by Kim Orcutt

Percy Rainford, Armory Show artists at dinner, 1913. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Percy Rainford, Armory Show artists at dinner, 1913. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

On March 8, 1913, nearly three weeks after the opening of the Armory Show and with only a week left before it closed in New York, the artists who organized the show arranged a beefsteak dinner at Healy’s Restaurant at 66th Street and Columbus Avenue for “our friends and enemies of the press.” According to newspaper accounts, it was an evening of bacchanalian hilarity: between courses, young women sang and danced, and so did the “giantesque and solemnal” artist D. Putnam Brinley, performing the turkey trot, the tango, and even the can-can with diminutive sculptor Jo Davidson. Antic imaginary telegrams were read aloud, like one from “California Consolidated Ostrich Farms” requesting a replica of Brancusi’s much-lampooned Mademoiselle Pogany to use as a nest egg for their hatchery. At the end of the dinner, an elderly gentleman in a top hat and frock coat tottered in and announced himself as a representative of the National Academy of Design, the august artist organization that the organizers considered their nemesis. They greeted him with uproarious laughter and gave him a cigar, and he joined in the dancing. In the spirit of the evening, the distinguished critic Royal Cortissoz offered his misgivings in a seriocomic vein: “It was a good show, but don’t do it again.”

It was a night to celebrate the Armory Show’s success. Attendance was reported at fifty thousand by that time, and newspaper accounts had been mostly favorable. But the victory dinner was premature – the most passionate debates in the press about the bold and sometimes puzzling new art movements were just beginning. They would continue through the Armory Show’s travel to Chicago and Boston, and for months and years afterward.

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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