Last week I took my daughter to the Museum of the City of New York and saw a Stettheimer Dollhouse and a panbox-sized art show. Both the dollhouse and its art show have been on display in museums since 1945, but only last year they were given their own room. And while my daughter was a little distracted by witnessing Oscar the Gruch in the New York Dolls corridor, I was completely absorbed in it.
In 1916, the house was commissioned by Carrie Stettheimer, a wealthy New Yorker who ran a fashionable salon with his mother Rosetta and sister Eti, writer Eti, and the famous painter Florine. 28 inches, 2 stories. Equipped with a story, a 12-room mansion, a bathroom and an elevator, it is modeled after Andre Brook, the mansion in Tarrytown where the family spent the summer. For 19 years, Carrie even rented another apartment to work on the project, decorating the interior with Empire wallpaper, Louis XV furniture and other exquisite furniture.
She also persuaded prominent artists of the time, such as the sculptors Alexander Archipenko and Gaston Lachaise, to contribute to the art of the right size. Most notably, Marcel Duchamp replayed “Nude Descending the Stairs,” a portrait of a cubist-influenced moving object that scanned New York at the 1913 Armory Show. His 1918 rendition is a slightly more jagged and explosive version of ink and wash than the original, with a height of just over 3.5 inches.
Carrie stopped working at home after her mother died in 1935, and when she died nine years later, the works she had collected were not hung. Before donating everything to the museum, her sister Etty chose 13 stamp-sized drawings and paintings for display in the house’s banquet hall, as she believed she wanted, and three sculptures. Was placed nearby. (It’s hanging a little more somewhere in the house.)
The first room you meet is a living quarter that is visible with the façade removed. They look as if their inhabitants had just left. There is bacon in the stove and cake in the ice cream. Carrie’s handmade mahjong tiles last night are still scattered on the library table. At first, it may be thrilling to look into every room with God’s eyes, and it may feel comfortable and cozy to imagine being inside yourself. But as soon as you start counting the details, you’ll find dumbbells and clothes squeezers in the master bathroom, cunning little cabinets in the linen room, and the Drycer and Van Vecten titles on the red lacquer bookshelves in the library. Meanwhile, the art exhibition is only partially visible through the three French windows.
The new installation addresses these difficulties by enclosing the house with a magnified interior view photo, along with related historical material. It’s a wise presentation, preferring long wall labels over QR codes, but without removing that mystery, it makes the charming yet secretive home more accessible. Etty’s 1945 donation receipt shows that she sent a doll with the Saratoga Trunk and a dowry with her house. And Carrie is a reproduction of Florin’s portrait, appearing as a glamorous flapper at a garden party.
The art exhibition begins on the patio of the house where Eti set up Gaston Lachaise’s majestic alabaster “Venus” and William Zorach’s bronze “Mother and Child”. Zorak’s sensitively rendered mother looks at her with a worried look. The goddess, on the other hand, regularly repels the cloak behind her naked body and designs it so that no one sees it. If you were small enough to enter this Miniature Stettheimer Salon, you would have to go between Eros and Homeness to do so.
But at least if you look, you’ll find portraits of two dancers by the Swedish painter Karl Sprinkon hanging above the fireplace. She wears a swelling pink skirt and does jetty. He is wearing a Navy leotard and is waiting beside her. Hovering blocks of primary colors around them makes the couple almost invisible. There are 11 more framed drawings and paintings around Sprinchorn. A combination of sensual graphite nudes by Lachaise. A supple female swimsuit against the backdrop of the bright red sky by Marguerite Zorach. A yacht facing big waves. An idyllic scene of cubism. Duchan’s “Nude”; And at Luis Boucher’s “Mother’s Complex”, a child looking through a heavy green wall.
In retrospect, Eti Stetheimer is one of the three brilliant bohemian women who are finishing off on other great art projects, with one of the majority of female nudity. Note that I chose to hang in the work of a female painter. But it’s also a great trick, a time capsule within a time capsule that captures both the constraints and possibilities of life as a bohemian woman in prewar New York.
Sprinchorn’s wide, angular canvas dominates the placement and shape of the rest — small, narrow — and their less glamorous colors accentuate that fact. Dancers are the main characters, and all the other pictures are like their dreams. And what exactly is in their dreams? Both of them are obsessed with the beauty of women, whether symbolically or as a concrete reality. But in the photo on the right, next to the ballerina, there is a flashy sailing ship, an abundantly posing Lachaise nude, and a portrait of a Duchan woman as pure electrical energy. All of these are well suited for those who leap gracefully on stage.
On the left side, next to the male dancer, there is only a moody boy looking from the bedroom. And a picture of another Lachaise person is turning his back. Male dancers really just stand there. Ballerinas are where the action is.
Until May 20th, at the Museum of the City of New York on 1220 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. 212-534-1672; mcny.org.