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Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity-A Cultural Biography

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The first biography of the enigmatic dadaist known as "the Baroness"--Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927) is considered by many to be the first American dadaist as well as the mother of dada. An innovator in poetic form and an early creator of junk sculpture, "the Baroness" was best known for her sexually charged, often controversial perfo The first biography of the enigmatic dadaist known as "the Baroness"--Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927) is considered by many to be the first American dadaist as well as the mother of dada. An innovator in poetic form and an early creator of junk sculpture, "the Baroness" was best known for her sexually charged, often controversial performances. Some thought her merely crazed, others thought her a genius. The editor Margaret Anderson called her "perhaps the only figure of our generation who deserves the epithet extraordinary." Yet despite her great notoriety and influence, until recently her story and work have been little known outside the circle of modernist scholars. In Baroness Elsa, Irene Gammel traces the extraordinary life and work of this daring woman, viewing her in the context of female dada and the historical battles fought by women in the early twentieth century. Striding through the streets of Berlin, Munich, New York, and Paris wearing such adornments as a tomato-soup can bra, teaspoon earrings, and black lipstick, the Baroness erased the boundaries between life and art, between the everyday and the outrageous, between the creative and the dangerous. Her art objects were precursors to dada objects of the teens and twenties, her sound and visual poetry were far more daring than those of the male modernists of her time, and her performances prefigured feminist body art and performance art by nearly half a century.


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The first biography of the enigmatic dadaist known as "the Baroness"--Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927) is considered by many to be the first American dadaist as well as the mother of dada. An innovator in poetic form and an early creator of junk sculpture, "the Baroness" was best known for her sexually charged, often controversial perfo The first biography of the enigmatic dadaist known as "the Baroness"--Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927) is considered by many to be the first American dadaist as well as the mother of dada. An innovator in poetic form and an early creator of junk sculpture, "the Baroness" was best known for her sexually charged, often controversial performances. Some thought her merely crazed, others thought her a genius. The editor Margaret Anderson called her "perhaps the only figure of our generation who deserves the epithet extraordinary." Yet despite her great notoriety and influence, until recently her story and work have been little known outside the circle of modernist scholars. In Baroness Elsa, Irene Gammel traces the extraordinary life and work of this daring woman, viewing her in the context of female dada and the historical battles fought by women in the early twentieth century. Striding through the streets of Berlin, Munich, New York, and Paris wearing such adornments as a tomato-soup can bra, teaspoon earrings, and black lipstick, the Baroness erased the boundaries between life and art, between the everyday and the outrageous, between the creative and the dangerous. Her art objects were precursors to dada objects of the teens and twenties, her sound and visual poetry were far more daring than those of the male modernists of her time, and her performances prefigured feminist body art and performance art by nearly half a century.

30 review for Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity-A Cultural Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Texastandsalone

    This book rekindled my love of history and reading. The Baroness is a common thread in the lives of so many mind-blowing artists yet remains unfairly obscure. This woman has given me a great deal; entertaining stories of fist fights with old W.C. Williams not being the least.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Annie Garvey

    It took me a long time to read this book. I felt the author was jamming Elsa into the role of feminist genius. She might have been both, but I think Elsa was really just a uniquely free spirit who was a pain in the ass. This book is beautifully designed by Jean Wilcox.

