This weekend, the Montclair Art Museum went back to modernity with its exciting exhibition, The New Spirit: American Art in the Armory Show, 1913. Celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the original Armory Show, this tribute to The International Exhibition of Modern Art immerses visitors in the artistic mores surrounding the planning and building of our own Montclair Art Museum, which will celebrate its centennial next year. Showing through June 16th, 2013, The New Spirit is stunning and colorful, and it feels every bit as modern as it was during its three-week stay in Manhattan during the last century.
As co-curators, Gail Stavitsky, MAM’s chief curator, and guest curator Laurette McCarthy have re-created the Armory Show’s original atmosphere with yellow canopies, burlap-covered walls, and greenery framing the entire exhibition. These environmental efforts are appreciated and effective, but they can’t compete with the vibrant artwork on display.
The variety of styles—from cubist to post-impressionist to sensual sculpture—ensures one of the goals of The New Spirit exhibition: to show off the creative, inventive styles of the American artists who made up two-thirds of the original Armory Show, but received a minimum of press coverage at the time. Ms. Stavitsky explains, “The look is completely different [from the Europeans], not mere imitation.” A particular example is Kathleen McEnery’s Going to the Bath. Hanging next to the first Matisse on display at the Montclair Art Museum (Nude in a Wood), McEnery’s piece shows influence, as well as a personality all its own.
Other intentions behind the careful curation of this exhibit include highlighting the many mediums included in the 1913 Armory Show, especially sculpture. Chester Beach’s marble Unveiling of Dawn greets visitors in the first room, and it elicited an overheard exclamation of “It’s so sexy!” A trio of bronze bathers in Abastenia St. Leger Eberle’s Wading series are also fantastic to view. The New Spirit also focuses on a number of female artists, reminding us that 20 percent of the original show’s American artists were women.
Make sure to also spend some time in MAM’s lobby which currently houses Museum-owned works by artists who showed in the original Armory Show of 1913. The paintings exhibited there, including Prendergast’s stunning Still Life: Fruit and Flowers, are a wonderful lead into the main exhibit. In the adjoining lobby gallery, visitors to MAM can see primary documents, like the personal record of sales at the 1913 show of Walter Pach, one of the artist-organizers of the Armory Show. It’s a fascinating collection of archival material lent by the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art.
Complementing the Armory Show exhibition is Oscar Bluemner’s America: Picturing Paterson, New Jersey. Not only does Bluemner have a painting in The New Spirit show, it reflects a true modernity of subject and style from the New York area. The pieces in this Paterson-centric exhibit prove why Bluemner was dubbed “The Vermillionaire.” An emphasis on crimson, whether in watercolor, oil, or in the colored pencil pieces makes this exhibit vibrant and powerful. A special event on March 7th, 2013, Painting the Red City: Oscar Bluemner’s Portrayals of Paterson, New Jersey, led by with Curator, Dr. Roberta Smith Favis, will focus on the intersection of the artistic career of American Modernist Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938) and the history of Paterson, New Jersey, during the turbulent years surrounding the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913. For more information, see the Montclair Art Museum’s calendar.
Both exhibits run through June 16th, 2013 at the Montclair Art Museum.
3 South Mountain Avenue
Montclair, New Jersey 07042-1747
Hours: Wednesdays through Sundays, Noon – 5 p.m.