As the twentieth century worked to gain traction, a group of artists decided to host a grand art exhibition. They called themselves the Association of American Painters and Sculptors and they were intent on seeing their vision come to life: they raised their own funds, rented the space (69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue), procured the art–even transported the art to and fro.
Because of their dedication, on February 17, 1913, The International Exhibition of Modern Art (otherwise known as the Armory Show) debuted. Some 4,000 guests perused more than twelve hundred works of art. It would be the first time Modernism was displayed on our shores; the first time ‘avant-garde’ was used to describe art. As you might imagine, it caused quite the hullabaloo. Everyone from Gertrude Stein to President Theodore Roosevelt offered their take. Those with less than favorable reviews claimed the works insane, nonsense, nothing but amorphous conceits.
Now, I must admit: I tend to roll my eyes at modern art (inwardly, if nothing else). Had I been a journalist in 1913, more than likely I would have decried it a mockery.
But here’s the thing: The Armory Show continues to this day–over 100 years later. That, my friends, is nothing at which to scoff.
As a matter of fact, it’s something to keep in mind as this century works to gain traction. Life, as in art, is often in the eye of the beholder. And more often than not, it’s not nations or leaders that make up compelling stories that pass the test of time, it’s regular, every day people, simply doing what they can.
Here’s hoping when the next century looks back on us, they’ll find we did something pretty great . . .
Photo: An overhead installation view of Gallery A at the Armory Show, 1913 / unidentified photographer. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, 1859-1984, bulk 1900-1949. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.