  3. 5 out of 5

    R.J. Gilmour

    Tonight after picking up the book again I have found myself enthralled by the mastery with which Gammel creates a portrait of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (who Gammel refers to simply as the Baroness) and her world. The life of someone as unique as the Baroness is difficult under the best of circumstances but given her penchant for "living" her art rather than creating objects of art, it is amazing how Gammel has taken what must be relatively sparse historical material and crafted such a beautif Tonight after picking up the book again I have found myself enthralled by the mastery with which Gammel creates a portrait of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (who Gammel refers to simply as the Baroness) and her world. The life of someone as unique as the Baroness is difficult under the best of circumstances but given her penchant for "living" her art rather than creating objects of art, it is amazing how Gammel has taken what must be relatively sparse historical material and crafted such a beautiful and sensitive book. She is positively enamored of her subject, which is not surprising given the Baroness's wonderful life (I find myself enamored of both the Baroness and Gammel's cultural biography, and reflecting on my own life, find resonances of the Baroness in some amazing women I have had the pleasure of knowing). Gammel's Baroness crosses the boundaries of biography, cultural history, art history, literature and post-modernist theory and weaves them together to engage with the Baroness and her life. In the process she never cheapens or moralizes on a life that has as Gammel outlines garnished both cultural and personal criticism. The Baroness for Gammel becomes a powerful and potent force of feminine sexuality and identity always seeking to carve out her own place in the male dominated world of art, poetry and literature. Although Gammel only fleetingly refers to the Baroness as a guerrilla girl, "Perhaps reacting now to her own exclusions from the world of art, she began to intrude into modern art exhibitions-guerrilla girl-like with strikes against the conventional art world." (282) this is only one of Gammel's many amazing ideas and interpretations of the Baroness's world and her art (I can do the work little justice and suggest reading it to discover the power of both the Baroness's life and Gammel's book). If only all biographies could be as exciting and intoxicating as is Gammel's study of the Baroness.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    If you can imagine enjoying an overly-academic examination of deviant sexual behavior and dry distance from creative exploration then give this a read. Despite being utterly stunned by the Baroness's ability to challenge modern gender identities and create herself as a performance and visual artist and as a dada author, & her massive but forgotten contributions to the avant garde movement, I had to put it down for now. It's a textbook. But wow what a legacy! If you can imagine enjoying an overly-academic examination of deviant sexual behavior and dry distance from creative exploration then give this a read. Despite being utterly stunned by the Baroness's ability to challenge modern gender identities and create herself as a performance and visual artist and as a dada author, & her massive but forgotten contributions to the avant garde movement, I had to put it down for now. It's a textbook. But wow what a legacy!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Astral

    Tomato can bras,teaspoon earrings black lipstick... yeah whatever that's so lady gaga right? WRONG! This is the ORIGINAL mother of DADA! Elsa von Freytag was rocking this look in the early 1920s. This is a MUST read for ANY artist. Here is where it all started, this woman was a walking work of art. Gammel opens up a porthole in time and leads us through a roaring chaotic tour of the Baroness Elsa, the woman from the future. Tomato can bras,teaspoon earrings black lipstick... yeah whatever that's so lady gaga right? WRONG! This is the ORIGINAL mother of DADA! Elsa von Freytag was rocking this look in the early 1920s. This is a MUST read for ANY artist. Here is where it all started, this woman was a walking work of art. Gammel opens up a porthole in time and leads us through a roaring chaotic tour of the Baroness Elsa, the woman from the future.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nadia

    The best art history book I have read (and I have read hundreds). Why have we not heard of Baroness Elsa until now? And too much about Marcel Duchamp and 'his' (lie) most famous work Fountain? http://www.scottishreviewofbooks.org/... The best art history book I have read (and I have read hundreds). Why have we not heard of Baroness Elsa until now? And too much about Marcel Duchamp and 'his' (lie) most famous work Fountain? http://www.scottishreviewofbooks.org/...

  7. 4 out of 5

    sslyb

    It is wonderful to see the Baroness is finally being taken seriously as the artist she was.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Florian

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

  10. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  11. 4 out of 5

    Angelica Paez

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  13. 5 out of 5

    Karen Silva

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jon Macy

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lance Grabmiller

  16. 5 out of 5

    Molly

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andree Larson

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sean Coleman

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rach

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lizz

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kris

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  24. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

  25. 5 out of 5

    Victor

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ioana

  28. 4 out of 5

    Giulia

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lanny

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary

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