I have been working on the life and work of Walter Pach—a painter and critic who was instrumental in the organization of the Foreign Section of the 1913 Armory Show—for nearly twenty years. My research began in graduate school with the encouragement and blessings of my dissertation advisers (the late Bill Homer and Bill Agee), and lately I have made especially important progress, starting with the biography of Pach I published in 2011. The coming centenary of the Armory Show, which opened on February 17, 1913, will, I am certain, bring him a lot of much-deserved attention from scholars and the public.
Three years ago, this outcome would have seemed unlikely to me. I began contacting museums in New York, Chicago, and Boston in summer 2009 to see if they had any plans for the centennial. Shockingly, not one museum had anything in the works. So I got in touch with Gail Stavitsky, with whom I had had the pleasure of working with on the Montclair Art Museum’s show Cézanne and American Modernism. She replied that the museum did not yet have any plans but probably should, and so we began work on what is culminating soon in “The New Spirit: American Art in the Armory Show, 1913” at the Montclair Art Museum, opening on February 17, 2013, exactly 100 years after the original exhibition.
Other projects got underway too. I contributed an essay to the forthcoming catalogue of the New-York Historical Society’s exhibition “The Armory Show at 100,” which opens in October 2013; and the Archives of American Art Journal commissioned me to write an essay reviewing new scholarship since the seventy-fifth anniversary in 1988.
I knew a lot about the Armory Show from Walter Pach’s perspective, but I still had a lot of research to do, and I began where I almost always start—the primary sources. Two lengthy research trips to Washington, D.C., resulted in many new “rediscoveries,” the most interesting of which was the identification and attribution of two installation photographs by Hagelstein Brothers, the official photographers for the Armory Show.
About a year ago, somewhere in my notes about some unmicrofilmed materials from the Archives of American Art's Research Center in Washington, D.C., I came across a reference: New-York Tribune, February 17, 1913, p. 7, 2 installation photographs. Several months later, when I typed the title of the paper and the date into a search engine, much to my surprise, up popped the Library of Congress’s “Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers” website with a hit for the February 17, 1913, edition of the New-York Tribune. Okay, I thought, it’s just going to be the same old images that have been reproduced ad infinitum, but they were not!
The photographs are actually pasted right into the first scrapbook of Armory Show press clippings that have been available at the Archives for decades, but because they are cut out and mounted sideways on the page—the compiler was obviously much more interested in the readability of the text—they are easy to miss. Newly digitized in their original layout, and expandable with a zoom function to a much larger size, the photographs are stunning; until now, they have been unrecognized for what they are: installation views of the Cubist room or “Chamber of Horrors,” as gallery “I” was called, and gallery “H,” or the Matisse room.
I knew immediately that these photographs, which a Duchamp scholar verified had not been reproduced since 1913, had to be included in my essay for the upcoming issue of the Archives of American Art Journal. And so, 100 years after they first appeared, these shots are being reproduced, again, for the first time since the opening day of the famed 1913 Armory Show.
Guest blogger Laurette E. McCarthy is an independent scholar and curator. She is an authority on Walter Pach and a leading Armory Show scholar.
Explore selected 1913 Armory Show-related resources at the Archives of American Art:
- 1913 Armory Show: the Story in Primary Sources, digital timeline
- On the Anniversary of December 14th, by Kelly Quinn
- The Story of the Armory Show, online exhibition on the Archives of American Art's website
- Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, 1859-1978, bulk 1900-1949
- The story of the Armory Show / by Walt Kuhn, 1938
- 1913 Armory Show, 50th anniversary exhibition records, 1962-1963
- Armory Show (International Exhibition of Modern Art) memorabilia, 1913
- Walter Pach papers, 1857-1980
- Virginia Teague papers relating to the Armory Show, 1913-1952, bulk 1913-1917