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The Armory Show Celebrates 100th Anniversary

It is the 100th anniversary of the famous 1913 New York Armory Show and the New York Historical Society is celebrating with The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution.  In 1913 Arthur B. Davies and a small group of American artists wanted to introduce the American public to the latest developments in European culture including European avant-garde painting and sculpture so they brought the International Exhibition of Modern Art to New York and presented the works at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue, which earned the exhibition the nickname of The Armory Show.

The American public was not ready for what they would see inside the walls of the Armory.  Some American artists were familiar with the new European styles but never had they seen it in such grand a scale as at The Armory Show.  Some were amused while others were infuriated by what they saw.  There was a great uproar over the show which some 87,000 Americans visited in just 1 month from January to February of 1913.  The contemporary art of Picasso, Matisse and Brancusi was a shock to the public and a radical change from the norm.

The organizers of the show didn’t intend for the works to be such a shock.  They wanted it to be an educational experience.  They put together galleries which included American as well as European art starting with the beginning of the 19th century up until the early 20th century.  They wanted visitors to see works of Symbolism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism,

Van Gogh

Van Gogh

Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism.  They had hoped this transition through the movements would help the visitors become accustomed to the new styles by causing them to realize that the artists during the early 19th century were thought of as revolutionary during their time but by 1913 were thought of as old masters.  So when viewing the more contemporary artists they should be viewed through the tradition of radical art.  Unfortunately that’s not how everyone viewed it.

1913 was a revolutionary year in New York.  Women had taken to marching in the street for the right to vote while workers were marching in the streets for better working conditions and hirer pay.  Change and revolution was in the air.  This feeling was echoed inside The Armory Show as well.  However, critics berated and laughed at the artists of the works they didn’t understand.  People weren’t used to looking at abstract works and they didn’t know what to look for.  President Theodore Roosevelt said it wasn’t art, but it was. It was the art of Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Cézanne, Rousseau, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Brancusi, Munch, Duchamp, Braque, Kandinsky, and many more.

Van Gogh

Van Gogh

The show was viewed as primarily consisting of European art however, there were numerous American artists displaying their work as well.  Few galleries at the time were willing to show contemporary art which created a sense of frustration in young artists since they couldn’t show the public what they were creating.  The Armory Show offered an opportunity for young American artists to exhibit their work.

The organizers tried to tell the critics that the artwork they were criticizing now would prove itself to be masterpieces in the future.  They were right.  Most are now seen as masterpieces.  The Armory show was the most important event in American art history.  It revolutionized American art, changing it forever.

Today’s Armory Show at 100 highlights nearly 100 works from the 1913 show which impacted the American audience.  The current exhibition includes both American and European paintings and sculptures that represent the scandalous avant-garde and the range of early twentieth-century American art.  The show will run through February 23, 2014.

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