Dada in New York

"In the first part of the 1900s, America was a nation in transition, ripe for evolutions in politics, social systems, literature, and certainly art. The new wealth and a new sens eof internationalism gave birth to a daring and lively generation that challenged the lifestyle and ideals of the past. Challenging political ideas were in complete accord with the simultaneous revolution taking place in the art world. A departure from conventional representational art was considered by some a threat to wholesome American values. The immediate link between politics and art was heralded as a victory of internationalism by some, and as a sign of the disintegration of culture and custom by others. Many artists associated with the Bohemian culture of Greenwich Village and the "Ashcan School", whose leader was Robert Henri, were also closely linked to political radicalism. "

The aspiration and rebellion of American artists was not so much concerned with radical politics or the class struggle, but was an expression of an intense desire to declare the awakened new sense of life in themselves and their society. They wished to substitute a more tolerant spirit for the moral indignation, and stylistic restraints imposed by their ‘old society’, The National Academy of Design. The shifting artistic values occurring in America pushed aside the ordered tradition of the Academy and assailed it with a new means of expression including abstraction and realism, lumped together under the umbrella term of modernist art.

The birth of photography as an artistic domain of its own right was fostered by the work of Alfred Stieglitz and his Gallery " The little gallery of Photo-Secession". The newly defined group of AAPS  was interested in defining a new sense of American Realism. This school of art directly challenged the accepted forms of art encouraged by the Academy.  It introduced new themes that challenged the gentility of the past with images considered unacceptable and vulgar. It shifted and revolutionized society with a style and subject matter that reflected the nation's newfound interest in ordinary people, especially those of the working class. However, the changes in artistic expression were just beginning. The Academy did recognize that art creates many different forms, so tastes were not necessarily disputed up to this time providing that artists observed certain minimal rules. For centuries, the artist’s training had been in the study of the nude figure, in drawing and painting from careful observation of the model, and in the copying of works of the old masters. In the minds of Academy followers, works in which the human figure scarcely existed or was deformed at liberty were incomprehensible. Understandably, these opponents of modern art felt that they defended a threatened heritage, and in the name of all past and sacred values, they opposed a new possibility of freedom in art. In the face of such opposition, American artists, confident of the necessity that art relate to contemporary life, appealed to freedom and modernity. The joint effort of the Ashlan School, the AAPS and the Stieglitz group resulted in the realization , in 1913, of the The International Exhibition of Modern Art of 1913, popularly known as the Armory Show because it was held from 17 February to 15 March at the 69th Infantry Regiment Armory in New York. The painter Arthur B. Davies the current president of the AAPS regularly visited exhibitions at “291” and had purchased from Stieglitz works by Cezanne, Picasso, and Max Weber. Inspired by what he had seen at Gallery "291"  and in the journal/catalogue 291 ,  Davies started to visit international art shows in Europe. In 1912 while he visited the immense International Exhibition of the Sonderbund in Cologne, Davies sent an exhibition catalogue and short note to his collaborator, Walt Kuhn, saying, “I wish we could have a show like this”. What Davies saw in Cologne saw became the model for the most famous art exhibition of the century. Originally the  Association of American Painters and Sculptors planned only to exhibit some foreign art along with its own work, but Davies’s goal was to show American artists and their public what Europeans were accomplishing. His aggressive inclusion of European modernism in the Armory Show changed the course of American art. What Davies saw in Cologne was amazing. According to the catalogue, the centerpiece of the Sonderbund was a retrospective of one hundred twenty-five paintings by van Gogh, flanked by more modest retrospectives of twenty-five Gauguins, mostly Tahitian pictures, and twenty-six Cézannes. Neoimpressionism was represented by seventeen works by Henri Cross and eighteen Signacs. The sixteen Picassos extended across the rose and blue periods into important Cubist works, and then were seven Braques. Other French entries included Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck, Marquet, Maillol, and Marie Laurencin. There was a retrospective of thirty-two works of Edward Munch, and other Norwegian, Swiss, and Dutch painters, including Mondrian and van Dongen. The Germans were well represented, including the artists of Die Brucke, the Blaue Reiter, and the NKVM [New Artists’ Association of Munich]. The nature of the show planned by AAPS was different in nature and impact. The AAPS wanted to present a show that reflected the inspiration and new confidence of American artists in the importance of their work and of art in general. Nevertheless, overlaid by another, their first exhibition became an international show in which European paintings and sculptures far surpassed in interest and overshadowed the American work. The change in the intention of the show, the idea of the president, Arthur B. Davies, was inspired while traveling a road. Caught up in the tide of advancing art, they were all carried beyond their original aims and brought to the American shores European artists that will help the US to become the greatest art Center of the XXth-Century as well as jump start American Art.

