The Armory Show: 1913 vs. 2013

02/27/2013 4:00 AM |


In 2013, The New York Armory Show (March 7-10), formerly known as The International Exhibition of Modern Art, celebrates its 100th anniversary. That’s a lot of history to look back upon, so we’re going to make things easy on ourselves and skip pretty much all of it. What follows is a comparison between the Armory that shocked and amazed audiences in 1913 and the Armory that shocks and amazes audiences today.

1913
Two-thirds of the paintings on view at the first Armory show were by American artists who’d been inspired by Rembrandt and Titian. The other third were by Europeans—Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp—whose work would challenge audiences and critics across the country.

2013
The Armory will show over 200 galleries from 30 countries, so I guess it’s as international as ever. Is it as challenging to art audiences, though? Not if you believe being challenged means being introduced to new, lesser-known artists. “Focus,” the invitation-only section of the fair meant to give exposure to under-recognized yet thriving communities, usually in other countries, will focus on the US this year. The world’s largest gallery, Gagosian Gallery, is among the invited participants, and will showcase Andy Warhol, the world’s best known artist. The Armory could stand to be a little more adventurous.

1913
President Roosevelt reviewed the show and hated it! He complains about titles quite a bit, and seems particularly upset about Marcel Duchamp’s famous “Nude Descending the Staircase”: “Take the picture which for some reason is called ‘A naked man going down stairs.’ There is in my bath-room a really good Navajo rug which, on any proper interpretation of the Cubist theory, is a far more satisfactory and decorative picture. Now if, for some inscrutable reason, it suited somebody to call this rug a picture of, say, ‘A well-dressed man going up a ladder,’ the name would fit the facts just about as well as in the case of the Cubist picture of the ‘Naked man going down stairs.’”

2013
No word from Mayor Bloomberg yet, but he usually reads a press release at the VIP preview. Here’s what he said last year: “The Art Show, Armory Show and all the fairs help underscore why the arts and our exceptional artists are so critical to our city every day of the year, and why we’ve made supporting the arts a top priority for our administration.”

Mayor Bloomberg is so committed to the arts that he threatened to cut the arts budget by nearly 40 percent. Sixty percent of that would come from the Cultural Development Fund, the money earmarked for new and emerging artists.

In sum, not that much has changed over the past 100 years.

1913
For the first time, the phrase “avant-garde” was used to describe painting and sculpture.

2013
No point getting your hopes up here. Those who still believe the avant-garde even exists have really warped its definition. See the following quote from a dealer, who recently spoke to the New York Observer‘s art blog on the condition of anonymity:

“The avant-garde now is about giving people what they want, wearing a $4,000 Prada suit, discovering that guy who’s going to make a ton of money at auction a year from now. Even the artists are market-driven. They see all their friends doing well, buying shit with all the money they make from dripping a little sweat on charcoal. So they end up wanting to take it to the source”—the Upper East Side, where the money is. “The avant-garde,” he said, “is about being with money.”

Photo Courtesy Art Institute Chicago