“The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution” Exhibition

The New-York Historical Society

poster for “The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution” Exhibition

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The New-York Historical Society presents a major exhibition celebrating the centennial of the legendary 1913 Armory Show, offering a rare opportunity to experience the reunion of more than 100 masterpieces from the iconic event. The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution will feature works by European modernists, including Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse, Francis Picabia, Constantin Brancusi, and Pablo Picasso; influential precursors to modernism, such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh; and leading American artists Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, John Marin, Albert Pinkham Ryder, John Sloan, and others who are often overlooked in accounts of the event despite the fact that nearly half the works featured in the exhibition were by American artists. Officially known as the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, the Armory Show is one of the most important exhibitions ever held in the United States and is remembered as a turning point in American art history, introducing the European avant-garde to America.

The Armory Show at 100 will contextualize the event with artifacts, historical documents, and archival photographs to evoke the social and intellectual currents of this time period. Major events of the era include the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson as president in 1913, women marching for suffrage, the re-opening of Grand Central Terminal as the world’s largest train station, and the Woolworth Building becoming the world’s tallest skyscraper. The behind-the-scenes story of the making of the 1913 Armory Show also will be told through a selection of letters, postcards, and photographs that document the dissent and divisions that the exhibition inspired in the New York art world.

A scholarly publication will be produced in conjunction with the exhibition—the first major, in-depth survey in fifty years to study the significance, impact, and legacy of the 1913 Armory Show. A special Armory Show website (armory.nyhistory.org/) features blog posts on curatorial discoveries and research, the layout of the 1913 Armory Show, and other interactive features.

“New York will explode into the modern world all over again when The Armory Show at 100 opens this fall at the New-York Historical Society,” said Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of New-York Historical. “Our galleries will be filled with masterworks and materials documenting the full impact that modernism delivered in 1913—the debates, discussions, and cultural shocks that made this show a ‘bombshell.’”

Exhibition Highlights
Curated by New-York Historical’s Marilyn Satin Kushner, Curator and Head, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections; and Kimberly Orcutt, Henry Luce Foundation Curator of American Art, with Casey Nelson Blake, Professor of History at Columbia University serving as Senior Historian, The Armory Show at 100 will feature approximately 100 masterworks from the 1913 Armory Show that powerfully impacted American audiences.

Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) (1912) was considered scandalous and was roundly mocked by the media of the day, such as in a March 1913 Cubist-inspired cartoon in The Evening Sun newspaper, seen in reproduction in the show, that depicted “The Rude Descending a Staircase (Rush Hour at the Subway).” Many works on view initially shocked 1913 audiences but are now considered masterpieces, such as Matisse’s Blue Nude (1907), which was seen as immoral and depraved. Although Matisse’s work was more clearly representative than that of Duchamp, it was nonetheless perceived as childlike and primitive, and an attack on traditional standards of beauty. Picabia’s fragmented Cubist painting Dances at the Spring (1912) was compared to a patchwork quilt.

Anticipating that the avant-garde works might shock or confound American audiences encountering new styles for the first time, the organizers of the original Armory Show included work by Post-Impressionists and other even earlier once-revolutionary artists that were acclaimed as great masters by 1913. Organizers hoped that this juxtaposition would help viewers understand that artworks that are once considered revolutionary and outrageous are often later accepted and understood. Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings, including Words of the Devil (1892), were met with some controversy, but many considered them more resonant with modern life than the work of Cubists and Fauves. Satirical works by Daumier, whose images commented upon the plight of poor French peasants in the mid-19th century, also offered perspective on shocking works of the past.

The Armory Show featured a number of American artists who were leading figures of the Ashcan School. John Sloan often captured scenes of working class men and women on the Lower East Side, such as Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair (1912). Robert Henri’s life-sized oil painting Figure in Motion (1913) may have been created in contrast to Duchamp’s and Matisse’s nudes, as a sort of rebellious manifesto to challenge the Armory Show organizers. John Marin’s watercolor series of Manhattan buildings included abstract studies of the Woolworth Building under construction, before it became the world’s tallest building in 1913.

[Image: Marcel Duchamp, (French, 1887-1968), Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912. Oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 35 1/8 in. Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950, 1950-134-59 © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/Succession Marcel Duchamp. Reproduction, including downloading this work, is prohibited by copyright law without written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.]


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