Picasso and Hemingway may never have come to all-out fistfights, but thanks to Gertrude Stein’s salons, the two giants did spar over the most profound ideas of the age. Intimate gatherings, her weekly events hosted speakers, performers, and art that even cultural luminaries couldn’t see anywhere else. A physical meeting of the minds. It’s a quaint notion, but we’d argue that the Internet has empowered the salon’s underlying ethos. We’d invite you to mull the idea over on Reddit, create a petition on Change.org, or maybe just mention it at your weekly Meetup.
Meanwhile, we’ll be pining for an invite to these ten relatively recent salons that were almost within our reach, and celebrating the one that thankfully was.
1. Mabel Dodge Hosts Early 20th-Century “Evenings”
Mabel Dodge’s early 20th-century “Evenings” were powerhouses of the intellectual elite, potent sounding boards for the likes of anarchist Emma Goldman and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Walter Lippmann. Dodge also used her home at 23 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village to organize New York’s first Armory Show in 1913, a controversial event which introduced modern art to the masses. When she moved to Taos, New Mexico, the wealthy heiress hosted everyone from D.H. Lawrence to Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams. That house — now a historical landmark — was purchased by actor Dennis Hopper during the filming of Easy Rider. So, basically, her homes were awesome, followed by awesome, followed by even more awesome.
2. Gertrude Stein Enters the Land of the Lost
When your guest list regularly includes Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Matisse, even teatime has the potential to ensnare and amaze. Stein’s personal gallery was a large part of the initial draw to her seminal Lost Generation events: her collection included Cézannes, early works by Matisse and Picasso, and pieces by Renoir, Manet, and Gauguin. While the Lost Generation’s presence in her home was ultimately even more important, it’s worth noting that many also consider it the first true museum of modern art.
3. Natalie Clifford Barney Outlasts Everybody
Gertrude Stein’s art and literary events weren’t the only game in town for Lost Generation expats and Parisian intellectuals. For more than six decades, American Natalie Clifford Barney used her outpost at Paris’ 20 Rue Jacon to host the likes of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Jean Cocteau, Rainer Maria Rilke, and a delicious list of others. An early proponent of gay and feminist ideologies, Barney’s salon clout was so absolutely enormous that for her 1929 book Aventures de l’Esprit (Adventures of the Mind) she was able to include a rather incredible “social diagram” which featured a powerhouse list of more than 100 major intellectuals who had attended it. Oh that we could have been number 101.
4. Bernice Robinson Uses an ACTUAL Salon to Spur Social Action
It’s a little-known fact that beauty colleges began working techniques for political conversation into the curricula in the ’50s as a means of engagement. This proved fortuitous with the rise of social action in the early ’60s. South Carolina’s Bernice Robinson was one of many actual salon owners to realize the power of her position. In addition to engaging her clients directly on issues of equality, voter rights, and education, she went on to organize other members of the beauty industry in an effort to makes their salons a center of formal outreach. With a wash and dry included, of course.
5-6. The Kids Are Up to No Good in the Halls of Max’s Kansas City and The Chelsea Hotel
Punk may have exploded in spots like CBGB, but Max’s and the Chelsea were where most ’70s movements were actually talked out. For years, both spaces echoed with every drunken, subversive screed imaginable, hosting unofficial salons in the guise of afterparties — Burroughs hanging out in the lobby, Ginsberg waiting in an elevator. On any given evening you could swap stories with Lou Reed, spot the camera-shy Warhol in action, or buy indigent lurker Patti Smith a beer. No, question, this round’s on us.
7. Dead Poet’s Society Creates a Generation of Captains and Crews
Poetry has never been more alive than in Robin Williams’ secret society of rule-breaking, Whitman-adoring adolescents. Though it may not have technically existed, his classroom was the inspiration for poetical adoration of the highest order (not to mention what’s almost definitely the average word nerd’s first exposure to spelunking). “Oh Captain, my Captain” indeed.
8. Wham City Sprays Neon on Everyone
While Baltimore has always hosted an incredibly rich underground, its current cultural boom began the moment Dan Deacon moved into the CopyCat building. Dubbing his enormous warehouse space (the home of an old paper factory) Wham City, he and a body of like-minded artists began to host lecture nights, improv performances, bizarre recreations of Beauty and the Beast, and every other type of event imaginable. Speckled in DayGlo and smelling of sweat, the scene it helped create gave rise to a slew of the new millennium’s most outrageous and important artists, including Beach House, Ponytail, and Future Islands. To say nothing of Deacon himself, whose crowded gatherings retain their intimate feel even as they become more and more massive.
9. Arianna Huffington
When she isn’t busy ushering in a new age of aggregation, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington has been known to host a literary salon at her home. While a digital red rope certainly surrounds the exclusive event, past guests have included Tavis Smiley, billionaire Eli Broad, actor Steve Martin, humorist Harry Shearer, director Oliver Stone, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and countless magazine and website editors. We assume their discussions aren’t excerpted and/or poached in full from the pages of People.
10. Stanley Sheinbaum Leads the New Left
When you get Warren Beatty in a room with Jordan’s King Hussein, things are bound to get interesting. Considered one of the left’s most powerful advocates — and a pillar of the Middle East peace process — Sheinbaum has his hands (and purse strings) in just about everything. So much so that even Bill and Hillary Clinton have considered it both intellectually and politically advantageous to attend his events.
11. Canon PowerShot & Flavorpill Present a Top Secret Salon
Flavorpill teamed up with Canon PowerShot to host a Secret Salon at The Well (taking a page from Bernice Robinson, an actual hair salon by day), hosting three LA creatives as they presented and performed. All photos in this series are copyright Sam Friedman.
Future Eyes (aka Brent Paul Pearson) shared his kaleidoscopic glasses and Foto Book with guests, who explored a new reality and snapped pics — thanks to Canon PowerShot, of course. Franki Elliot typed extemporaneous stories about and for guests on her vintage typewriter, a 1960s Smith Corona Corsair Deluxe. And YACHT DJed and debuted a brand-new track all about privacy, “Party at the NSA” — a perfect match for our secretive affair. The night proved that the cultural and creative salon is very much alive and kicking — you just need to know where to find us. (A hint: If you’re in SF, we’ll be hosting another Secret Salon in September. Stay tuned.)