During the Armory show between 62,102 and 75,620 people paid to see some 1,300 European and American works, beginning chronologically with a miniature by Goya and extending to the present. Thus, the show was an extravaganza . Although there were large gaps -- the futurists as a group -- the Show represented many of the major artists and most adventurous positions from the end of the nineteenth century up to 1913. Improvisation by Wassily Kandinsky; and four Marcel Duchamp, including Nude descending a staircase and Picabia's Star-Dancer and Procession à  Séville were immediately acquired by private collectors, and would later pass into the public domain and form the beginnings of prominent museum collections of modernists art in the US. These collectors included Dr. Albert C. Barnes; Lillie P. Bliss, who bought works by Cézanne, Gauguin, Redon, Renoir, and Vuillard; John Quinn and Arthur J. Eddy, who acquired, respectively, thirty-one and twenty-three pieces; and Walter C. Arensberg. (39)

The Armory Show shattered the provincial calm of American art. It rocked the public and blasted the academies of painting and sculpture. Four thousand guests visited the rooms on the opening night. For the first time, the American public, the press, and the art world in general were exposed to the changes wrought by the great innovators in European art, from Cezanne to Picabia. The exhibit led to profound changes in the art market in the United States, and to the broad acceptance of modern works. This is why the  Armory Show has consistently been regarded as a moment of cultural crisis and a radical break with tradition, out of which emerged a new and vital art, literature and drama in the US.

Thanks to the ArmoryShow , Stieglitz meet new European arstists  such as Picabia, Duchamp, etc.  that will have have a considerable influence on his ideas on modern art at a time (1915-1917) when his personal life and his artistic mission were changing.  Ultimately, these relations will lead him, his galleries and his publications,  to be the most well-known representative of DADA in the US (1919-1922.

Alfred Stieglitz, 1864-1946:  Born in Hoboken, New Jersey on January 1, 1864 Stieglitz would soon become a major influence in all the visual arts, especially photography.  In 1883, Stieglitz moved to Berlin where he received training in photography and worked as a lab assistant. Stieglitz returned to New York City in 1890, and continued his work in photography. At first he used the newsletter of the Camera Club of New York, which he edited, to promote his interests. His uncompromising approach soon upset enough other members to make his position impossible, and he started his own magazine, Camera Notes. Later, from 1903-17, he edited the most famous (and most painstakingly and expensively produced) of all photo magazines, Camera Work. His first galleries - the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (1905-08), 291 (1908-17) were important meeting places for modern artists and photographers in New York. Within a few years, after making contact with Leo and Gertrude Stein in Paris and taking advice from the photographer Edward Steichen, Stieglitz was fired with a passion that gave a new direction to the little gallery he had opened in 1905 on 291 Fifth Avenue and its journal 291. Stieglitz introduced European moderns by exhibiting their work in his gallery and by doing so opened a fresh world of art to many Americans; he played a major role in the 1913 Armory International Show which was the turning point in bringing Modern Art to the US. Later he continued this through the Anderson Galleries. Eventually, Stieglitz turned away from the European vanguard to promote the unrecognized American avant-garde. He began to add “American” to everything he did.  The restrospective show for his wife became:  ‘Georgia O’Keefe American’ and he called the large exhibition that he curated  later at the Anderson Galleries ‘Seven Americans’”. His Intimate Gallery (1925-9), a successor to “291,“ was inaugurated in 1925 as an “American Room” and featured the work of O’Keefe, Dove, Hartley, Stieglitz himself, and other Americans. Stieglitz promoted and encouraged these same artists by making their work available to the public and, finally, from 1929 on, An American Place. Stieglitz also organised a number of major shows of photography in American museums and art galleries,  For more than three  decades he and his wife, the painter Georgia O'Keeffe, were the most influential couple in American art and American intellectual life.

