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Florine Stettheimer: New Directions in Multimodal Modernism. Edited by Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo

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Florine Stettheimer: New Directions in Multimodal Modernism. Edited by Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo. Salon Series No. 1. Toronto: Book*hug Press, 2019. $25.00 (paper).

In 2017, at the Jewish Museum in New York, the exhibition “Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry” abounded in marvels for me and many others. Who was missing from the paintings mattered less than the astonishing presence of figures we all cared so about, presided over by Marcel Duchamp, on whose portraits and chess fascination Aaron Tucker expands so intelligently. There was Duchamp often, relaxed and no less brilliant than always. (Never will I forget taking an elevator at the Museum of Modern Art with him after a gathering on the topic of Dada, Surrealism, and the Armory Show. During the event, he had been addressed by the person presiding: “Marcel Duchamp, would you like to say something?” His answer had been typical, quite like that on another occasion, when he had succinctly announced: “BALLS!” This time, it was an equally succinct: “NON!” But in the elevator our dialogue seemed to me pleasant, if not elevated.)

This anthology of essays on the topic of Florine Stettheimer, after the colorful exposition of the compilation in the introduction by the two editors, Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo, is composed of three parts. First, “(En)Gendering the Artists’s Space” (including an essay on the “Feminist Sisterhood” and “Ettie’s Memorializiing” by Irene Gammel, here with Chelsea Olsen), Second, “The Temporalities of Art” (with a lead essay by Patricia Allmer on “Stettheimer’s Baroque Modernism”), and third, “Embodied and Performative Art Practices” (with a lead essay by Melba Cuddy-Keane on her “Wave and Modern Dance”) and a coda on “Developing the Photographic Negative” about her Resistance, by David Dorenbaum. The Stettheimer sisters, surely among the most remarkable of modernist practitioners in several genres, have an appropriate tribute from many expert hands.

Ah, the Stettheimers! All the sisters in their diverse flowerings, including Ettie the philosopher and the others, stretched out in the paintings or hovering or just draped differently in their seating or standing, being their totally peculiar selves. Performing, as Erving Goffman would have put it in his “Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” Not one of the essays in this compilation performs dully, and that is, in my view, saying something. No less captivating in a bizarre fashion (had to be that, for this publication about the performance) than the proliferation of odd bright illustrations. I love the Cathedral series in particular: such an abundance of detail, cramming every centimeter with color, signification, and New Yorkiness with Wall Street and Fifth Avenue and Broadway and the Met Museum as in Art. . . . And the picnics in the country, and the portraits and the dollhouse and the still lives. . . .

I must single out the chapter on American minimalists, where Florine’s poems are right there alongside those of Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams: Lesley Higgins has assembled some trinity! What an interesting confrontation, and it rushed me straight (well, not exactly straight) to the butterfly of “Miss Flutterby” and her dislike of butter—I especially loved the ending of “Then Back to New York” and its vastly “amusing thing”:[1]

Which I think is America having its fling

And what I should like is to paint this thing. (200)

She did indeed paint this and that thing, as Jason Wang puts it, as Florine paces along, like a superb flâneuse. What leaps to my mind instantly is the remarkable Flâneuse: Women Walk the City of Lauren Elkin of 2017, and we really get to stroll around.

The chapter I’ll be so happily using the most in my own writing is Patricia Allmer’s “Temporalities: Stettheimer’s Baroque Modernism” with its startingly exposition of the painter-poet’s intensities, her folds gesturing to what Gilles Deleuze terms the “unfurling to infinity" of baroque art in its process, repetitions, reflections, and “semiotic compression” (100, 113). I can’t help reflecting in my turn on Marianne Moore’s occasional use of the term “contractility” as her more poetic form of compression.

This is just one of the utterly engaging footnotes to this utterly engaging bunch of essays, each of which Florine Stettheimer so richly deserves.


[1] Florine Stettheimer: New Directions in Multimodal Modernism, ed. Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo, Salon Series No. 1 (Toronto: Book*hug Press, 2019), 200.