Picabia, Francis (1879–1953) By Chadwick, Stephanie
A cavalier individualist, Francis Picabia became an internationally renowned avant-garde artist, spearheading Paris and New York Dada with his friend Marcel Duchamp and also contributing to Dada in Zurich and Barcelona. Picabia was a car enthusiast who embraced modernity, viewing the machine as a form expressive of the modern spirit from which he drew a new and revolutionary artistic idiom. Picabia also drew upon the tenets of the Puteaux Group and, upon arriving in New York to exhibit at the Armory Show in 1913, was lauded as a leading Cubist. He worked for a time in Orphic Cubism, a blend of Cubist, Futurist, and Fauvist themes and techniques to which he added ‘‘abstracted’’ industrial and biomorphic forms. Although he maintained an interest in the figure, Picabia is known primarily for his early dialogue with abstraction and his development of a quasi-machine aesthetic. He looked to industrial diagrams for artistic inspiration and, upon returning to New York in 1915, during a period of involvement with photographer and modern arts patron Alfred Stieglitz’s famous 291 Gallery and journal, produced the famous Mechanomorph series. Depicting Stieglitz and his entourage as bizarre, seemingly dysfunctional, industrial forms, Picabia’s Mechanomorphs shaped the visual vocabulary of New York, and later Paris, Dada. Picabia’s ironic stance in relation to art and culture has prompted scholars to interpret his conflation of human and machine parts as also playful punning of morality, sexuality, and blind faith in technology.