"The Part Played By Women:" The Gender of Modernism at the Armory Show
The Gender of Modernism at the Armory Show
Subsequent accounts of the Armory Show have similarly characterized women's involvement in the 1913 exhibition as collectors of the new art. A prime example, reprinted in the 1975 collection of source documents on the show (as was Crowninshield's Vogue article), is Meyer Schapiro's "Armory Show in Retrospect" from Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries: Selected Papers, first published in 1952 and later called "Rebellion in Art." In this essay, Shapiro also emphasized a gendered pattern of modern art consumption:
Women, it is worth noting, were among the chief friends of the new art, buying painting and sculpture with a generous hand. Art as a realm of finesse above the crudities of power appealed to the imaginative, idealistic wives and daughters of magnates occupied with their personal fortunes . . . At this moment of general stirring of ideas of emancipation, women were especially open to manifestations of freedom within the arts (Shapiro 162).Schapiro's parallel between the collection of paintings and sculpture and the suffrage movement, like Crowninshield's account, does little to explore the conditions of these women's patronage. Shapiro's account, like Crowninshield's, is also silent about the participation of women artists in the Armory Show.
By indicating the role of women in the Armory Show as consumers of the new cultural products, Crowninshield helps to disguise the position of these particular women within the field of cultural production, both as producers of cultural objects themselves and as connoisseurs with access to an education in modern art before the Armory Show.
Patrons of modern art in the early 20th century provided cultural legitimacy to the avant-garde and to modern artists working in Europe and America, and women are counted among the most visible and active in institutionalizing modern art: Katherine Dreier through the Société Anonyme, Lillie Bliss and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller through the Museum of Modern Art, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney through the Whitney Studio Club, later the Whitney Museum of American Art. The depiction of women as financial supporters persists as the primary way of understanding women's involvement in the Armory Show. As such, it excludes women artists from the story of the Armory Show, which has become such an integral part of modern art in America. Milton Brown, who wrote the most extensive published account of the Armory Show to date, does not single out women as patrons at the Armory Show, for he acknowledges the equal number of male consumers of Duchamps, Picabias, and Duchamp-Villons; he does, however, emphasize the importance of economic assistance by women before and after the show. The women who donated money to the Armory Show, both for organizational funds and through purchases of works, become reduced in Brown's account to a set of doting admirers surrounding the charming but calculating president of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, Arthur B. Davies. In his Story of the Armory Show, Brown indicates "the general feeling" that Davies' election as president of the AAPS was based on his financial connections, funds Davies could "manipulate [from] a whole circle of devoted women art patrons" (Brown, Story 59). The emphasis on women's role as financiers is also apparent in the AAPS' organizational body. Unlike the 1917 Society of Independents, which counted three women among the founders, the Armory Show's list of officers included women only as Honorary Vice Presidents. Both Mabel Dodge and Clara Davidge received this title along with Stieglitz, Monet, Renoir, and Redon.
Elsewhere, art historians have discussed the decided shift between 19th- and 20th-century art patronage in America, the latter developing out of an increased engagement with the works and the artists themselves. Brown describes the new American collector not in his book on the Armory Show, but in his survey of early 20th-century American art: "None of them were rulers of vast financial or industrial empires. In many cases they were living on inherited wealth . . . They were less concerned with the accumulation of luxury objects as an expression of wealth, prestige, or power" (Brown, American Painting 92). Barbara Rose also indicates the motivations of art patrons who began collecting in the years around the Armory Show: "These new collectors differed from their predecessors in that they immersed themselves in the art of the present and became its evangelists . . . they also were advised, not by connoisseurs or dealers, but by artists" (Rose, Readings 79). Early modernists were most often supported by a few select patrons who were already familiar with the artists or who grew to know them closely. Critics at the time of the Armory Show expressed contentions about the intellectual and educational requirements to accept the new art in an effort to legitimize it at the Armory Show. John Weichsel's article, "The Rampant Zeitgeist," published in Camera Work in 1913, praises of the "class of thinkers [who] are sponsors for the most recent art, the most ingenious of any that ever existed" (Weichel 16). These patrons were not the industrial capitalists (who had been the primary collectors in the 19th century) but a new class of cultural aesthetes with fewer liquid assets but more social credibility. They were the readers and followers of Neitzsche, Bergson, Whitman, Veblen, and often Blavatsky. They represented a professed desire to keep the art market autonomous from the markets for other goods where "it is not for the maker to set the goal for art, but for the buyer" (Weichel 16). These highbrow patrons were also distinct from lowbrow art enthusiasts who were "acted upon by emotions infinitely more than by philosophical justification" (Weichel 16). Weichel offers up a modern art patron who is intelligent, educated, rational, and, in contrast to earlier counterparts, is not guided merely by a desire to amass more wealth.
