The 1913 Armory Show: a revolutionary influence on American culture
THE ARMORY SHOW AT 100: MODERN ART AND REVOLUTION AT THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY CELEBRATED THE CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY OF THE 1913 ARMORY SHOW. THE ORIGINAL EXHIBITION WAS REVOLUTIONARY IN INTRODUCING ABSTRACTION, FAUVISM AND CUBISM TO AMERICAN ARTISTS AND THE ART-VIEWING PUBLIC. AS IMPORTANTLY, THE 2013 EXHIBITION AT THE N-YHS TRANSFORMED OUR PERCEPTION OF THE CULTURAL, POLITICAL AND AESTHETIC CLIMATE IN AMERICA IN THE 1910s.
I CONSIDER CURATORIAL CONTRIBUTIONS AND THE CONCEPT AND EXECUTION OF EXHIBITION-MAKING AS ART FORMS IN THEMSELVES. DEVELOPING AN IDEA FOR AN EXHIBITION, SHAPING AND DEFINING ITS FOCUS, THE ACCOMPANYING RESEARCH AND SELECTION OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT WORKS THAT WOULD BEST SERVE REQUIRE MISSIONARY ZEAL. WHEN AN EXHIBITION HAS AS PROFOUND AN INFLUENCE AS THE ARMORY SHOW AT 100, IT REPRESENTS CURATORIAL EXPERTISE AND DEDICATION AT ITS BEST.
THANK YOU, MARILYN KUSHNER, CO-CURATOR OF THE EXHIBITION, FOR SHARING THIS EXPERIENCE WITH THE READERS OF THE LRFA BLOG.
MARILYN, HOW DID YOU GET THE MATERIAL? HOW LONG DID IT TAKE?
I co-curated the show with Kim Orcutt. As I said earlier, we started working on the Armory Show about five years before the show opened. That’s not a lot of time to put a show like this together. We developed our wish list and then started trying to locate the works. One must travel to see the works that we were requesting so each of us took a few trips to Europe as well as a few trips throughout the States. It is all about traveling to meet with the curators and see the art.
WHAT KIND OF DOCUMENTATION WAS AVAILABLE TO YOU?
Milton Brown wrote a book on the Armory Show in 1963 and then he rewrote it in 1988. His book was based on the papers from various people who were involved in the exhibition. Brown’s work was very precise with great bones. He covered many of the great stories about the Armory Show and almost all of what he wrote was historically correct. We fleshed out the story.
Brown had a complete checklist of the Armory Show in his book. That was a great place to start. We discovered that some of the things he said were in the show really weren’t there and we made a few additions or title changes to his list. In fact, the only facts that we changed from Brown’s original work were details of the checklist. We were able to locate some of the things he couldn’t but, on the other hand, some of the things that he found have now disappeared. That is why we decided to put a complete checklist in our show which updates Milton Brown’s checklist.
And then, once we had this wish list we started to look for these art works.
We knew there was no way we could do this exhibition if we didn’t have the “Nude Descending a Staircase” because that has always been associated with the Armory Show–the Philadelphia Museum of Art owned that painting. So the first trip we made anywhere was to Philadelphia. Once we had secured that loan, Kim and I began to travel both nationally and internationally to meet with curators and see as many works as possible. This intense period of travel is extremely necessary when one is seeking to secure loans of significant works of art.
It was hard work but it was work that we both really relished. We really loved it. It was a great experience.
IN TERMS OF FUNDING THIS KIND OF EXHIBITION, WE ALL READ SO MUCH ABOUT GOVERNMENT CUTBACKS OF GRANTS. DOES YOUR RESPONSIBILITY AS CURATOR INCLUDE FINDING FUNDING?
We were very lucky that we had the backing of the New-York Historical even before the money was raised, that they believed in us, and that our Board was excited about the exhibition which was such an important part of New York history.
INITIALLY, DO YOU AND YOUR COLLEAGUE PROPOSE THE IDEA?
First we propose it to the Administration here and then it is proposed to the Board and then we started going out and trying to get works. The backing from the Board was important – they had the confidence in us and believed this was going to be big and therefore they said, “Do it! Go ahead and do it and we’ll help you pull it off.”
Then we began to apply for grants. We received grants from the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc. We also were quite fortunate to have strong backers in Harold and Ruth Newman – who believed in the exhibition and were with us all the way through. Other essential supporters were John Thompson, Douglas Oliver, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Martucci. The pieces just kept falling into place. It’s all about cobbling the support together.
We placed the Armory Show in the context of what was happening in New York at the time – this had never been done before. We were also able to hire Casey Blake. He is a Professor of early 20th century American History at Columbia University. Kim and I know methodologies of art history and we knew our field and whom we wanted to write the essays. We knew American history but not the way we know art history. We needed Casey’s expertise to develop the historical part of the exhibition with us. The show never would have looked the way it did if it hadn’t been for him – he would tell us “You’re leaving this out or you have to develop these ideas.” The N-YHS does history so well and our mission was to tap into the experts to cover the historic times of the early twentieth century.
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, MARILYN WILL EXPAND ON THE HISTORICAL IMPACT OF THE EXHIBITION AND EXPLORE SOME OF THE OTHER GREAT EXHIBITIONS AND HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS THAT THE MUSEUM OFFERS THE NEW YORK MUSEUM-GOING PUBLIC, ART HISTORIANS, SCHOLARS AND EDUCATIONAL GROUPS.
THANK YOU FOR JOINING US!