Monday, March 24, 2014

1913, The New York City Armory Show

1913: In Search of the World Before The Great War
After reading an article in AMERICAN ARTS QUARTERLY, that I disagreed with,  I started a more detailed search for what happened at The Armory Show of 1913 in New York City. Even though I couldn't find the book definitively about it for free from my library (using the iOS App Overdrive) I did stumble across a book titled 1913. So I downloaded that.

George Santayana, the great philosopher stated, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Back to the Armory Show first. The Quarterly correctly noted that the critics and most American Museums hated the European artists that many had seen for the very first time at this show. In fact, no major museum purchased any art by those artists (except for a few American artists) for decades. Van Gogh was dismissed as being unable to lay a smooth layer of paint on canvas. Duchamp had no skills with real life so reduced life to lines and so on. The howls continued on to Chicago's Art Institute and Boston's fine art museum.

What the article didn't say, and this book does, is that the American public was at worst shocked yet loved the show! Just about every American artist who saw the show and American art in particular changed forever. It was the permission they needed to paint how and what they really felt! Many works were purchased by American private collectors as they already had been in Europe and Russia. So much for critics, then and now!

What 1913 makes sadly clear, and everyone should take Santayana's warning to heart, is that what he clearly stated is true. Emmerson covers the entire world telling about events in 1913, the year before the great war. ALL, and I do mean all of the usual suspects are here just like they are 101 years later. Turkey falling apart as the Ottoman Empire fades, the Jews immigrating to Palestine and the very same worries by the locals exists today. You have Europe with an ascendant Germany worrying an increasingly xenophobic France (heard about the Nationalist party that wants to pull out of the EU?), the Balkans chaffing under the thumb of the Austra-Hungary Empire, fears that if China ever gets its act together will be a force to reckon with. The list goes on and on. No country or its peoples are missed in this amazing and sadly prescient discussion. What makes it sad is that we haven't learned a thing.

Russia was considered a bully in 1913 JUST like it is today. The Russians and British were politely fighting over Iran but for different reasons. Russia didn't want to be isolated and Britain realized they needed the oil in Iran to modernize their fleet and protect their colonies in India, Australia, New Zealand and points west. Wars have been fought over the Crimera before but Russia, more or less landlocked because of weather and geography needed the open year round Black Sea ports. If Ukraine turned to the west, what did that mean to Russia? Same thing it did in 1913. Isolation.

People, and no I don't just mean Americans, need to look at their history a bit more. The British in 1913 were closely studying Ancient Rome. It was openly talked and written about in fact. While they may have been studying it, they obviously didn't learn any lessons. Reading the papers and of course watching TV and following on the Internet, the question then is, do we? Will we learn from history?

Everyone of the European artists at the Armory Show went on to fame, though rarely to fortune. Julian Barnes, the great collector from Philadelphia purchased 583 pieces of Impressionistic and Expressionistic art. He was not alone. Every major museum in the United States proudly displays their European art from that period and a Van Gogh is considered a high point in any collection. I remember when the Getty Museum here in California purchased IRISES for $56 million, then the most expensive painting in history, then hid it in the back of their multi-media room because they didn't know what to do with it. It finally prompted them to spend $1 billion for Getty Center and a much broader selection of art. We have learned artistically. Oh, if we could learn historically!

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