The outside of New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch’s booth at the Armory Show is bright lime green, glorious cellophane curtains are parted at its entrance, and, inside, its potent buttercream pink walls are filled with paintings.
This morning, that effervescently colored space was humming with activity, as Deitch gamely welcomed collectors and journalists and well wishers to his show, “The Florine Stettheimer Collapsed Time Salon,” an update of a display of the same name that the dealer mounted 22 years ago, showing work by artists inspired by its namesake artist. That was at the precursor of the Armory Show, the Gramercy International Art Fair, an affair considerably more low-key than the current one.
At the center of the action in Deitch’s booth is a remarkable rarity, a single painting that alone is worth a visit: Asbury Park South (1920), by the inimitable Florine Stettheimer, whose rollicking, wry, and idiosyncratic canvases cut a singular path through early American modernism.
Stettheimer’s story is too rich and unusual to do justice do in this brief space, but the key facts are that she and two of her sisters hosted remarkable salons early in the 20th century in New York, drawing the likes of Duchamp, Picabia, and Van Vechten; that she used cellophane to make costumes and sets for Gertrude Stein’s 1933 opera, Four Saints in Three Acts (the artist decorated her Bryant Park studio with the stuff as well); and that, though she appeared in a number of group shows during her life, she had only one solo show and parted with her paintings very sparingly.
And now, here on Pier 94, is one of her greatest works, which she painted at a segregated beach in New Jersey. Duchamp (in a natty pink suit), Van Vechten (watching the scene from above, arms crossed), and Stettheimer herself (alone, under a green parasol) all make appearances in the frenetic, flowing scene.
Though the painting is almost ecstatically joyful—a day well spent, with friends and strangers, in the sun—its history is tragic. After Florine’s death in 1944, her sister Ettie donated it to Fisk University, the historically black university in Nashville. It resided there until a few years ago, when the financially strapped school sold it privately, making its way eventually to the collection of New York dealer Michael Rosenfeld and his wife, Halley K. Harrisburg, at the Armory Show in 2012. Rosenfeld told the New York Times last year that, when he saw the work in its crate at the fair, “I literally got on my knees, and said to the person in the booth, ‘I have to have this painting.’ ”
The work is on loan from their collection and not for sale. (If it were, I would have fired up a GoFundMe page by now and would be sending out fundraising emails.) There are, however, plenty of others delights on offer there, including works by Walter Robinson, Tschabalala Self, Jack Smith, Laura Owens, John Currin, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Rosson Crow, Cecily Brown, and many, many more. There is a Stettheimer-inspired cake, too, begging to be eaten.
In May, Asbury Park South will appear in a Stettheimer survey at the Jewish Museum in New York, the artist’s first U.S. retrospective since the Whitney did one in 1995, which was organized by Stettheimer scholar Barbara Bloemink and Elisabeth Sussman. The show will later travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. After that, there is no telling when you will see it again. I recommend grabbing a cocktail from the nearby Grand Army stand and soaking it all in for a while.