The Armory Show at 100

Our visit to this year’s Armory Show reminded me that I never got around to blogging about an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society which I visited back on October 24th last year. Entitled The Armory Show at 100, the exhibition brought together a selection of artworks from the original Armory show.

In the words of the exhibition website:

In 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art came to New York. Organized by a small group of American artists and presented at the Lexington Avenue Armory (and thus nicknamed the Armory Show), it introduced the American public to European avant-garde painting and sculpture. …

‘”The Armory Show at 100″ features approximately 100 masterworks from the 1913 Armory Show that powerfully impacted American audiences. The exhibition includes American and European paintings and sculpture that will represent the scandalous avant-garde and the range of early twentieth-century American art. It will also include historical works (dating through the nineteenth century) that the original organizers gathered in an effort to show the progression of modern art leading up to the controversial abstract works that have become the Armory Show’s hallmark.

I was lucky enough to see the exhibition on a private tour, and it was one of those occasions where having a guide really helped set the works in context. The pieces which struck the original New York audiences as “scandalous avant-garde” are entirely familiar to a 2013 viewer, but of course in 1913 most people would have been seeing those works for the first time, which makes their reaction more understandable (particularly in comparison to the rather dull C19th historical works elsewhere in the exhibition).

Duchamp 'Nu descendant un escalier'

Fast-forward 101 years to the latest Armory show, and the art created by Picasso, Duchamp et al is now occupying the “historical works” space. Possibly I’m alone in finding this amusing, but it certainly indicates just how well these works have stood the test of time and changing tastes.

I was particularly pleased to encounter a collotype reproduction of Marcel Duchamp’s Nu descendant un escalier (of which I snapped the picture above), as this was a featured image for the NYHS exhibition. Apparently Duchamp’s depiction of the entire process of stair-descending was just too much for New York in 1913, but thankfully by 2013 we had a different perspective…

Nu descendant l'escalier au NYHS

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