Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (born July 12, 1874, in Swinoujscie, Poland, and died December 13, 1927, in Paris, France) was a trailblazing artist and poet known for her avant-garde and unconventional approach to art. She was a committed Dadaist and a crucial figure in the New York City art scene during the early 20th century. Her work was admired by the likes of Marcel Duchamp, who called her "the future" of art.
Freytag-Loringhoven moved to Berlin at the age of 18, where she began studying art under August Endell, who later became her lover in a polyamorous relationship. She engaged in various forms of performance, including nude variety shows, which proved to be transformative for her career. After a series of personal and professional relationships, she eventually made her way to New York City in 1913.
During the 1920s, Freytag-Loringhoven became an integral part of the Greenwich Village avant-garde. She developed friendships and collaborations with notable artists such as William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes, Berenice Abbott, Marcel Duchamp, Tristan Tzara, Man Ray, Francis Picabia, Andre Breton, June Heap, Walter Arensberg, and Claude McKay.
Freytag-Loringhoven's art was characterized by its organic, anti-aesthetic, and provocative nature. She was known to use found objects to decorate her body and create sculptures, as well as engage in performance and body art. Her work in the Exhibition by 31 Women, titled "Object" (1926), was a sculpture made from plumbing parts, similar to her earlier piece, "God" (1918), which is now housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In addition to visual art, Freytag-Loringhoven was a poet with a strong sense of humor, which was evident in her work. She created costumes for her own performances, as well as for theater productions, making her a pioneer in the realms of performance and body art.
Despite her significant contributions to the art world, Freytag-Loringhoven lived in poverty for most of her life. She moved back to Berlin in 1923, hoping to find opportunities after World War I, but was met with limited prospects. She then relocated to Paris, where she died under mysterious circumstances in 1927.
Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven's artistic legacy endures through her influence on various art movements, such as Neo-Dada, Happenings, Pop, Performance, and Body Art. Her life and work have been the subjects of retrospectives, including one organized by Francis Naumann, and she has been referred to as the "Mama of Dada." Today, her archives and papers can be found at the University of Maryland Libraries, providing valuable insight into her life and contributions to the art world. Naumann’s collection of her work has been incorporated into the 31 Women Collection.