As an artist Florine Stettheimer embraced a decorative, slightly camp aesthetic with which she created paeons to the city life she adored. “She was just so good at capturing those really ephemeral moments of modern life, whether that’s a street scene in New York or the Stetteheimer gatherings,” says Whalen. At the same time, she refused to be cowed by modernity’s cult of youth, painting herself full-frontal nude at the age of 44.
While Florine was painting, Carrie was creating her own fantasy world in the form of a doll’s house, which intriguingly subverted the boundaries between art and craft. A standout feature is the ballroom, which contains around 30 miniature versions of paintings and sculptures by the Stettheimer’s artist friends, including a tiny version of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. Whalen believes that Carrie’s doll’s house was an influence on Duchamp’s own miniature project, Boîte-en-valise, which he began in 1935. However, as with Norton and Wood’s involvement with Fountain, this has been overlooked.
The reasons for these women’s relative anonymity today is down to multiple factors. Rising rents forced the creative communities of Greenwich Village to disband, and, post-World War One, conservative forces were keen to have women back in their box. When the art history of the era was written, their contribution was conveniently overlooked in favour of their male compatriots.
However, their impact is undeniable. Whalen points out that on a very physical level the map of New York’s contemporary art world would be very different without Armory Show supporters Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Lillie Bliss. Whitney of course founded her eponymous museum while Bliss, alongside Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and Mary Quinn Sullivan, was behind the founding of MoMA.
When it comes to the more daring artists of the 1910s and 20s, Whalen sees their legacy coming back into its own with second-wave feminist performance artists in the 1960s. “Think of artists like Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneemann, and the way that they play with the body and sexuality… I think Carolee Schneemann was taking on the Baroness’s legacy in a really wonderful way,” she says.
Ultimately “we’re still coming to understand how important these women’s work was,” says Whalen. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. Their legacy continues to unfold in the present day.”
Radicals and Rogues: The women who made New York modern is out now
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