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Three Cheers for the Avant-Garde

Over the course of a century, no dust has settled on the “scandal” of the 1913 Armory Show or the disparaging, sensational journalism that surrounded it. How can it be that such a rejected exhibition has become a watershed in the history of Modern art? It turns out, some people loved the work.

Mabel Dodge, who hosted regular salons in her Greenwich Village home, was known for gathering a roster of the who’s-who in the local avant-garde. “There is an exhibition coming,” she had said, “which is the most important public event that has ever come off since the signing of the Declaration of Independence." Along with Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (with whom she helped subsidize the fair) and Alfred Stieglitz, Dodge was a strong advocate for the Armory Show. “The academy are frantic. Most of them are left out of it. . . . I am all for it . . . there will be a riot and a revolution and things will never be quite the same afterwards,” she continued.

And Dodge was right. The art world would never be the same, and the exhibition that so shocked its visitors also found quite a few collectors among its 200,000 cumulative visitors. Over $44,000 worth of works sold, among those Cézanne’s Domaine Saint-Joseph (late 1880s) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (a major triumph to be inducted into a major American museum) and Kandinsky’s Garden of Love (1912) to Stieglitz himself. The exhibition that was allegedly run out of town only gained momentum as it traveled in strides to Chicago and then Boston, leaving behind an unprecedented volume of chatter. 

Photographs of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Alfred Stieglitz via Wikimedia Commons.

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