Saturday, August 10, 2013

Historical Co|So :: The Armory Show in Boston Part II

Every city on the Armory Show tour was taking a risk in exhibiting the controversial art of the Modernist painters.  Even New York City, the American art capital was nervous to see the work of the degenerate artists arrive.  While New York may have been taking a risk, Boston was causing a scandal! In the historically more conservative city, the works in the 1913 exhibition were considered downright outrageous to some of the members of the Copley Society of Boston.

John Monteiro, Horse, 14 x 16 1/2, scratchboard.

Before arriving in Boston, the Armory show stopped in in New York and Chicago.  Often thought of as the most famous event to link the European movements of Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism to the U.S., the show took both cities by storm.  Hosted at the 69th Regiment Armory in NYC the show featured over 2,000 paintings by both European and American artists.  In comparison, space constraints at the Copley Society of Boston only allowed for 244 paintings, all by European artists, to be displayed.  Before traveling back east, the exhibition had a tumultuous reception at the Art Institute of Chicago, where students and patrons incited a protest against the art on display. 

Floor Plan of Copley and Allston Halls in the Grundmann Studio Building, 194 Clarendon Street, Boston.
Despite the willingness of the Copley Society to take a chance with the Armory Show, there was significant debate between the members.  A letter written by Frank Gair Macomber to fellow Copley Society member Edward R. Warren expressed his concern in being associated with supporting provocative European artists:

“We all feel that the Society should avoid seeming to give any sanction to the movement.”
               -Letter from Edward Warren to Frank Macomber, March 31, 1913

The Society made it clear that the exhibition was brought to Boston purely as an educational tool: they wanted to give the public a chance to form their own opinions of the art without seeming to endorse any of the movements. Even so, the Society worried about the immediate reception of the Boston public. In his letter to Walt Kuhn, secretary of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, Warren lamented:

“It takes time in Boston, even in the case of an unusual exhibition to awake public interest.” 
               -Letter from Edward Warren to Walter Kuhn, March 21, 1913

Unfortunately, this turned out to be true as the Boston show attracted only a fraction of the number of New York and Chicago visitors. 

Vcevold Strekalovsky, Addison County I, 20 x 26, oil.
Though it may have taken a bit more time to awaken interest in Boston, the Copley Society is proud to have been a part of the historic show!  Join us in celebrating 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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