In its review of the 1913 Armory Show, entitled Lawless Art, the magazine Art and Progress decried the work displayed by “extremists” who, had their work “been excluded, this exhibition would have attracted no more notice than the hundred and one other exhibitions that are successively held in New York.” About this they were right. The reviewer personifies these quieter exhibitions as “a comely woman modestly gowned” that “can pass through any crowded thoroughfare without attracting attention, but let her bedeck herself gayly and improperly and every head will be turned in her direction.”
In actuality 1913 did more than turn heads, it spun them on there axes Exorcist style, as revolutionary artists unleashed battalions of esthetic floozies improperly bedecked in Cubist, Post-Impressionist and Dadaist dress on unready publics from the rioters at the Paris premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring to the reviewers of the much-scorned exhibition of art at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York.
Around the corner from our New York home at his tiny 291 gallery — where many of the most controversial European artists had first been show in America — Alfred Stieglitz resolved to build on the new momentum brought to insurgent art, at 291 and in his art journal by the same name. In Mental Reactions, poet Agnes Ernst Meyer contemplates the dangers of a life lived silently as her words cleave themselves into phrase-shapes interlaced with the jagged forms of artist Marius de Zayas. We’re celebrating the centennial of the pivotal moment when the compass of art descended a staircase and the world irrevocably lost its bearings at this year’s Armory Show and all year long — on the blog and in the streets.
In 1912, Alfred Stieglitz presented a showcase of water colors, drawings and pastels by children in his epochal gallery 291, named for its address on Fifth Avenue, around the corner from The Breslin Hotel where Ace Hotel New York now makes its home. The gallery was the first to introduce Americans to revolutionary European artists like Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Brancusi, Picabia, Duchamp, Rodin and Rousseau, as well as homegrown visionaries like Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Alfred Maurer and Georgia O’Keeffe. It was also the first American gallery to treat children’s art as something worthy of contemplation. In 1913, The Armory Show brought many of the artists first shown in America at 291 to the masses, and the mainstream press, to a famously mixed reception. As we approach the centennial of the original Armory Show in March 2013, and our own celebratory gallery show in the lobby of excerpts from the show’s Focus section — a look at thriving but under-recognized art communities around the world — we’ll take a few glances back at the little gallery around the corner that changed everything.