by Kim Orcutt

Elmer L. MacRae (American, 1875–1953), Battleships at Newport, 1912. Oil on canvas, 30 × 39⅛ in. (76.2 × 99.1 cm). Courtesy of the Biggs Museum of American Art, Dover, Delaware

Elmer L. MacRae (American, 1875–1953), Battleships at Newport, 1912. Oil on canvas, 30 × 39⅛ in. (76.2 × 99.1 cm). Courtesy of the Biggs Museum of American Art, Dover, Delaware

One of the most amazing, and least known, things about the 1913 Armory Show is that it was organized almost entirely by volunteers. The Association of American Painters and Sculptors that developed the exhibition was made up of twenty-five artists, and although most of them were involved in one way or another, a smaller group shouldered much of the burden – in fact, a few key people like A.A.P.S. President Arthur B. Davies and Secretary Walt Kuhn gave almost an entire year without compensation.

When people think of who organized the Armory Show they tend to focus on Davies, Kuhn, and Walter Pach, an American expatriate artist who also devoted a great deal of time to the exhibition. They often forget another artist, A.A.P.S. Treasurer Elmer MacRae (above is one of his paintings from the 1913 exhibition that you’ll see in our 2013 show). Susan G. Larkin, the pre-eminent expert on MacRae and his circle, has done fascinating research on MacRae that will come to light this fall in the exhibition catalogue for The Armory Show at 100. She concludes that his role was probably greater than we realized; MacRae himself remembered that there were “so many thrills, so much excitement.” He is also featured in an exhibition this fall at the Greenwich Historical Society.

Among other things, we know that MacRae took on a difficult and complex job as Treasurer. He handled large sums of money and kept the financial records for the show, which are available at the Archives of American Art. When the show was over, some people accused MacRae of mismanagement because the Armory Show didn’t make as much of a profit as they hoped it would, and newspapers reported that eight members of the A.A.P.S. resigned in protest. However, N-YHS Controller Donna Jeffrey examined the books from the 1913 exhibition and assured us that for a non-professional he did a decent job, and there’s no sign of wrongdoing — it was simply an expensive show to present, as most international exhibitions are. So we salute MacRae and give him our belated thanks, one hundred years later.

The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution is on view October 11, 2013 through February 23, 2013 at the New-York Historical Society.

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