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Katherine Sophie Dreier

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Katherine Sophie Dreier

American, (1877–1952)

A mover and shaker of her time, Katherine Dreier is best known as the co-founder of the Society of Independent Artists in 1916 and the Société Anonyme in 1920. The Society of Independent Artists promoted democracy in art through open invitation exhibitions. It was during their 1917 exhibition that Marcel Duchamp, the co-founder and friend of Dreier’s, first presented a urinal signed by R. Mutt that he titled Fountain. The Société Anonyme collected the then-controversial modern art of the early 20th century and would later serve as the basis for the modern art collection at Yale University through a gift of over 1,000 works. A student of art since her childhood, Dreier studied at The Pratt Institute in 1900, travelled to Europe in 1902, and had her work shown in the 1913 Armory Show. An internationally-recognized suffragette, Katherine Dreier was also the aunt of Theodore Dreier, one of the founders of Black Mountain College.
In the foreword to this 1 to 40 Variations portfolio, the artist writes that she was inspired by Kandinsky’s and Beethoven’s variations as well as an international regatta. Variations continued its connections to music through a choreographed work based on Dreier’s lithographs. Ted Shawn, founder of Jacob’s Pillow and supporter of Martha Graham, choreographed a dance with original music provided by composer Jess Meeker with the Carol Lynn Ballet at the Baltimore Museum of Art in January 1939.
Dreier’s friendship with Duchamp lasted a lifetime, and she trusted him to supervise the printing of the Variations portfolio in Paris in 1937. A handwritten note inscribed on the foreword of the portfolio at the Hilla Rebay Library reads, “Marcel Duchamp enjoyed helping these facsimiles
look like the forty original variations,” hinting at Duchamp’s practice of complicating ideas of both originality and authorship.
A common theme revisited by artists to this day, the Variations explore the possibilities of practice and demonstrate a method of artistic problem solving. Katherine Dreier’s works can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Special Collections at the Guggenheim’s Hilla Rebay Library.

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