Under the pseudonym Pavel Jerdanowitch (a Cyrillic derivative of Paul Jordan), Jordan-Smith founded the Disumbrationist School of Art. (The movement gets its name from the word “shading,” which means shadows or shadow. The added “say” denotes Jordan-Smith’s inability to render them.) Armed with his exotic new name and absurdly high asking price , Jordan-Smith entered the table (which he later renamed Exaltation) in the 1925 Waldorf Astoria exhibition organized by the Society of Independent Artists, an association founded by executives and Duchamp, alongside patron Walter Conrad Arensberg.
Quickly, Parisian critic Le Comte Chabrier reached out to Jordan-Smith on behalf of his magazine. Review of the True and the Beautiful, applauding Exaltation and inquiring impatiently about Jerdanowitch’s vision. Jordan-Smith responded with an elaborate backstory: Born in Moscow, Jerdanowitch emigrated to Chicago at the age of 10 before contracting tuberculosis and settling in the more favorable climates of Hawaii, Samoa, from Tahiti and finally from Southern California. Jerdanowitch was quickly Featured in the September issue of the newspaper alongside his portrait, titled “In Imitation of Leon Trotsky, As He Might Have Looked in Front of a Firing Squad”.
De-umbrationism spread as the word spread throughout the Western art world. Jerdanowitch was invited to participate in a No-Jury Society exhibition in Chicago, for which Jordan-Smith created new works. Suction (previously named Sweat), a technicolor depiction of a woman washing clothes, was rented like “a delicious jumble of, and black minstrel, with much individuality Jerdanowitch” by the Chicago Evening Post in January 1926. The painting appeared again later that year in the French art book Contemporary Art: Guest Book.
By 1927 Jordan-Smith was weary of his pranks. His pointed confession made the headlines of Los Angeles Times, where he would later become a literary editor 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 Women: An Interpretation of the Philosophy of Feminism (1916) and A Key to the Ulysses by James Joyce (1927).
Jerdanowitch made a brief reappearance in 1928 with a final exhibition at the Vose Galleries in Boston, accompanied by wacky explanations of each Disumbrationist painting. Jordan-Smith painted a total of seven works of art, which he called “The Seven Deadly Sins”. Five paintings are now held in the UCLA Special Collections Library. The fate of others is unknown.
Whether Disumbrationism was fundamentally a hoax remains debatable. Jordan-Smith may have revealed the credulity of the modern art critic, but perhaps he had a natural fondness for painting as successful foreign artists do. Jordan-Smith’s diversions did not stray away from the masterly modernists he mocked; Duchamp and his band of provocateurs Dada also challenged creative shackles with a derisively forged conceptual “anti-art”. As a co-founder of Dada once noted: “The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust.” De-umbrationism is undoubtedly born from the same feeling.