23 April 2007

What A Scandal!

My latest historical to be released, Eliza’s Hope, is set during the 1910s. Readers ask me how I decide on a time period. Sometimes it's simple as I want to include a certain event in history. For Eliza's Hope, I chose 1913 because of the New York Amory Show. Okay, partly, because I'm an artist and so art creeps into my books. But, what fascinated me about this particular exhibit was for the first time, thousands of Americans were able to perceive another way of viewing the world through the eyes of the European post-modernists painters. And, the scandal it caused!

The Armory Show was held from February 17 through March 15, 1913. Over 1300 art pieces were displayed in the National Guard armory building on Lexington Avenue, New York. Mabel Dodge and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney financially backed the show (interesting it was two women who took the risk). You'll recognize many of the painters exhibited -– Degas, Manet, Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, along side American Ashcan and Impressionists painters. It's written that 88,000 people viewed this exhibit in New York, and after it traveled to Chicago and Boston, the viewers reached to an astronomical 250,000. The notoriety encouraged the crowds and the bad press. "Degenerate," "Revolting," "the chatter of anarchistic monkeys" -- as you can see from these few choice words, the exhibit generated severe hostility and derision from the public and the art critics. And much of this fierce hostility was directed to Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2.

Modern art threatened the American political ideology of democracy and capitalism. Radical art and political ideas flourished side by side and side, in particular, seen printed in the American socialist magazine The Masses. There were American artists at the time challenging the old guard – the National Academy. Painters, such as John Sloan, George Bellows, Stuart Davis, were pushing the envelope of accepted good taste in art. Yet, their work was mild in comparison to the Europeans. The public opinion was that modern art was made by firebrand foreigners with leftist political leanings. You can see how this alone challenged America’s way of life.

Despite condemnation, the Amory show sparked aesthetic experimentation among American artists and inspired a new generation of art patrons interested in modern art. From the Armory Show sprang up future modern art exhibits. This radical exhibit caused a ripple effect, changing the face of American art.

To read more about my research, visit my archives at my website -- http://www.vickigaia.com/research.htm

7 comments:

Karen Mercury said...

Hey! I used to have that "Nude Descending a Staircase" on my wall. Loved it! What a fascinating subject for a novel...

Sandra Schwab said...

I love anecdotes about scandals in the world of the arts! What a cool thing to include in your story -- are you also describing the shocked reactions of people who came to see the exhibition?

Vicki Gaia said...

I didn't realize how many Duchamp did of his Nude...the one I have posted is No. 22! He's quite an interesting man and it'd be fun to do a novel based on his life. Sandra, I have a scene where William takes Eliza to the exhibit, because she's a 'New Woman' and wants to experience every new and radical idea that New York has to offer. She's enthralled and he's confused (typical man! :)

Camilla said...

Ooh! I was just reading about this in one my research novels!

Vicki Gaia said...

Camilla ~ what are your researching?

Camilla said...

Since my time period is 1890-1914, I have a lot of books about that time period. In particular, I was just reading the book 1913 by Virginia Cowles, which chronicles the major cities of the world in that year and the chapter on New York mentioned the scandal of that painting and September Morn.

Eliza said...

Like I mentioned before, I'm really looking forward to the book -- even more now that I know more about it!