March 4, 2013

Here Come The Cubies' ABC


History is not written only by the winners. Sometimes the losers get to add a cutesy ABC book with well-crafted, parodic rhymes to the record.

The 1913 Armory Show opened 100 years ago last month in New York, and it introduced Americans to the latest in European Modernist painting: shocking Cubist, Fauvist/ &c-ist works from the likes of Matisse, Picasso, Braque, and Marcel Duchamp.

By November Mary Mills Lyall and her architect husband Earl H. Lyall had finished their critical response: The Cubies' ABC. The cutesy little rhyming book was meant to skewer, if not exactly derail, the Modernist juggernaut that was dominating the cultural landscape in NYC. We all know how that turned out.


"D is for Duchamp, the Deep-Dyed Deceiver,
Who, drawing accordeons, labels them stairs,
With a lady that must have been done in a fever,--
His model won't see her, we trust, it would grieve
(Should the stairway collapse, Cubie's good at repairs.)"
Though I am personally Team Modernism in this one, I have to give the Lyalls credit for a nicely executed concept. As futile failures go, it was well-informed and even funny in parts.

For my money, Mrs. Lyall delivers her best verses for D is for Duchamp [above] and G is for Gertrude Stein [below], the influentiial American writer/collector whose Paris salon was a networking and publicity clearinghouse for generations of Moderns.


G is for Gertrude Stein's limpid lucidity.
(Eloquent scribe of the Futurist soul.)
Cubies devour each word with avidity:
"Alone words lack sense," they affirm with placidity,
"But how wise we'll be when we've swallowed
the whole!"

The original edition of The Cubies' ABC was published by Putnam, but it is very rare. But because it's in well-digitized rare book collections like the Beinecke at Yale, and it's in the public domain, and so available on the Internet Archive, it's now readily available to read. There are also a few cranked-out facsimile editions in print/print-on-demand.

But the only one you want, I think, was published in an edition of 1,000 by the noted Duchamp expert and dealer Francis Naumann. He's quality. Also, he got a write-up in the New Yorker last week, even though his The Cubies' ABC reissue seems to have been published in 2010.

">Read or download The Cubies' ABC (1913) by Mary Mills Lyall and Earl Harvey Lyall [ via the always awesome 50watts]
Buy Francis Naumann's facsimile reissue of the Lyalls' 1913 classic, The Cubies' ABC at Amazon for around $35 [amazon]

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