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