Disumbrationism, the hoax art movement that fooled the art world establishment

Under the pen name Pavel Jerdanowitch (a Cyrillic derivation of Paul Jordan), Jordan-Smith founded the Disumbrationist School of Art. (The move takes its name from the word “umbrage,” meaning shadows or shade. The added “dis” denotes Jordan-Smith’s inability to return them.) Armed with its exotic new name and an absurdly high asking price , Jordan-Smith entered the painting (which he later renamed Exaltation) in the 1925 Waldorf Astoria exhibition organized by the Society of Independent Artists, an association founded by leaders and Duchamp, alongside patron Walter Conrad Arensberg.
In no time, Parisian critic Le Comte Chabrier reached out to Jordan-Smith on behalf of his magazine Review of the True and the Beautifulapplaud Exaltation and eagerly inquires about Jerdanowitch’s vision. Jordan-Smith responded with an elaborate backstory: Born in Moscow, Jerdanowitch emigrated to Chicago at age 10 before contracting tuberculosis and moving to the more favorable climates of Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti and finally the South from California. Jerdanowitch was soon featured in the paper’s September issue alongside his portrait, stylized “in imitation of Leon Trotsky, as he might have stood before a firing squad.”
Desumbrationism caught on as the word spread through the Western art world. Jerdanowitch was invited to participate in a No-Jury Society exhibition in Chicago, for which Jordan-Smith created a new work. Suction (previously named Sweat), a Technicolor depiction of a woman washing clothes, was hailed as “a delightful blend of , and dark minstrel, with plenty of Jerdanowitch individuality” by the Chicago Evening Post in January 1926. The painting reappeared later that year in the French art book Contemporary Art: Guest Book.

By 1927, Jordan-Smith was tired of his pranks. His pointed confession made the headlines Los Angeles Times, where he would later be literary director from 1933 to 1957. work that I did for many decades,” he admitted in his autobiography. By this time, Jordan-Smith had written four books, including The soul of woman: an interpretation of the philosophy of feminism (1916) and A Key to James Joyce’s Ulysses (1927).

Jerdanowitch made a brief reappearance in 1928 with a final exhibition at the Vose Galleries in Boston, complete with wacky explanations of each Disumbrationist painting. Jordan-Smith painted seven works in total, which he called “The Seven Deadly Sins”. Five paintings are now housed in the UCLA Special Collections Library. The fate of the others is unknown.

Whether disumbrationism was thoroughly a hoax remains debatable. Jordan-Smith may have exposed the gullibility of the modern art critic, but he may have possessed a natural inclination to paint as successful foreign artists do. Jordan-Smith’s hijinks didn’t stray from the masterful modernists he poked fun at; Duchamp and his band of dada provocateurs also defied creative shackles with derisively wrought conceptual “anti-art.” As the co-founder of Dada once said, “The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust.” Disumbrationism was undoubtedly born of the same feeling.

Christopher S. Washington