Brown describes the new American collector not in his book on the Armory Show, but in his survey of early 20th-century American art: "None of them were rulers of vast financial or industrial empires. In many cases they were living on inherited wealth . . . They were less concerned with the accumulation of luxury objects as an expression of wealth, prestige, or power."
As wives and daughters of the "magnates," the relationship between avant-garde and modern art and a clearly capitalist system was diffused. By dividing cultural and economic development within the family, modern art remained autonomous from the capitalist market through a vague definition of these women's position within the field of cultural production. Charlotte Gere and Marina's Vaizey's recently published Great Women Collectors recognizes the friendship between Mary Cassatt and both Palmer and Havemeyer before their marriages to successful industrial capitalists. Cassatt advised both women on their purchases of Impressionist paintings and instructed them in developing an aesthetic perception. Similarly, Lillie Bliss had started taking the recommendations of Arthur B. Davies before the Armory Show, and Baltimore natives Claribel and Etta Cone were life-long friends of the Steins, who introduced them to many of the painters they subsequently patronized. The consultation that occurred between painters and patrons was obviously not limited to these women collectors and their artist-friends. Walt Kuhn almost gleefully reports of the powers of persuasion he used on John Quinn, one of the top buyers at the Armory Show; Walter Arensberg, who began collecting modern art somewhat timidly at the Armory Show, was notoriously devoted to Charles Sheeler, Marcel Duchamp, Mina Loy, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens.
A list of similar connections between painters and patrons could go on indefinitely. Yet what the accounts of early 20th-century collectors have generally neglected is the correlation between art patronage and art production, especially in the case of women collectors. Pierre Bourdieu has described avant-garde art, the most legitimate, seemingly anti-commercial art, as art produced for producers. Focusing on women's consumption of cultural products and naturalizing their taste masks the grounds on which modern art was often accepted or appreciated. An examination of many of these early women collectors at the Armory Show reveals their own occupations as painters, sculptors, and writers and the fact that they were recognized by their peers and often the general public as professionals.
Women Collectors and Artistic Production: Gertrude Stein and Katherine Dreier
Even a superficial examination of several of Crowninshield's collectors reveals a list of women from upper-middle-class families who enjoyed an extensive education in the arts, both through official channels (academies, art schools, private tutors) and through encouters with key texts and authors (writers, painters, and sculptors). Sarah Sears, better known as Mrs. Montgomery Sears, was known first for her painting rather than her patronage. In 1905, W. Shaw Sparrow praised her work in Women Painters of the World. As a winner of numerous prizes and honors in major exhibitions in the late 19th and early 20th century, Sears was active in the official art worlds of Paris and New York (Sparrow 73). Sears also, because of her position as an artist and her social class, befriended Mary Cassatt and, like Cassatt, accumulated a collection of Impressionist and early post-Impressionist work.
An examination of many of these early women collectors at the Armory Show reveals their own occupations as painters, sculptors, and writers and the fact that they were recognized by their peers and often the general public as professionals.
