DALLAS - With an eye toward educating the public about modern art, artists Katherine Dreier, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray formed the Societe Anonyme Inc. in 1920.
The collection the group amassed in the next three decades includes more than 1,000 works, ranging from pieces by artists such as Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky to the lesser-known artists of the time.
"The Societe Anonyme: Modernism for America" opened this week at the Dallas Museum of Art and features about 200 works from the Societe Anonyme collection, which was donated to Yale University beginning in the 1940s.
When visitors enter the show, the first gallery room they see is designed to resemble Societe Anonyme's first exhibition, held in a New York City townhouse. Against the light blue walls hangs a variety of works, many of which are whimsically framed with paper doilies, a touch by Duchamp from the original show.
"They really wanted to teach people about art and about artists and about what was going on in the contemporary scene," said Susan Greenberg Fisher, associate curator of modern and contemporary art at Yale University Art Gallery. "They were looking for sort of the strongest expressions of contemporary art."
The group helped bring modernism to America with exhibitions, public programs and publications in the 1920s and 1930s.
"The whole notion at the outset was not about building a collection," said Dorothy Kosinski, senior curator of painting and sculpture at the Dallas Museum of Art. "It was about bringing art to the public."
The collection grew as the group acquired pieces from artists they admired and friends all over the world. Some pieces they would buy at a discount, some were given to them and some pieces came their way as a result of trading.
"It was about artists sharing their ideas, doing exhibits together," Kosinski said.
The resulting collection not only features the works of those who were famous, such as Pablo Picasso, but also gives a glimpse at the work of those whose names aren't familiar today. "It's not about star power," Kosinski said. "It's about the richness of something much broader."
"There's not just one narrative of modern art," Fisher said. "In fact, it's much more complex, and there are many, many more artists who were creating great works of art at the time in addition to the major figures we already know about."
Fisher said that an artist in the exhibition who did not have lasting fame but stands out to her is Marthe Donas, a Belgian who moved to Paris in the mid-1910s and adopted the style of the art movement of cubism.
"Her work is a really interesting take on Paris cubism - wonderfully unique," Fisher said.
The collection eventually ended up in the Dreiers' Connecticut home, where works were displayed throughout. Photographs show one work perched above a bookcase in a library, others displayed against bold wallpaper.
The exhibit, on loan from Yale University Art Gallery, runs through Sept. 16 in Dallas. It has already made stops in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. After Dallas, the exhibit will be on display at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tenn., from Oct. 26 to Feb. 3, 2008. The exhibit will be displayed at Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Conn., in 2011.