Histories of modernism—in which Jessica Dismorr (1885–1939) has been accorded an inconspicuous position—have written out or dismissed the active participation of women. As visibly rendered in Alfred Barr’s well-known flow chart of 1936, which maps art production from 1890 to 1935, canonical traditions have been founded and sustained on masculine myths of artistic creativity. Women artists neither figure in the diagram, nor do they have a substantial presence in the massive literature on modernist art; modernism has not been structured to accept an amalgamation of the roles of “woman” and professional artist. Women’s art has been seen as “other,” lacking the signs that the masculinist modernist institutions found in the art of men. These obstacles have never stopped women producing in any of the movements or moments of twentieth-century modernism and beyond. They have, however, progressively ensured the invisibility of women artists in the consolidated narrative texts and celebratory exhibitions that canonized the history of modern art…
Apart from the brief catalogs that accompanied the retrospective exhibitions of her work in the 1960s and 1970s, Dismorr has never formed the predominant subject or chapter of any book or exhibition. Her name has been mentioned in connection with the Rhythm and Vorticist groups, in collective monographs on women artists and in other books and articles noticeably attempting to restore the normally disproportionately represented gender balance. More often, however, references to her name merely pay lip-service to an artist about whom little is documented… In fact, Dismorr seems to have only survived artistic obscurity due to her artistic “validation” as a member of the Vorticist circle and her subsequent, albeit marginal, position within histories of Vorticism. — Catherine ElizabethHeathcock*
The exhibition RADICAL WOMEN—JESSICA DISMORR AND HER CONTEMPORARIES “explores how Dismorr—an artist at the forefront of the avant-garde in Britain—and her female contemporaries engaged with modernist literature and radical politics through their art, including their contributions to campaigns for women’s suffrage and the anti-fascist organizations of the 1930s.”**
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog by curator Alicia Foster:
Dismorr was privileged to work and exhibit alongside some of the most exciting female artists of the time, includingBarbara Hepworth and Winifred Nicholson, to lesser-known figures such as Dorothy Shakespear, Anne Estelle Rice, and Helen Saunders. Bringing a web of fascinating connections to light for the first time, this publication provides a fresh interpretation of a pioneering period and the role women played within it.
*Catherine Elizabeth Heathcock, from the introduction to her 1999 University of Birmingham thesis Jessica Dismorr (1885–1939): Artist, Writer, Vorticist.
Barr’s flow-chart was reproduced on the front cover of Alfred H. Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art (New York: Museumof Modern Art, 1936; reprinted Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986).
Radical Women: Jessica Dismorr and Her Contemporaries, Pallant House Gallery, November 2, 2019–February 23, 2020, from top: Jessica Dismorr, Self-Portrait, circa 1928, oil on board, private collection; Betty Rea, Mother and Child, 1934, Caen stone, private collection; Paule Vézelay, Paule Vézelay, circa 1927–1929, oil on canvas, National PortraitGallery; Helen Saunders, Untitled (Female Figures) , circa 1913, ink and watercolor, CourtauldGallery, London; Anne Estelle Rice, Self-Portrait, circa 1909–10, oil on board; EdithRimmington, Family Tree, 1937, photomontage with collage and gouache, Murray FamilyCollection; Jessica Dismorr, Izidora, Illustration in Rhythm, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 1911, private collection; Jessica Dismorr, Landscape with Figures, circa 1911–12, oil on panel, MuseumsSheffield; Alicia Foster, Radical Women: Jessica Dismorr and Her Contemporaries exhibition catalog (Lund Humphries, 2019), cover image Jessica Dismorr, Abstract Composition (detail), circa 1915, oil on wood, Tate, London. Images courtesy and @ the artists, their estates, the publisher, the curator, and Pallant House Gallery.
[Celia Paul’s] story is striking. It is not, as has been assumed, the tale of a muse who later became a painter, but an account of a painter who, for ten years of her early life, found herself mistaken for a muse, by a man who did that a lot. [Self-Portrait] is about many things besides [Lucian] Freud: her mother, her childhood, her sisters, her paintings. But she neither rejects her past with Freud nor rewrites it, placing present ideas and feelings alongside diary entries and letters she wrote as a young woman, a generous, vulnerable strategy that avoids the usual triumphalism of memoir. For Paul, the self is continuous (“I have always been, and I remain at nearly sixty, the same person I was as a teenager…. This simple realisation seems to me to be complex and profoundly liberating”), andequal weight is given to “the vividness of the past and the measured detachment of the present.” — Zadie Smith, 2019
Landscapes and portraiture—self- and otherwise—are the focus of an exhibition of paintings by Celia Paul, who has just published an extensively illustrated memoir.
I don’t feel this film is necessary. This film exists because I always wanted to make films. — SusanSontag, to Jonas Mekas
In 1968—after her trip to Hanoi and a year before the publication of her second essay collection, Styles of Radical Will—Sontag went to Sweden to make her first film. DUET FORCANNIBALS, which premiered at the 1969 New York Film Festival, has been restored by Metrograph Pictures and is playing at its Manhattan cinema.
The film is in Swedish—with subtitles by its director—and stars Adriana Asti, Lars Ekborg, Gösta Ekman, and Agneta Ekmanner.
Darryl Pinckney—longtime contributor to the New York Review of Books and the author of the novel Black Deutschland—will join Margo Jefferson for a conversation about the essays in his new collection Busted in New York, the “cumulative effect of [which]… is a contextualization of recent history in a manner only Pinckney’s prose can articulate.”*