) and Embracing Couple (1932) demonstrate the deep romantic longing Beatrice Wood experienced in and out of partnerships, especially during her years of early adulthood. Later drawings, such as Untitled [Vision Beyond] (1994), depicting a glowing and interconnected cosmos, and Untitled [Head in Abstraction] (1996), in which the figure’s identity is merged and indiscernible from its fractured environment, express more explicitly Wood’s spiritual nature, which was strongly influenced by eastern philosophy and religion.

Today, her drawings can be found in the collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of the Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, National Portrait Gallery, American Museum of Ceramic Art, Yale University Art Gallery, Whitney Museum of American Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art In New York, as well as In many other museums across the United States.

It wasn’t until 1933 when Beatrice Wood was 40-years old that she began experimenting with ceramics, a facet of her artistic practice that would become nearly all-consuming. Ten of these sculptural works are displayed here among her prints and drawings; with subjects ranging from ornamental kitchenware to figurative ceramic sculptures.

A virtuosa of the craft, Wood gained increasing acclaim for these creations and her characteristic glazing technique, which yielded a highly unique luster. This recognition included several retrospective exhibitions, the most momentous and comprehensive of these opened at the American Craft Museum in New York and concluded at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 1998.

Today, ceramics by Beatrice Wood belong to the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Philadelphia Museum of Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art In New York, and many others.

Wood is not only a figure central to the international Dada scene of her time and an institutionally recognized artist, she holds a unique position in the history of Southern California. From her birth in San Francisco in 1893 and her involvement with creative spheres in Los Angeles in the 1920s, to electing Ojai as her permanent home in 1948 and her passing there in 1998 at the incredible age of 105, Wood is rightly characterized as a “California artist.”

No Comments Yet.