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Books: Essays on sex, gender and identity in Dada

Naomi Sawelson-Gorse edits this collection on the often overlooked women of Dada

Reading Naomi Sawelson-Gorse’s introduction to the weighty collection of essays she has edited, one shivers in expectation that the ensuing 680 pages may be like the first: “In the historicizing and mythologizing trajectory of the Dada logos several ‘origins of the word’ implicate female gendering in which the signification of the female is ultimately a ‘wet nurse’”, she begins, hitting the relentless prose style that characterises her contribution. Fortunately, the essays that follow are written in a more accessible prose and, as the title promises, they portray a wide gallery of women connected with, or active in, the Dada movements of New York, Zurich, Berlin and Cologne. The wonderfully colourful life of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven features in several essays—prime mover as she was in Dada New York—but the collection also highlights the experience of women marginalised by contemporary accounts of the Dada myth. There is, for example, Margaret Anderson who, for fifteen years nurtured Dada talent in her influential Little Review, lovingly excavated by Dickran Tashjian; the central achievement of Katherine Dreier in financing and motivating many Dada artists, particularly Duchamp, is highlighted by Elanor Aptor. One sometimes wonders if the criteria for inclusion were a little too all-encompassing. Clara Tice, a Manhattan celebrity and, by any standard a rather minor illustrator, seems to have granted a niche simply by virtue of having been to a party with Duchamp. But despite this and initial misgivings Ms Sawelson-Gorse’s selection makes for illuminating reading.

o Naomi Sawelson-Gorse (ed.), Women in Dada: essays on sex, gender and identity (The MIT Press, Cambridge and London, 1998), 683 pp, 85 b/w ills, £32.50 (hb) ISBN 026219409

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Naomi Sawelson-Gorse (ed.), Women in Dada: essays on sex, gender and identity (The MIT Press, Cambridge and London, 1998), 683 pp, 85 b/w ills, £32.50 (hb) ISBN 026219409'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 94 July 1999