New York and the Armory Show

by Louise Mirrer

View of Manhattan South from the Manhattan Bridge, 1913
It was called The International Exhibition of Modern Art, a roundup of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints by artists that most Americans had never heard of in 1913:  Cézanne, Redon,   Seurat, Van Gogh, Brancusi, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dufy, Braque, Duchamp, Gauguin, and others.  It would be a bombshell of a show, the organizers thought.  They were right.  The art was unnerving in its blend of mechanism with life, radical in its bold colors and forms, revolutionary in its overthrow of prevailing cultural norms.  It anticipated the Machine Age, psychoanalysis, the tumult of labor reform, the campaign for women’s suffrage, even the bombs of 1914.  Everywhere people debated the show.  Even President Theodore Roosevelt weighed in, defending the exhibitors’ right to display “art forces which of late have been at work in Europe,” but at the same time calling the movement “extremist.”  A media sensation that had a seismic effect on the public, it was, according to the art patron, Mabel Dodge who wrote about it to Gertrude Stein, “the most important public event…since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”   Dodge predicted it would cause “a riot and a revolution and things will never be the same afterwards.”

She was right. The exhibition changed the consciousness—and cultural identity—of New York and America forever.  Which is why, one hundred years after the show took place at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City—giving the exhibition its better known name, The Armory Show—the New-York Historical Society, New York’s first museum and destination for history, has reassembled one hundred of its original works.  The Armory Show at 100, which opens in October 2013, shows this history-changing event in a once-in-a-lifetime light in New-York Historical’s landmark building on Central Park West: a moment in history, full of dizzying change and uncertainty, which would build toward the convulsion of World War I and launch the twentieth century.

George P. Hall & Son
View of Manhattan South from the Manhattan Bridge, 1913
Gelatin silver print
New-York Historical Society