Indeed one of the artist’s famous aphorisms was: “If you want to have clean ideas, change them as often as you change your shirts.” Perhaps more than any other artist, Picabia was constantly reflecting upon his work and changing the formal elements of his work to reflect his conceptual interests. Shifting his visual vocabulary toward a “Dada-machinist” aesthetic, Picabia sought to refine his practice in the context of a mechanical aesthetic, reflected the resounding existential and machinist sentiments following World War I.
Broyeur, executed in 1922, belongs to this important group of Dada-mechanical paintings and works on paper composed of non-ideogrammatic forms, often with obscure, non-descriptive titles. We do know that the machine source for Broyeur was a diagram of a "broyeur-concasseur à mâchoires" which was published in La Science et la vie, June-July 1920 (see fig. 1). As explained by Surrealist and Dada scholar Francis N. Naumann, these works represent a “formal connection between the Dada movement and Picabia’s earlier mechanomorphic paintings. The oils and watercolors produced in this period are characterized by a less harshly defined machine aesthetic, with sexual allusions, if any, expressed in only an indirect or enigmatic fashion. The principal subjects of these works were usually drawn from components within the realm of the physical sciences: astronomical charts, electrical symbols, optical experiments, illustrations of wave lengths, magnetic fields, etc. In most cases, these scientific elements are either presented within the context of a non-objective composition, or become the backdrop for a more complex figurative ensemble. Several paintings from this period incorporate circular wave patterns, while others present a field of horizontal or vertical bands, probably derived from a scientific diagram to illustrate diffracted light waves” (Francis N. Naumann in correspondence with Sotheby’s, 2013). The horizontality of the present work suggests a certain mechanical quality while simultaneously speaking to the universality of abstraction practiced by Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy and Piet Mondrian (see fig. 2). Picabia's use of a bold, simplified color palette and geometrical line reflects a rigidity associated with the fascist angst of the period, speaking to the Dadist and the overall European zeitgeist.
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