Considering the pioneering role the photographer Alfred Stieglitz played in promoting modern art in New York, and the clear debt the Armory Show owed to his efforts, one might wonder why he didn’t help plan the exhibition.
Stieglitz opened 291 gallery – officially the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession—in New York in October 1905, and there he introduced works by French avant-garde artists including Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso to a brand new audience. His magazine devoted to pictorial photography, Camera Work, was another way he promoted modern art. Stieglitz also led organizations such as the Camera Club of New York, and encouraged the circle of American artists who gathered around him to incorporate radical pictorial techniques into their own work.
The art historian Charles Brock suggests that the huge, commercial, heavily publicized Armory Show was antithetical to Stieglitz’s ideals. 291 was an “experiment station,” an intimate setting where serious artists could view drawings and works-in-progress. Moreover, Stieglitz preferred to be on the cutting edge, and consolidating his past achievements in a larger showcase would not have interested him.
Nonetheless, Stieglitz supported the Armory Show’s goal of promoting new art in America, and so he backed it in many ways: He gave interviews to New York newspapers about it; he lent several works from his own collection to be exhibited; he encouraged the artists in his circle to participate; and he purchased objects from the show, including one of the most radical, Wassily Kandinsky’s abstract canvas Improvisation 27 (reproduced here).
As the exhibition approached, Stieglitz was thrilled that the American conversation about modern art was about to explode. In an article for the January 26, 1913, edition of the Sunday Times, he wrote:
The dry bones of dead art are rattling as they never rattled before . . . . A score or more of painters and sculptors who decline to go on doing merely what the camera does better, have united in a demonstration of independence—an exhibition of what they see and dare express in their own way—that will wring shrieks of indignation from every ordained copyist of “old masters” on two continents and their adjacent islands.
Megan Fort, Ph.D.
Research Assistant, Museum Department
New-York Historical Society
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.