Francis Picabia, 1879-1953: French painter with a great  diversity of styles. Heir to a rich family (Spain & Cuba) he becomes a student at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs (Paris) in1895. He is first influenced by Sisley (Saint-Tropez vu de la citadelle). Very successful young painter with a specialty of landscapes and southern characters (Spanish women, gitanas, etc.) In 1910 met the Duchamp brothers and becomes a regular members of the Puteaux circle (avant-gardes artists and intellectuals: Jacques Villon, Duchamp, Apollinaire, Ribemont-Dessaignes, etc.). 1913 Armory Show in New York (Danses à la source); becomes Stieglitz confident and friend. The same year exhibits in London and Berlin. !915 official mission in Cuba and stop-over in New York. Work for Stieglitz's 291. Beginning of the series of mechanomorphic drawings: Jeune Fille américaine. 1916 leaves N.Y. for BArcelona (Spain) Creates the art journal 391 where he publishes his collection of poems. 1919, ill, goes to Geneva to rest. Friendship with Goll and Briand (pacifists). Correspondence with Tzara (Zurich). 1919 Stay in Zurich, meets with the Dada group. Immediate reciprocal fascination for Tzara; start extremely productive collaboration with Tzara. (issue 4-5 of DADA). Travels to Germany (Berlin, Hanover, Cologne). Creates a lasting relationship between Paris (Apollinaire, Breton, Aragon, Goll), New York (Stieglitz, Duchamp, Ray), Zurich (Tzara) and Hannover (Schwitters) and prepares the regrouping of Dada in Paris (1920). 1920, creates the journal Cannibale, and has a solo exhibit in Paris where he unveils Jesus-Christ Rataquouère, Unique Eunuque, etc. 1921, Picabia rejects Tzara and Dada and moves closer to Breton and the group of future "ex-Dadas surréalistes". 1923 Optophone, inherits the family fortune and work with Rolf de Maré, Director of the Ballets Suédois. 1924 , Décors and costumes of the avant-garde ballet Relache, scenario and production of the first surrealist film, Entr'acte (René Clair). 1925, rupture with Surréalistes and Breton, return to realist painting and moves to the Midi (Cannes). Build the "Chateau de Mai" in Mougins, fancy cars (Bugatti) and boats. Writes scenarios of movies (La loi d'accomodation). 1929, owns part of the Casino in Cannes; organizes its galas and special events; he conceives the idea of an International Film festival (Palme d'Or). Becomes the friend and confident of Gertrude Stein. 1936 Picabia's exhibit at the Chicago museum of Art. 1939 Moves to Geneva. 1944 Picabia arrested as "collaborator". 1945 liberated. 1946, friendship with the "post-war" generation of intellectuals: Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Soulages, Beauvoir, Lacan, Matta, Mathieu, Hartung. Leiris. Active anti "post-war surrealists" (Goll, Breton). Many solo exhibits in France and in the US, production of a new journal/catalogue 491.1951, gravely ill, stops all intellectual activities.

Marcel Duchamp,1887-1968: French painter influenced by Cezanne. He later turned to the Cubist and Futurist styles. Causing a sensation at the 1913 New York Armory Show with his "Nude descending a staircase no 2". He also invented the concept  of "ready-made" art, treating commonplace objects as works of art; and he constructed many non functional machines. In 1917 his piece called "Fountain" (an urinal) submitted under the name R. ["Herr"] Mutt (France was at war with Germany) to the Independent exhibit in New York was rejected; that prompted a lively artistic debate that started in Duchamp's own NY journal The Blind Man : "The Mutt Case" (pun intended!). After 1918 he became a founder of the Dada movement in New York.  In 1920, with Katherine Dreier and Man Ray, he founded the "Société Anonyme", an art center in New York which became the Museum of Modern Art  (MoMa) in 1929.


