ARMORY INTERVIEW : ERIC SHINER

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Eric Shiner is the man behind Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum. He’s also this year’s Armory Focus curator, turning the Armory Show spotlight — now in its 100th year — to US-based artists of the now. As a curator, he has a very strong voice — he’s commissioned an on-site tower of Brillo boxes in tribute to Warhol by Charles Lutz, and light sculpture by Peter Liversidge — and he’s also orchestrating an installation and performance at Ace Hotel New York we’ll tell you about soon… Another distinguishing facet: if you Google Image search him, you find a lot of guys named Eric with black eyes. We recently talked with Mr. Shiner a little bit about the centennial and these last hundred years of art.

Is the centennial of the first Armory Show an inspiration or a long shadow that it’s hard to get out from under? If the lead-up to WWI was the catalyst for the revolutions that were going on then in art, should we just be happy our own malaise are tame by comparison? Does art benefit from adversity and how much adversity is enough/too much?

I can safely say that the first Armory Show is just one of the countless change agents that have occurred in the art world over the past 100 years, although it is certainly an important one. For me, it was simply a point of reference for the Focus Section of The Armory Show, and I am including one installation that makes a direct reference on Marcel Duchamp, whose work at the 1913 Armory certainly ruffled many feathers. War and political upheaval do indeed act as a major influencer on the art being made in that period, but it’s important to note that the Armory was in 1913, with World War I starting a year later in 1914, so there is no connection to that specific war, but more broadly to the cataclysmic social change that was unfolding on a number of fronts in Europe at the time. Art always benefits from adversity, and so too does art present a fair amount of necessary adversity to its audiences. I think that great art should always make the viewer somewhat uncomfortable, challenging them to think in new ways. So, in the end, too much is never enough.

As curator of the Focus section, the country you got handed was the United States of America. That’s a big, rich country. How do you even start to narrow it down?

Yes, indeed. America is a very big thing, both in terms of geography and in more importantly in terms of its psychographic presence in the world, both within and without its borders. It’s true that it is a big, rich country… for some that’s very true, but I think it is critically important to always remember that for many, it is a very poor country with millions of people facing actual need on a daily basis. America is nothing more than a continual series of juxtapositions, from Big to Small, Rich to Poor, Liberal to Conservative. One might even say it is a series of never-ending internal strife and conflict — something that keeps it alive, if nothing else.  This being the case, I didn’t narrow anything down at all. I simply addressed some of the juxtapositions that make up this nation, and selected artists who make a career out of always questioning the powers that be, in one form or another.

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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 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.  

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.  


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