Rethinking the Armory Show at N-YHS

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In 1913 — a few months short of a century ago — you are in New York City, not yet the world cultural capital. It’s a seething, manic place, with a powerful but provincial population. Wall Street is challenging London’s dominance of the international stock market, and finishing touches are being put on the highest high-rise on the planet, the Woolworth Building, in Lower Manhattan.

But beneath the cheers and the whir of machines, there is another sound: shouting, as 10,000 women demanding the vote march down Fifth Avenue, and a mass protest by striking mill workers fills Madison Square Garden to the explosion point.

At one time, a New Yorker rattled by noise and change could seek solace in art, in the visual smoothness and moral sureties of, say, Gilded Age painting, with its lush landscapes, classical tableaus and teatime interiors. Now, suddenly, that option was being all but closed....

“The Armory Show at 100,” scheduled to open at the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library a year from now, in October 2013, is conceived as a kind of reconstitution in miniature of the event, using 90 works from the original exhibition, along with archival materials — period photographs, newspaper clips, restaurant menus, postcards, popular prints — to evoke a social and intellectual context. The show will offer nuance to the standard shock-and-awe Armory story....

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