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Life with Dada: Beatrice Wood Drawings

March 11–April 9, 1978

Beatrice Wood was born in San Francisco in the closing years of the last century. Her father, a successful real estate broker, soon relocated both his investments and his family to New York City. Beatrice was educated at boarding schools both in Paris and New York, finishing up at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in 1911. At the age of sixteen, partly in reaction to the strictness of her upbringing, she announced to her mother that she "wanted to paint and live in a garret." After stormy arguments, her family relented and sent Beatrice, accompanied by a chaperon, to the French village of Giverny, where she remembers once peeking through hedges to watch the white-bearded Monet painting in his garden. She took to the art of painting with serious intent, even studying for a brief period at the Académie Julian. Her interests soon turned to the theater and she studied acting until the outbreak of World War I when she was reluctantly forced to leave France and return home. While pursuing a promising professional career as an actress in the National French Theatre in New York, she met in 1916 the two Frenchmen who changed the course of her life: Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roché. It was Duchamp who encouraged Beatrice's interest in drawing. As she writes: "My drawings were scrawls and little horrors, but he patiently looked at them, pointing out the bad and the good….The ones he liked were free expressions from the unconscious." Duchamp and Roché were part of an international group of artists and writers, many of whom sought refuge in this country from the upheaval of the war. They joined a loosely knit circle whose members met frequently at the home of the wealthy poet and art collector Walter Arensberg. New York Dada, a light-hearted and certainly informal movement, flourished at 33 West 67th Street. Beatrice became the lifelong friend of the Arensbergs, and was at the center of many Dada doings and more serious aesthetic discussions. Even after the Arensbergs moved to California in 1921, she continued to visit them and settled there herself in 1928. Before leaving New York, she was introduced to the Indian philosopher and teacher Krishnamurti, who was also to be a friend and influence upon her later life. It was in California that she began her career as a ceramicist, for which she has gained an international reputation. In 1948 she moved from Hollywood to her present home and studio in Ojai, California, where to this day she actively continues her drawing and work in ceramics. This exhibition includes drawings by Beatrice Wood ranging in date from 1917 to 1950, as well as a small selection of works and portraits of artists whom she knew in New York in the years 1916 to 1921.

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