 Rrose Sélavy, 1921-1926:    Voir  Duchamp. An alias first written originally "Rose Sélavy" (an actual double pun in French based on phonetic transcription and concatenation of two common popular expressions: "C'est la vie!" ["That's life!" -- "Tough luck!"] and the other expression "La vie en rose" ["Life in Pink" (the good life)]) to further the parody of the marketing of the perfume "Belle Haleine". The alias was later changed to Rrose Sélavy to force pronouncing the first "R" (against normal French articulation) so  that it becomes "Eros, c'est la vie) ["Eros, that's life"]. Man Ray was asked to to make several photographic portraits of  Duchamp as Rrose Sélavy. This added credibility to the new character because  Man Ray was the most adept photographer of glamour and fashion during the 20's and 30's; his pictures of the most famous models (Kiki, Miller, Cunard, Oppenheim, Goddard, Pichard, etc.) appeared in Vogue, Charm, Vanity Fair, etc. "Man Ray gives Rrose the lighting, the sultry look, that made him so in demand in magazines such as Vogue. In a series of photographs in 1921 and later in the mid-1920s, his camera searches for Rrose in Marcel Duchamp, and eventually finds her." Man Ray himself was not indifferent to cross-dressing for many of the surrealist parties of Paris and NY 20's. And so was Max Ernst.



Man Ray, [born Emmanuel Radnitzky ], 1890 Philadelphia - 1976 Paris. His parents , Max and Manya Radnitzky had left Russia and when Max moved to Brooklyn to become a taylor, the family changed the name to the more anglo-saxon "Ray". Man studied arts at the Ferrer center, and moved to Manhattan where he had many trendy friends in the art world. Because of his association with Stieglitz, he met Marcel Duchamp in the summer of 1915, immediately responded to his ideas, and became one of the most active members of the avant-garde group in New York during the war years.He moved from painting to photography.  In 1917 he founded the New York Dada movement with Marcel Duchamp and Picabia. His early works utilized an airbrush technique. In the 1920s he began making his "Rayo­graphs." in which he placed objects on light-sensitive photograph paper and exposed and developed the. With Katherine Dreir and Duchamp in 1920 he founded the Société Anonyme (MoMa) and contributed to the production of New York Dada (1920). This was his last Dada activity in NY. He stated that "Dada cannot live in New York" and in on July 22, 1921 he arrived in Paris and started to live and work  in the trendy district of  Montparnasse during an exceptional period of artistic creativity and international exchanges. First he worked as a fashion photographer, adopting Stieglitz idea of using one model for many different settings, that way he worked systematically, exploring moods, personality, manerisms; many shots were not used at the time but were used as needed for other uses . He was the photographer for Poiret (the future house of Christian Dior) and many fashion magazines used his service. Because of his interest for the setting of the photo session, the material used, etc. he revolutionized the art of photography and many writers, artists, socialites of the day such as Djuna Barnes, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, Tzara, Breton, Brancusi, Bunuel, etc.posed for his camera. He "created" many of the top models of the period that were posing equally for painters and photographers (Kiki, Bronia Perlmutter, Lee Miller, Hermine, Meret Oppenheinmer, Yvette Ledoux and Jacquesline Goddard "the modern look", etc.). Man Ray is credited for "inventing" the photographic technique of solarization. (but as we have seen the Zurich Dadaist Christian Schad was already experimenting ['schadow'] with this technique a few years earlier). He also used systematically the surimpresion technique discovered by Stieglitz (Dorothy True's leg), he called this "rayofilm'. Finally he is also known for creating a technique using photograms he called rayographs. Man Ray made four Dada and "surrealist" movies: Retour à la raison (Return to Reason), Emak Bakia, , Etoile de mer (Starfish), and Le mystère du château de dés (Mystery of the Chateau);he can be seen as  a cameo in many movies of the period including René Clair's Entr'acte.

