The recently opened Picasso and Chicago will celebrate the long history of the artist’s relationship with the city. But 100 years ago this month, when the art of Picasso and his contemporaries was displayed at the museum for the very first time, it was met with shock, controversy, outrage. . . and record-breaking crowds. In 1913, the Art Institute hosted the International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known today as the Armory Show. That revolutionary exhibit introduced the Chicago public to some of the most radical art of the day.
The Armory Show had such a huge impact on modern art in America that critics and art historians have continued to write about it for the last 100 years. To offer something new, we wanted to create an in-depth and interactive resource about how the exhibit came to be, what the public thought about it, and even what it looked like. This month we’ve launched a special online exhibition all about the Armory Show in Chicago and its legacy.
Just as the organizers of the Armory Show wanted to embrace the “new spirit” of the times, the online exhibition marks this important anniversary in a way that celebrates 1913 but belongs to 2013. A permanent part of the museum’s website, the Armory Show online exhibit will be a lasting tribute to the show that established the Art Institute as a venue for modern art and that changed the course of art collecting in Chicago. This project called for a museum-wide team, involving many different departments. Old newspapers were scoured, personal letters were brought to light again, and the original exhibition pamphlets were tracked down and digitized. Now you can tour the 1913 show on your phone or tablet while walking through the very same galleries today. Or read about the fate of “Henry Hairmatress” at home in your pajamas.
Possibly the most exciting part of the website is the gallery explorer. Looking at photographs of the exhibition found in our Archives, we went through each image trying to identify as many works of art as we could. High-res scans of the photos let us zoom in incredibly close, and we were able to recognize previously unidentified works. Now on the website, you can take a virtual tour of the Armory Show, wander through the museum galleries as they looked 100 years ago, and find out where many of the artworks can be found today. Try and spot the works that now belong to Art Institute’s permanent collection—many of which are currently on view in a special presentation in the third floor of the Modern Wing.
Visitors to the website will quickly learn that the Art Institute’s audience was not shy about voicing their opinions back in 1913, and we hope you’ll share your thoughts, too.
—Allison Perelman, Research Associate in Medieval through Modern European Painting and Sculpture