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Earlier this year, Frieze Art Fair invaded New York to much acclaim, shaking up the Armory Show art fair’s monopoly in the city. Then came the retirement of the Armory Show’s director of 18 years and the news that the historic fair was going up for sale (no one has bought it yet). It seems safe to say that the future of our version of the Armory Show is uncertain.
Its past, however, is undisputed: The fair, or the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, as it was officially known, was a watershed moment, introducing American artists and the art-viewing public to the European avant-garde, including artists like Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp, Brancusi, and more. And now, just in time for the show’s centennial next year, we know a little more about it, thanks to two newly rediscovered installation photographs from the original fair.
The pictures were found by art historian Laurette E. McCarthy, who details her discovery on the blog of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. Taken by the Armory Show’s official photographers, the Hagelstein Brothers, they depict the Cubist room — with a painting by Duchamp and a sculpture by Alexandre Orchifenko, among other pieces — and the Matisse room at the show.
Although the pictures were published in the New York Tribune at the time and then included in organizer Walter Kuhn’s first scrapbook of press clippings for the show, they were laid in the book sideways, and so repeatedly missed by scholars and researchers ever since. According to McCarthy, a Duchamp scholar verified for her that the photos have not been reproduced since 1913.
Now they’re being republished in time for the Armory Show’s 100th anniversary, which the New-York Historical Society has announced it will celebrate with an exhibition next fall. The Armory Show at 100 sounds like a fantastic exhibition: it will include some 75 artworks that were on view in the original exhibition, including Cezanne’s “View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph,” Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase,” and Tahitian paintings by Gauguin; plus archival material — artifacts, photos, documents, etc. — to explicate both the history of the show itself and the context in which it took place.
McCarthy also writes in her blog post about an Armory anniversary exhibition opening at the Montclair Art Museum exactly 100 years to the day after the original. The influence and status of the current Armory Show may be waning, but for next year, at least, we’ll have plenty of reminders of why it was so important.
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