Sunday February 17th marked the 100 year anniversary of the 1913 Armory Show, also known as the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art. The show was a turning point for modern art in America, featuring over 1200 works of art by European and American modernists. The exhibition introduced mainstream audiences to avant-garde artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Picasso, and Georges Braque. Though somewhat controversial (upon seeing some of the art Theodore Roosevelt famously cried “This is not art!”) the show was an overwhelming success and remains one of the most important exhibitions of the 20th century.
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (no. 2), 1912.
To celebrate the centennial, the Archives of American Art (AAA) have launched “1913 Armory Show: The Story in Primary Sources”. The AAA holds the largest collection of primary source material related to the exhibition from planning through to execution and the critical discussion that followed.
The exhibition really is a wealth of information. The main feature of the website is a time line of hundreds of scanned documents, covering the years 1911 – 1914. Other pages include a “Who’s Who”, and detailed bibliography. It may be that we don’t often give much thought to the “behind the scenes” events that surround exhibitions, but there is so much to be learned from digging through the archival material. The AAA shows just how compelling and important archival documents can be in telling a story of a moment in time. All the drama, anticipation, satisfaction and controversy come to life through the personal correspondence of those involved. And the reaction of the public and critics informs us more about that time in art than only looking could ever do.
Check out the site for yourself and see what you think! We’d love to hear how you feel about digital exhibitions, the use of a linear timeline to narrate the story, or maybe interesting things you find going through the material.