New carriage, old Central Park (AHGunther photo).
By Arthur H. Gunther III
MANHATTAN — On a snowy Saturday that did not seem to bother hardened Gothamites and assorted visitors, a trip to the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library to see the near end of “The Armory Show at 100” was art in itself.
The original 1913 installation at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue offered about 1,250 paintings, sculptures and decorative works by more than 300 European and American artists. The new exhibition, “The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution,” features approximately 100 masterworks from the first show, which was a watershed art event, introducing work that swung to the avant-garde and which shook up American audiences, critics and the art establishment.
1913 Armory provided the path for baby steps toward the abstractionism that would increasingly rule into the 1970s and so affect every other art form, continuing through today.
Since the Historical Society is about, well, history, the new exhibition revisits the original from an art-historical point of view, spotlighting artists, audiences, political and economic themes, music and literature.
Radical for its time, on the doorstep of the cataclysmic Great War, the unregulated greed of the 1920s and the subsequent Great Depression, 1913 Armory offered a look at the early works of such painters as Picasso, Renoir, Duchamp, Cezanne, Bellows, Henri, Hopper, Degas, Van Gogh, Seurat, Matisse, many others and that of the 1913 co-organizer Arthur B. Davies. The theme was that times were a-changin.’ The installation of living American and foreign artists, favoring works ignored or rejected by past exhibitions, however shocking in 1913, would embolden American artists and give them voice, independence and “artistic language” of their own. The logo for the International Exhibition of Modern Art show was “The New Spirit,” and that it was.
The present armory show, which closes Feb. 23 and is a tribute to such Historical Society officials as Brian Allen, director of the Museum Division, and
Marilyn Satin Kushner, PhD, curator and head, Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections, is set in intimate rooms reminiscent of the paneled sections of the original installation. You see up close what the fuss was all about as you look at this challenging art.
When visitors left the Historical Society Saturday, they faced even more history, literally, as snow pushed against face and a carriage could be seen in the old Central Park, not unlike that of a Saturday in 1913 or long before. That there has been both continuity in human affairs, in ordinary living, in the daily goings-on of a metropolis such as New York City while culture constantly changes and evolves gives proof that you can grow, as the 1913 Armory Show implored, but also stray grounded, as Central Park and the Historical Society show us every day.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This essay may be reproduced.