Marius de Zayas, 1880  Veracruz (Mexico) –  1961 New York. His father, Rafael de Zayas Enriquez (1848-1932) was a prominent Mexican man-of-letters and politician who was known as "The Grand Old Man of Mexico". Marius de Zayas arrived in New York in 1907 from Paris where he had been introduced to cubist and primitive aesthetics by Pablo Picasso. His intention was to work in the art business. He brought a new, cosmopolitan sophistication to the nascent art of modern caricature and his subtle charcoal portraits, evoking the effects of the pictorialist photographers and French symbolists, attracted the avant-garde. Alfred Stieglitz, who exhibited advanced French and American art in his gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue, found a kindred spirit in the witty, urbane de Zayas. He considered de Zayas's experiments with caricature akin to his own struggle to promote photography into the realm of art. Between 1909 and 1913, Stieglitz held three exhibitions of his work. After 1911 de Zayas he began to employ geometric shapes and mathematical formulas as symbolic substitutes for representational form. The new caricatures were among the most radically abstract images being made in America at the time, and Alfred Stieglitz featured them in April 1913 in his third 291 De Zayas exhibition. In 1915 de Zayas and writers Paul Haviland and Agnes Ernst Meyer publish the first issue of 291, a bilingual avantgarde magazine that is financed by Stieglitz. The same year, de Zayas opens The Modern Gallery, a commercial venture  financed by Picabia, Haviland, and Eugene Meyer. The objective of the gallery is to complement the noncommercial and intellectual experiments at “291.” October Artists Albert Gleizes and Jean Crotti arrive in New York from Paris. In 1919, with the financial backing of Walter Arensberg De Zayas opened his own gallery, the de Zayas  Gallery. This will prompt, in 1920, the creation of the Société Anonyme founded by Katherine Dreier, Man Ray, and Duchamp with the purpose to build its own permanent collection of international modern art.  De Zayas will remain a faithful Dada until de end. In 1923, when many have left Dada, he will associate with Picabia and Paul de Massot in La pomme de pin to continue Dada as a  "société secrète" (secret society) faithful to its true (esthetic) origins. Unfortunately, it will be too late; in January 1924, Yvan Goll will publish his new journal Surréalisme.

[by adoption] Arthur Cravan  [born Fabian Avenarius Lloyd], 1887 Lausanne, Switzerland -1918 Gulf of Mexico. Originally  interested in Dada through the Barcelona group (Picabia) where he had escaped the draft and WWI. He claimed to be the nephew of was Arthur Cravan, a natural Dadaist who claimed to be a nephew of Oscar Wilde. He was writing poetry but was better know as a very antagonistic critic of contemporary poetry and painting. The original writer/ professional prize fighter (before Hemingway) he had heard about Jack Johnson problems with the American authorities and he invited him for an international title since Johnson was world heavy-weight champion. Jack Johnson knocked him out in the first round - or the sixth according to other accounts- but the event gained fame as a true scandalous (later "dada") event (poet against world heavy weight champion).  Following Picabia's suggestion, Cravan left Barcelona early in 1917 and came to New York, where Duchamp and Picabia, who had recently returned, arranged for him to give a lecture on modern art at the Grand Central Gallery. They hoped to create a scandal, and they were not disappointed. A large audience, which included many wealthy and socially prominent ladies eager for aesthetic enlightenment, waited for an hour or more until Cravan made his unsteady appearance and tottered up to the platform. He took off his jacket, muttering incoherently and waving his arms about. Then he began to remove his pants. He shouts insults and obscenities at the audience. The police, who had already been summoned, rushed out at this point and subdued him, and only some intervention by Walter Arensberg prevented his being thrown into jail. During that time he met a woman poet, Mina Loy, who was a futurist and they got married in Mexico City. A few months later, while sailing out of Salina Cruz (Gulf of Mexico) he disappeared. Mina Loy who was pregnant at the time never believed in his death and went back to Europe to look for him, convinced that his disappearance was a ploy to return to his free and tumultuous life on the continent.