Stein had the privilege of being the only non-visual artist included in this early dialogue on modern art in America through the publication and distribution of her portrait of Mabel Dodge, "Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia." Stein's portraits of Matisse and Picasso had established credibility for her work when they appeared in Camera Work in 1912 next to works by the artists. Widespread attention came when her portrait of Dodge was included in the much more broadly circulated Arts and Decorationjuxtaposed with Brancusi's Mademoiselle de Pogany and provided for sale at the exhibition. Dodge's own reproductions of the portrait, handed out to all visitors and pasted to the walls of her home, aided the distribution of Stein's work as well, and Dodge's introduction, "Speculations," introduced Stein as a bohemian expatriate. The translation of cubism into other mediums outside painting and sculpture was lampooned from the beginning of the Armory Show in cartoons depicting cubist-inspired fashions and architecture. Stein's writing was similarly parodied during the course of the exhibition, almost as much as the paintings by Matisse and Duchamp. Critics described her work in terms similar to Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, as an enigmatic puzzle that intentionally confused the audience. One writer for the Chicago Tribune alluded to Stein in an attempt to explain the perceived incongruity between the titles and the works found in Gallery I:
I called the canvas Cow with Cud and hung it on the line,A mock telegram came from Stein at the closing of the showa statement of her approval in the form of a parodic poem.
Stein had the privilege of being the only non-visual artist included in this early dialogue on modern art in America through the publication and distribution of her portrait of Mabel Dodge, "Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia."
After the Armory Show, Stein's writing persisted as a literary counterpart to European and American modern art, especially in the post-Armory discussions of cubism in the United States. Her portrait of Matisse was quoted in the 1913 reviews of department-store shows of cubist paintings in Cleveland and Pittsburgh (Sheon 99). Marsden Hartley, who had developed a friendship with Stein while he was living in Paris, wrote to her at the end of 1913, saying that "You are much talked ofeven in Philadelphia you are said to be a creator of style . . . you are a new value in the eyes of manynot in the eyes of some" (Mellow 231). Hartley later used Stein's portrait of him, found in the play IIIIIIIIII, in the foreword to his 1914 exhibition at '291.' Stieglitz also reproduced this portrait in Camera Work to provide another example of modern poetry (this was also around the time he started printing Mina Loy's work).
Although now known primarily as a protégé and companion of Marcel Duchamp, Drier's interest in modern art derived from her own artistic efforts. She began studying art at age 12 (Tufts 26) at the Pratt Institute with Walter Shirlaw, who according to Dreier "taught her the connections between beauty, rhythm, and vitality, and so prepared her to read Kandinsky and to make 'the leap into the great new expression in art.'" (Green 239) She lived and studied in London, Paris, and Munich before the Armory Show and would "come to Paris to the Steins' salons, to meet the new ideas; the color schemes of the Fauves left her gasping" (Green 63). Dreier read Kandinsky's Spirituality in Art in 1912 (in the original German) and understood art in the terms given to her by him and through theosophy (Green 239). She likely had seen van Gogh's work before the 1912 Sonderbund exhibition, but the large comprehensive section provided at the Cologne show confirmed his stature as a modern master as surely for Dreier as it did for Kuhn and Davies. Dreier's interest in van Gogh caused her not only to purchase Mademoiselle Ravoux, which she then lent to the Armory Show, but also to travel to his birthplace in Holland. According to Frances Naumann, after the Sonderbund Dreier painted a series of landscapes in a "thick impasto style reminiscent of Van Gogh" (Naumann, New York Dada 156). She also produced a number of studies of Amsterdammost likely including The Avenue, Holland, which appeared in the Armory Show. While painting in the land of van Gogh's birth, she also contacted his sister and acquired the rights to translate her reminiscences of her brother into English. The text, published in 1913 (van Gogh's first autobiographical work published in the United States), includes a forward by none other than Arthur B. Davies (Herbert, Apter, and Kenney 748).
At the time of the 1913 exhibition, Dreier had two main pursuits: painting and a social activism (She started a settlement house and was active in leadership roles in the suffrage movement).
Dreier exhibited both The Avenue, Holland and Blue Bowl in the Armory Show, adopting the brushstroke of van Gogh and a "deliberately primitive" style (Bohan 7). Stephen Watson refers her paintings in the show as "timid still-lifes," but he must be speaking only of The Blue Bowl (181). Previously a commissioned muralist, after the Armory Show Dreier turned to the decorative arts, producing "large decorative panels in bright colors, which incorporated a simplified figurative style reminiscent of Gauguin" (Naumann, New York Dada 156). One of Dreier's purchases at the show was a lithograph by Gauguin, and the artist's Faa Iheihe, perhaps his most striking work in the show, may have encouraged Dreier's return to mural designs.
