The New-York Historical Society: Making History Matter

by leslierankowfinearts

Paterson Strike Pageant in Madison Square Garden organized by John Reed, Margaret Sanger and Mabel Dodge June 7, 1913

Paterson Strike Pageant in Madison Square Garden organized by John Reed, Margaret Sanger and Mabel Dodge
June 7, 1913

THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY IS A TREASURE TROVE OF REMARKABLE WORKS OF AMERICAN ART AND A STRONGHOLD OF VITAL HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS, THUS PROVIDING A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO APPRECIATE THE INTELLECTUAL AND VISUAL SYNERGY BETWEEN SOCIAL AND POLITICAL HISTORY AND ART AND CULTURE. IN THE ARMORY SHOW AT 100 EXHIBITION, WALL TEXTS AND PHOTOGRAPHY, VIDEOS AND CAMPAIGN MEMORABILIA INVITED THE VIEWER ON A JOURNEY THROUGH THE POLITICAL CLIMATE OF THE 1910s IN NEW YORK WHILE THE PAINTINGS AND SCULPTURE DOCUMENTED THE REVOLUTIONARY EFFECT OF THE EUROPEAN AVANT-GARDE ON AMERICA’S DEFINITION OF ART. NEW YORK HAS ALWAYS BEEN A MECCA FOR INTELLECTUAL PIONEERS AND SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ACTIVISTS AND THE EXHIBITION NOT ONLY ADDRESSED THE AESTHETIC TRANSFORMATION BUT ALSO THE PIVOTAL POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ISSUES OF THE TIME: THE SUFFRAGETTE MOVEMENT, SOCIAL REFORM AND THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.

IN TODAY’S LRFA BLOG, CURATOR AND ART HISTORIAN, MARILYN KUSHNER, HEAD OF PRINTS, PHOTOGRAPHS AND ARCHITECTURAL COLLECTIONS AT THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY, SHARES HER IN-DEPTH KNOWLEDGE OF THIS UNIQUE MOMENT IN AMERICA AND ITS LEGACY TODAY.

The International Exhibition of Modern Art opens in New York February 17, 1913

The International Exhibition of Modern Art opens in New York
February 17, 1913

MARILYN, YOU STRUCTURED THE ARMORY SHOW AT 100 TO REFLECT NOT ONLY THE SHATTERING EFFECT OF THE ORIGINAL ARMORY SHOW ON AMERICAN IDEAS ABOUT ART BUT ALSO THE SEISMIC SHIFTS IN SOCIETY IN THE 1910s. WHAT INSPIRED THIS CURATORIAL PERSPECTIVE?

One was left with the idea that the Armory Show was the only great thing that happened in 1913. Yet, there were women marching on the streets for suffrage, there were workers marching in the streets for their rights and they were going out on strike. Greenwich Village was becoming the village of the Bohemians and young people who were going to change the world. They were breaking away from their Victorian parents and they felt that they were the future.

Women's Suffrage Parade

Women’s Suffrage Parade

DON’T YOU THINK THE ART WAS JUST A METAPHOR?

Yes and it was the revolutionary spirit of the time.

So there was all of this was going on. Politics – Teddy Roosevelt runs in 1912 on the Progressive platform pushing for universal health care. Women were not only marching for the right to vote, they were marching for the right to have children out-of-wedlock, to have open marriage. We thought that was all new in the 1960s and it wasn’t. There was a great deal of ferment about the New then: it was the new woman, the new Negro, the new writer, the new art, new dance – everything was new.

Times Square at Night 1913

Times Square at Night
1913

What I like to say is that we can’t be surprised that the Armory Show happened. The question is not why the Armory Show happened. The answer is that it happened because the artists were looking at the new just like everyone else. The real question would have been if the Armory Show hadn’t happen then why didn’t it happen? “If there had not been an Armory Show, why not?” But there was, because the artists were right there, thinking about the new and they wanted to bring the new to New York audiences. The Armory show was part of the whole zeitgeist of the time.

Now, we have given the Armory Show a whole other meaning – we have placed it within the context of the new. As such, we had address the historical context of the art exhibition and Kim and I made certain that there were a number of historians writing about what was going on in history at the time. So we didn’t do just straight art history, we did art and we did history. And, that is what the New-York Historical Society does.

Grand Central Terminal opens February 2, 1913

Grand Central Terminal opens
February 2, 1913

IN OUR LAST LRFA POST WITH MARILYN, WE WILL EXPLORE THE MANY CONTRIBUTIONS THE  NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY MAKES TO ENRICH OUR APPRECIATION OF NEW YORK, THE RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES IT  OFFERS SCHOLARS AND HISTORIANS, ITS GREAT EXHIBITION PROGRAMMING, PARTICULARLY FOR CHILDREN AND SCHOOL GROUPS, AND ITS FUTURE PLANS.

I LOOK FORWARD TO SHARING THIS WITH ALL OF YOU. THANK YOU FOR FOLLOWING THE LRFA BLOG!