100 Years of Modern Art: the Lawyer & the Armory Show

Picasso-ChicagoThinking of visiting the Art Institute for the new exhibit “100 years of Picasso & Chicago“? Did you know a lawyer played a key role in the first exhibition that introduced Picasso to Chicago?

Nude Descending a Staircase - Duchamp

Nude Descending a Staircase – Duchamp
photo by Kristin Harvey

One hundred years ago the International Exhibition of Modern Art brought together more than 1,000 works from European and American artists that showed the development of modern art and helped to shock Americans out of the more conservative views about what art is that had previously held sway. Works by Brancusi, Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, and Seurat were displayed with American works by such artists as Bellows, Glackens, and Hopper.

The show first opened in February 1913 in New York, at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan, where it spent a month before a smaller version with 634 works traveled to Chicago and was exhibited at the Art Institute. After a month in Chicago, the exhibition moved on to Boston and was shown at the Copley Society.

The exhibition was organized by twenty-five artists who incorporated in 1912 as The Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS), a group whose sole purpose was to organize the Armory Show.

John QuinnBook and Photo

The Man from New York by B L Reid
with a photo of Picasso and John Quinn

The lawyer who helped them by incorporating the AAPS and lending more than seventy-five works from his own collection was John Quinn, a fascinating figure whose biography, The Man from New York: John Quinn and His Friends, won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for its author, B.L. Reid.  Read more about Quinn in the library’s copy of the book, shelved on the 8th floor at call number CT275.Q55 R4 1968.

At the time of his death in 1924, Quinn owned more than 3,000 works of art, mainly modern and African works, and a large trove of manuscripts written by Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, and other modern writers.

You can view this early exhibition online through The Art Institute website, viewing historic photographs of the exhibition as it appeared in Chicago . As you look at the photos with 21st century eyes, you may find it difficult to understand what all the fuss was about.

Keith Ann Stiverson
Director of the Library

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