Francis Picabia has always been tough to pin down.
Best known as one of the leaders of the Dada movement, the French artist veered from Impressionism to radical abstraction to photo-based realism; from painting to performance to poetry. Yet he has remained largely unknown and little celebrated.
This fall the Museum of Modern Art is determined to give Picabia (1879–1953) his due with a monographic show the museum says will be the artist’s first major retrospective in the United States since a 1970s exhibition essentially edited out the final decades of his career.
“Of the great modern artists, Picabia’s name is the most unfamiliar to the general public,” said Anne Umland, MoMA’s curator of paintings and sculpture, “and he is someone who has a particularly contemporary sensibility.”
Picabia represents a link between the conceptual approach of Marcel Duchamp, his peer and friend, and the protean genius of Pablo Picasso.
“In between is Picabia, who couldn’t stop painting,” Ms. Umland said. “He liked to say he changed styles as often as he changed his shirt.”
The show, “Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction,” was organized with Kunsthaus Zürich in Switzerland, where it will go on view June 3 before traveling to New York for the Nov. 20 MoMA opening.
About 250 works will range from the Impressionist paintings that first established Picabia in Paris to late works created after he had a stroke in 1951.
Among them are a monumental abstract canvas that introduced Picabia’s work to New York for the first time in the 1913 Armory Show; the eroticized mechanical abstractions incorporating text and image of the teens and early 1920s; and his controversial “pin-up nudes” from the 1940s.
Strong throughout his work is the idea of appropriation; Picabia’s source material included scientific diagrams, photographic reproductions from kitschy magazines, postcards, landscapes.
“His refusal to be pinned down is one of the things that makes him feel so topical,” Ms. Umland said. “He is a true maverick within the fabric of modernism.”
Vintage Cuba on Display
As a child growing up in Atlantic City in the 1950s, Vicki Gold Levi absorbed the Latin rhythms of Cubans who came to perform there, like Dámaso Pérez Prado, Pupi Campo and Miguelito Valdés.
“I mamboed and cha-chaed my way through high school,” Ms. Levi said. “I thought Carmen Miranda was Cuban.”
About 10 years ago, she started collecting Cuban ephemera and vintage photography — from cigar labels to magazine covers — more than 400 items of which she donated in 2002 to the Wolfsonian at Florida International University, a museum, library, and research center in Miami.
Now she is giving the museum 1,500 more pieces — a film poster for the 1949 film “Holiday in Havana,” featuring Desi Arnaz pre-“I Love Lucy”; a playbill (circa 1955) from the Tropicana Club; a mid-1940s photograph of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Ernest Hemingway in a crowd gathered around a large swordfish on the Cuban docks.
Many of the works will be on view at the Wolfsonian May 6 through Aug. 21 — fortuitous timing given President Obama’s opening to Cuba and his announcement this week that he plans to visit.
The show, “Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction,” will focus on objects from the pre-1959 tourist trade, including travel brochures, posters and films that promoted Cuba as an escape for wealthy Americans from Prohibition, the Depression, and wartime rationing.
“We’re not just looking at what America does for Cuba, but the way that America becomes Cubanized through contact with the island,” said Francis X. Luca, the Wolfsonian’s chief librarian, who is curating the show with Rosa Lowinger, a Cuban-born conservator and the author of “Tropicana Nights: The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub.”
“The rumba comes, the mambo, the cha-cha-cha, Afro-Cuban jazz,” Mr. Luca added. “All of these influences really shape and reshape the landscape of American musical culture.”
For Ms. Levi — an Atlantic City historian (she was a consultant on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”) who with Steven Heller wrote a book about Cuban graphic design — the improvement in American-Cuban relations is a welcome development. “I’m always thinking in my own mind,” she said, “Why Cuba?”
Dershowitz Trove for Sale
For as long as the law professor and Israel supporter Alan Dershowitz can remember, he has collected things.
First it was comic books, baseball cards and autographs. Then, as a young adult, he started to look for items with a Jewish connection wherever he traveled, amassing a significant trove of Judaica — a Torah frontispiece featuring a Star of David in Chinese lettering in Canton; a Seder plate that had been captured by the Nazis in Munich.
“I bought as much as I could just to try to rescue them,” he said. “Every piece is significant to me.”
But having retired last year from Harvard Law School — and downsized his Cambridge house to small apartments in New York and Miami — Mr. Dershowitz realized he didn’t have room for it all anymore.
Placing his treasures in storage, however, was not an option. “I want them to be displayed,” he said. “This is a kind of mini-history of my own life.”
So on March 1 he’s putting 29 pieces of the collection up for auction — including menorahs, Kiddush cups, spice boxes and paintings — at J. Greenstein & Co. in Cedarhurst, N.Y., which specializes in Judaica.
“Alan’s collection is one of the most eclectic,” said Jonathan Greenstein, the president of the auction house.
A painting by the Ukrainian artist Emmanuel Mané-Katz, for $20,000 to $30,000, signed and dated 1935, Mr. Greenstein said, was “the finest teenage Hasidic youth” that he had seen in his 34-year career.
And a 19th-century silver Torah shield expected to fetch in the $15,000 range is “right out of a shtetl in Galicia,” Mr. Greenstein added, “much like Anatevka in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’”
Mr. Dershowitz hopes the pieces find new owners who appreciate their value — he said he’d be happy to talk to the winning bidders about the history of whatever they acquire.
Still, parting with the collection isn’t easy. “It breaks my heart to have to sell it,” he said. “I want to feel that I’m connected to the past.”