Sunday, February 17, 2013

The 100th anniversary of the 1913 Armory Show

1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art
(The Armory Show)
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art (The Armory Show) by the Association of American Artists and Sculptors in New York.
Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of arguably the most famous art exhibition of the 20th century
This was the first large exhibition of Modern Art in North America - and much of it was by European artists who'd not previously been seen by art collectors in the USA.
Four thousand guests visited the rooms on the opening night.
It's important to realise that up until this show, Americans who had not travelled were typically only familiar with Realism - artwork which attempted to represent what was real in an objective reality.  In addition the powerful National Academy of Design was attempting to ignore it.

So what we have in New York in 1913, in effect, is a replay of the situation nearly 40 years earlier in Paris in 1874.  The French Salon, like the National Academy, was the arbiter of national taste and was having no truck with the young upstarts who were painting in a new way.  Thus  the impact of the exhibition in New York is very much like to the impact of the First Impressionist Exhibition held in Paris between 15 April- 15 May 1874.

Which is why it's worth remembering!

After The Armory Show of 1913, artists working in the USA were influenced by the modern artwork by major European artists which was exhibited in this show - for the rest of the 20th century.

[Note" This started off as the feature for "Who's made a mark this week?" - but I got too interested in it and it began to take over the post - so WMAMTW will now publish tomorrow]

Why's it called The Armory Show?

The Armory Show was held in two rooms at the Sixty-ninth Regiment Armory at 68 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan in New York City from February 17th to March 15th 1913.

While usually a building associated with arms, the building is now a National Historic Landmark BECAUSE of its association with international fine art!
It is also nationally significant as the site of the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, the first major exhibition of contemporary art in America, that revolutionized the nation's artistic tastes and perceptions. Some 1,300 works of art were displayed, and here for the first time many Americans saw the works of Cezanne, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso.
Who organised the Show?

The show was organised by artists allied to the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) - which had (surprise surprise!) an all male membership!  [Interestingly this organisation does not merit an entry in Wikipedia]. This is the Smithsonian's list of Who’s Who at the 1913 Armory Show
  • Seccretary and American Painter Walt Kuhn (1877-1949) - he was charged with recording and maintaining many of the official primary source records pertaining to the Armory Show.
  • painter-critic Walter Pach (1883-1958) - having developed friendships with artists such as Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, and Constantin Brancusi, he was pivotal in involving modern European artists.  He also wrote about Modern Art for the American public.
  • progressive painter Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928) was the organising mastermind.  He had already developed an in-depth knowledge of emerging trends in European and American art in the early 1910s
  • Elmer McRae was the treasurer for the show
[the Association of American Painters and Sculptors probably merit a post in their own right].

Which artists exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show? 

1300 works by 300 artists were exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show

View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph (late 1880s)
Paul Cézanne
Oil on canvas, 25 5/8 x 32 in. (65.1 x 81.3 cm)
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1913
Metropolitan Museum of Art
European Past Masters who exhibited at the show - and told the story of the journey to Modern Art - included:
View of the Armory Show with the Brancusi Sculpture in foreground left
Portrait of Mlle Pogany, 1912
exhibited at The Armory Show 1913
by Constantin Brancusi
White marble; limestone block, (44.4 x 21 x 31.4 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Living European Artists who exhibited included those who were breaking with traditions and most associated with Modern Art.  They included:
  • Pierre Bonnard (French painter/printmaker 1867-1947) Known for his intense use of colour. Founder member of Les Nabis 
  • Constantin Brâncuşi (Romanian 1876-1957) One of his sculptures (see above) in an abstracted style with clean lines was chosen for one of the postcards advertising the show 
  • Georges Braque (French painter and sculptor 1882-1963; developed Cubism with Picasso)
  • Edgar Degas (French painter, printmaker and sculptor 1834-1917)
  • Maurice Denis (French painter and member of the Symbolist and Les Nabis movements1870 – November 1943) 
  • André Derain
  • Marcel Duchamp (French artist, 1887-1968)  Associated with Dadism and Suurrealism,  Gis painting of a person descending the stairs represented motion through superimposing successive images in the same way as occurs in film
Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2
(French: Nu descendant un escalier n° 2) 1912
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)

Philadelphia Museum of Art

sold to Frederick C. Torrey for $324.00 according to Walter Pach's sales records
This painting created a sensation when it was exhibited in New York in February 1913 at the historic Armory Show of contemporary art, where perplexed Americans saw it as representing all the tricks they felt European artists were playing at their expense. The picture's outrageousness surely lay in its seemingly mechanical portrayal of a subject at once so sensual and time-honored.Ann Temkin, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 307
Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) sparked a storm of controversy at the International Exhibition of Modern Art held at the National Guard 69th Regiment Armory in New York in 1913. The painting was perceived by the majority of art critics to be utterly unintelligible, and it soon became the butt of jokes, jingles, and caricatures. The American Art Newsoffered a ten dollar reward to the first reader who could "find the lady"1 within the jumble of interlocking planes and jagged lines, and newspaper cartoonists had a field day with the painting, lampooning it with such titles as "The Rude Descending the Staircase (Rush Hour at the Subway)" and the memorable "Explosion in a Shingle Factory."Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 27
Henri Matisse
Oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm. 
In the collection of the MOMA
Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde (La Bonne-Mère), Marseilles 1905
Paul Signac

oil on canv
as, (88.9 x 116.2 cm)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Artwork was also exhibited by Past Masters from the USA - including paintings by the American Impressionists
Living American artists who exhibited included:

Wikipedia's entry for The Arnory Show provides listings of other artists who took part in The Artists and More artists

What's happening for the Centennial?

Not much.
The 2013 exhibition revisits the Armory Show from an art-historical point of view, shedding new light on the artists represented and how New Yorkers responded. It will also place this now-legendary event within the context of its historical moment in the United States and the milieu of New York City in ca. 1911–1913. To that end, music, literature and early film will be considered, as well as the political and economic climate.
Articles about The Armory Show 1913
Here are more articles about The Armory Show 1913

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  1. I just shared one link on Facebook about this. Thanks for the head's up (well, actually a very nice report!) and it is telling that it is maybe a non event for Americans. Going to see what the NYT has to say, now.

  2. I just shared one link on Facebook about this. Thanks for the head's up (well, actually a very nice report!) and it is telling that it is maybe a non event for Americans. Going to see what the NYT has to say, now.

  3. Fabulously informative and as always, I so appreciate your images as they bring more historical pieces to my eyes. I hadn't realized that Cassatt was an American painter. I always assumed she was French. I really like her work.

  4. There's rather a lot of American painters who seem to make their home on the other side of the pond for rather a long time.

    Cassatt is definitely American and lived in a France for a long time

    Whistler is definitely American and lived in Britain (and elsewhere around Europe) for a long time

    Singer Sargent seems to have been born of permanently peripatetic parents on a Grand Tour - and made his base in London for years.


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