Back to 1913 and Scandalous Art

If you have a chance before February 23 to get to the New York Historical Society to see the Armory Show, you should do it. This famous show that took place at the 69th Regiment Armory at Lexington and 25th and 26th Streets has been recreated.


Of the original 1350 works 100 paintings, sculptures and prints are on loan for viewing. We are now completely comfortable with the Cubist and Fauve works deemed beyond the pale at the time, much as the outrage at Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiered that same year has died down (mostly). What a time for art and music.

In the ensuing 100 years, we have grown accustomed to Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”

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which, at the time, was a source of some amusement,

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and the other paintings that shocked viewers. It is hard for us to imagine that familiar works by Matisse,

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Van Gogh

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and Prendergast

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amazed people at the time though I certainly find that the Duchamp, Picabia

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and Bluemner

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paintings still startle me.

While the Gallerist’s Maika Pollack complained that the show relies on scholars’ essays rather than contemporary artists and curators for background information, and of course, the museum could only get hold of 10% of the original show, I think we have to be glad they succeeded as well as they did in giving us a look at the future with 1913 eyes. Next time you hear Rite of Spring, to enjoy the full savagery of the piece, try to listen with 1913 ears; I do.

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