Thursday, January 30, 2014

Scandalous Armory Show of 1913 - art that shocked America. Part 2.

You can read the beginning of the story here.
69th Regiment Armory

One hundred and one years ago,  New Yorkers reacted with shock and awe to the art show , that bought  avant-garde modernists like Picasso and Duchamp into the forefront of American thinking. New York's 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th streets was home to approximately 1250 paintings, sculptures, and decorative works by over 300 European and American artists.It was the biggest art show New York had ever seen.

Henri Matisse Luxury II
The new art, welcomed by the Armory Show, was considered a negation of the basic values of academic art.  The artistic traditions of several centuries were shaken to the very foundation. For example Matisse was most fiercely attacked for distorting the human form to monstrous proportions. The most memorable response was a public demonstration held by students of the Chicago Art Institute. Henri Matisse was put ‘on trial’, and copies of three Matisse paintings( including  Matisse Luxury II were burned in effigy.

The Armory Show brought the general public into a conversation about art that had previously been confined to elite intellectual circles. Two weeks after the show closed, The Literary Digest published a collection of letters to editors around the country under the title, "The Mob as Art Critic.”


News reports and reviews were filled with accusations of quackery, insanity, immorality, and anarchy. Among the scandalously radical works of art, pride of place goes to Marcel Duchamp's cubist/futurist style Nude Descending a Staircase, painted the year before (now in the Philadelphia Museum of art).The painting was  compared by "The New York Times"  to the fairy tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” by Hans Christian Andersen, with Duchamp apparently trying to convince his audience that there was indeed a picture there when there really was not.
Marcel Duchamp
A naked man going down stairs

The former president Theodore Roosevelt   wrote  a review of the exhibition, published   on March 29, 1913, two weeks after the Armory Show closed on March 15. The review  was   titled “A Layman’s View of an Art Exhibition.”
In his  review  Roosevelt  said:  “Take the picture which for some reason is called “A naked man going down stairs.” There is in my bath-room a really good Navajo rug which, on any proper interpretation of the Cubist theory, is a far more satisfactory and decorative picture”.
The purchase of Paul Cézanne's  "View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph"  by the Metropolitan Museum of Art after the Armory show signaled an integration of modernism into the established New York museums. It is the first work of the artist to enter an American museum.

Paul Cézanne View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph
Later more than 250 works of other artists were  purchased  by American museums. 
The original exhibition was an overwhelming success. There have been several exhibitions that were celebrations of its legacy throughout the 20th century. In 1944 the Cincinnati Art Museum mounted a smaller version, in 1958 Amherst College held an exhibition of 62 works, 41 of which were in the original show, and in 1963 the  Arts Institute in Utica, New York organized the "1913 Armory Show 50th Anniversary Exhibition" which included more than 300 works.
Starting with a small exhibition in 1994, by 2001 the "New" New York Armory Show, held in piers on the Hudson River, evolved into a "hugely entertaining" (New York Times) annual contemporary arts festival with a strong commercial bent.
Five exhibitions in 2013 celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Armory Show, as well as a number of publications, virtual exhibitions, and programs.  American filmmaker Michael Maglaras produced a documentary film about the Armory Show entitled, "The Great Confusion: The 1913 Armory Show".
New-York Historical Society

 “The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution” is on show now at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, at 77th Street. It continues through Feb. 23
There are  100 works from the original exhibition and a big, richly illuminating catalog, “The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution” .   If you do not have a chance to visit the exhibition you can buy  the catalog with Amazon.