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Armory Show revisited, a century later

'In The Park-Promenade' by Bellows (1915) | BRIAN JACKSON ~ SUN-TIMES

"In The Park-Promenade" by Bellows (1915) | BRIAN JACKSON ~ SUN-TIMES

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‘For and Against
Modern Art: The Armory Show + 100’

♦ Through June 16

♦ DePaul Art Museum, 935 W. Fullerton

♦ Free admission

♦ (773) 325-7506;
www.Museums.depaul.edu

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The DePaul Art Museum is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the art show that had Chicagoans taking to the streets, confused, excited, unnerved, provoked.

“For and Against Modern Art: The Armory Show + 100” looks at the landmark 1913 show that featured 600 works of modern art at the Art Institute of Chicago. One out of eight Chicagoans saw the show, which originated at New York City’s 69th Regiment Armory and then moved to Boston after 23 days in Chicago.

“The Armory Show is possibly the most important exhibition in the history of American art a century ago, and very, very important in Chicago,” said Louise Lincoln, the DePaul Art Museum’s director. “A lot of people had forgotten about it.”

Though DePaul’s show is small — with 20 pieces in all — the artists featured include some big names, such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. These are the artists that “scandalized” this city a century ago.

“People went expecting it to be sensational and expecting it to be shocking,” Lincoln said of the Armory Show. “And their hopes were fulfilled.”

The Armory Show’s official name was The International Exhibition of Modern Art. When it opened in Chicago in March 1913, modern art’s steeply pitched perspective and cubist figures were the height of scandal in a crowd used to pristine nudes, serene landscapes and perfectly painted pictures of assorted fruit bowls.

“Contemporary art has a history of making people uncomfortable,” said Mark Pohlad, an associate professor of art history at DePaul University and guest curator for the show. “Even the title reflects that ­— for and against modern art. We wanted to recreate that sense of urgency.”

The Armory Show and the public protests against it painted Chicagoans as a bunch of cultural clods who weren’t open to art’s avant-
garde. Lincoln and Pohlad hope DePaul’s show invites visitors to consider why this art was considered scandalous and to reflect on how people in Chicago worked hard to understand what modern art was about.

“We wanted to say something different about the Armory show than the French ‘bad boys’ came here and made us look stupid,” Pohlad said. “We wanted to work on the margins and challenge these stereotypes. What is Chicago’s relation to modernism? Clearly, Chicago doesn’t hate modernism but it had to come to it on its own terms.”

The pieces in the exhibit, two years in the making, were all either featured at the Armory show or were by artists who exhibited there. Many were borrowed from other small Midwestern art museums, with a focus on prints and drawings. (The show travels to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts after its run at DePaul ends in June.)

Opened in 2011, the DePaul Art Museum is committed to at least one Chicago-themed show annually. Reflecting and celebrating the Armory show seemed like a natural fit, Lincoln said.

“The kind of earnest-seeking knowledge and experiences of visitors to the Armory Show is something I think is reflected in DePaul,” she said. “Our students and graduates have the same figure-it-out approach to our learning and experiences.”



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