Saturday, August 3, 2013

Historical Co|So :: The Armory Show in Boston

This year marks the centennial of a hallmark of art in America – the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art (commonly referred to as the Armory Show), and the Copley Society is celebrating! With a series of events and exhibitions centered on the historic show, this summer Co|So will explore the impact of the exhibition that first introduced Americans to European Modern movements such as Fauvism, Cubism and Futurism.  The show originated in New York City at the 69th Regiment Armory (hence the common name), spent two weeks at the Art Institute of Chicago, and then made its final U.S. stop in Boston at the Copley Society.

Tom Stocker, Armory Show Nickel, 30 x 30, acrylic on board.

The artists featured in the Armory Show have since become household names (including Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi and Wassily Kandinsky), but in 1913 they were unknown to American audiences. These controversial works were brought to America by members of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) including Walt Kuhn, secretary and Arthur B. Davies, president, with the goal of educating the American public about modern European art. Under the auspices of the AAPS, over 2,000 paintings were shipped from Europe and the U.S. and exhibited at the Armory on Lexington Avenue from February 17 – March 15, 1913. 

Letter from Warren to Macomber of March 31, 1913 discussing the merits and demerits of the exhibition.
Reviews panned the exhibition.  The reception of the show was strongly felt, with the majority of viewers and art critics regarding the works as “degenerate” and “bad art.” During the planning stages of the Boston leg of the show, Arthur Davies and Edward Warren of the Copley Society discussed the impact and educational merits of the exhibition:

It is interesting to note the sentiment which is being expressed here.  Deep interest on the part of some and violent disgust and opposition on the part of others.  All that the Copley Society aims to do in giving this exhibition in Boston is to satisfy the desire of the public for knowledge of a type of work which has excited great curiosity.  We think it is fair that the people of Boston should be given this opportunity of judging for themselves the merits or demerits of this movement.
-Edward R. Warren of the Copley Society of Boston in a letter to Arthur B. Davies, president of the Association of American Painters & Sculptors, dated March 29, 1913

In time, the majority of artists featured at the Armory show would go on to join the pantheon of great 20th-century artists. 

Wendy Hale, Bridge Crossing, 36 x 28, watercolor.
The Copley Society is excited to celebrate the centennial of this significant and momentous period of art in America with two unique exhibitions – a members show of contemporary artworks inspired by the Modernists represented in the Amory Show, and a historical show of archival print materials from the original 1913 exhibition. Both exhibitions run through August 21, 2013, and can be viewed online here:

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