[fellow-traveller] Jack Johnson, 1878 Galveston (TX) - 1946 Raleigh  (NC). Jack Johnson was a fighter with great speed, strength, and tremendous style. Nobody could compare to his picking punches, blocking, and his tremendous counter punching. During his thirty years of boxing, he fought one-hundred and thirteen bouts. He won seventy-eight of his bouts and lost thirty-five. He had forty-four knockouts and thirty-four were won by decision.  He trained with John Walcott in Chicago. On December 26, 1908 he defeated Tommy Burns in Melbourne, Australia, in fourteen rounds to become the first Black-American heavyweight champion boxer. Nat Fleischer said that “Johnson was the greatest heavyweight of them all.”” Many people were stunned when Johnson took the title from Tommy Burns. Thus white afficionados of boxing formed a special tournament called the “Great White Hope.” A white boxer who was never knocked out, James J. Jefferies came out of retirement,  in 1910, to knock Johnson off his pedestal, but Johnson went on to beat him; this new victory led to racial rioting throughout the US in 1910-1911, eight people died. The. black poet William Waring Cuney captured the exuberant African American reaction in his poem, "My Lord, What a Morning". As world champion Johnson was a celebrity and his whole lifestyle changed greatly. He wore flashy clothes, got interested in the fashionable life of New York and became a controversial figure by having a white girl-friend. Since they traveled all around the US together, in 1913, Johnson was found guilty of violating the Mann Act, which is a law that banned the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes. Johnson was convicted of his violation and he tried to appeal his sentence, but before the ruling on his appeal, he fled to Canada, Cuba and Europe. He defended his title 3 times in Paris before going to Havana, Cuba, in 1915 to fight another American; there  he lost his title to Jess Willard. He had met Picabia in Paris and he was recontacted in Cuba when he  suggested an "event-fight" in Barcelona with the poet/fighter Cravan. The fight took place on April 23, 1916. After that proto-dada fight Johnson  remained interested in the intellectual ventures of the vanguard. After the war he traveled all over the world back and forth between Europe and Latin-America, in particular Mexico (Tijuana) and Paris where he had many Dada friends and where he was a personality among the many black expatriates who, after the war, had chosen to stay in France and create jazz bands, black shows, and activities related to the art of Africa. After Tijuana he returned to the US on July 20, 1920 and he served his ten months in jail for his 1913 conviction in Leavenworth in Kansas, where he was also appointed athletic director of the prison. In 1922 he patented a car wrench (U.S.patent#1,413,121).  Johnson, an amateur cellist and a connoisseur of vanguard art and black music had been an important player in the development of the Harlem Renaissance as he had owned a nightclub in his early years in Chicago. At the end of the prohibition era he opened his own supper club, Club Deluxe, at 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue.  It became the Cotton Club in 1928 when it was bought by Owey Madden. Like Picabia Johnson loved fast and powerful cars; on June 10, 1946 he died when his new Continental Zephyr crashed against a tree near Raleigh. He wrote two books of memoirs, Mes Combats (in French, 1914) and Jack Johnson in the Ring and Out (1927; reprinted 1975). The Howard Sackler play The Great White Hope is based on  Johnson's life. In 1971 it was made into a movie.

[and indirectly] Nancy Cunard, 1896-1965 

 Nancy Cunard was born in London on March 10, 1896, to British Baronet Sir Bache Cunard and Maud Alice Burke, a flamboyant American who had married into the British aristocracy and had become the darling of  London high society. Her paternal great grandfather was founder of the steamship company of the same name, from which flowed the family’s immense wealth. Nancy was thoroughly unconventional;  she broke most of the taboos of the 1920s "She shocked the world. Wasted, decadent, printer, journalist, befriender of blacks and artists and, they say, a poet". Cunard's poetry first appeared in magazines in 1916. Three volumes of poetry followed: Outlaws (1921), Sublunary (1923) and Parallax (1925). She became the "muse" of Dada in Paris through her acquaintance with Man Ray who used this poet/socialite as a model for outrageous takes. She also was seen often with Tzara who considered her "very American": the quintessential  fashionable liberated woman of  the 20's; he wrote Mouchoir de nuages for her.  In 1928 she bought Three Mountains Press (renamed Hours Press) that had published Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Carlos Williams and E. Pound. She had become the lover of the surrealist poet Louis Aragon. Later she fell in love with a black piano player, Henry Crowder who was playing jazz in a "boîte de nuit" in the then trendy Montparnasse district (La Coupole, le Dôme, Le Jockey --favorite hangout for American intellectual expatriots, Falstaff, La Rotonde, Bullier,  and Bal Nègre) ; due to this relationship she was disinherited. After the break-up Aragon tried to kill himself in Venise (the city of passionate love...)

During The Harlem Renaissance, she published an anthology of work by and about Blacks called Negro.

Passionately anti-fascist, self-described left-wing anarchist, she was rumored to be a member of the communist party.  Her scandalous personality was fixed in the popular imagination through the novels of her English-speaking lovers Michael Arlen,  and Aldous Huxley. 































   THE BLIND MAN, 1, 2, 1917   (Duchamp)








   (Stieglitz, Duchamp, Ray)

















 BROOM 3, 1922






















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