After seeing her work at the Armory Show, William Macbeth invited Dreier to show her work in October of 1913. Like other contemporary artists, Dreier also found a place to show her work in one of the numerous club buildings in Manhattan, and the Mid-Town Associationís Drug and Chemical Club hosted a solo exhibition in November. Royal Cortissoz, strident critic of the Armory Show, described Dreier's work not in the terms he reserved for the avant-garde, insane or demoralized, but "decorative": "Nearly all her canvasses show a strongly marked decorative quality. The sketch for a mural decoration shows the artistís concern with the true decorative aim. Her work shows an ability to speak the decoratorís proper language" (Cortissoz 15). The term decorative has conflicting associations in the history of modernism. The decorative artsscreen making, glasswork, pottery, and dress designwere an essential source of inspiration for many avant-garde painters and sculptors. On the other hand, artists like Kandinsky identified a danger within decorative work of reducing art to a superficial and banal rather than spiritual form. The decorative arts were also associated with the artistic production of women, and Cortissoz's insistence on Dreierís status as a "decorator" seems to identify her as an amateur, producing in a less sophisticated medium than painting and sculpture. The idea of a livable art appealed to Dreier, as it did to the organizers of the Armory Show. The two rooms of paintings and sculpture she constructed in a domestic setting for the 1923 International Exhibition of Modern Art Exhibition, a deliberate tribute to the Armory Show, featured the works in an upper-class apartment. By 1914, Dreier had found enough like-minded fellow artists to form the Cooperative Mural Workshops, modeled in part after the Arts and Crafts movement and the Omega Workshops of Roger Fry (Green 15). The organization, which also included fellow Shirlaw student Anne Goldthwaite and dancer Isadora Duncan, showed their work at John Quinn's Carroll Galleries in 1915 (Herbert, Apter, and Kenney 749).
Dreier's paintings reveal a continued concern with developing a distinct abstract style that has not been recognized in the narratives of the Armory Show. While the 1913 exhibition was only one of many influences on Dreier's development as an artist and as a promoter of modern art, it perhaps encouraged her to combine her interest in social activism and modern art in ways that had not come together for her before the Armory Show. Reexamining her role as an artist, rather than a collector at the Armory Show, provides evidence not only of Dreier's involvement in significant artistic production in the early 20th century, but also further questions the ways in which the discourse about the Armory Show helped to define the boundaries of the avant-garde.
Dreier's paintings reveal a continued concern with developing a distinct abstract style that has not been recognized in the narratives of the Armory Show.
According to Pauline Ridley, "the most conventionally acceptable ways in which women could relate to the world of culture around the turn of the century was as hostesses of literary and artistic 'salons'" (Perry, Women Artists 90). Gill Perry adds to Ridley's argument the importance of economic capital in gaining access to predominantly male spheres of cultural production, using the example of Gertrude Stein: "For Stein, the economic power to purchase works of art . . . although this was [at first] done in consultation with her brother Leo Stein, first gave her access to the somewhat hermetic circle of avant-garde artists gathered around the figure of Picasso" (Perry, Women Artists 90). Perry's argument overshadows Stein's theoretical affinity with and contributions to her contemporaries during the early 20th century and ignores her negotiations within these groups regarding her gender. It also neglects to address the ways in which her consumption helped to confirm the avant-garde status of the artists whose work she purchased and showed in her home. Whitney Chadwick has spoken about the ways in which "vanguard ideology marginalizes the woman artist as surely as did the guilds in the fifteenth century, and the academies in the seventeenth and eighteenth century" (Chadwick 279). A reexamination of women artists, like Dreier, who participated in the Armory Show, underscores versions of the modern produced by women both inside and outside the vanguard coteries of the early 20th century.
Damaging to women who did contribute work within an identified circle of artists was the development of a feminine aesthetic that was used to define the most celebrated women artists of this period, Marie Laurencin and Georgia O'Keefe. Guilliame Apollinaire's Les Peintres Cubistes, first published in 1912, defined Laurencin as a "scientific Cubist," but her distinctive contribution was as a femme peintre: "Miss Marie Laurencin knows how to express, in the high art of painting, an entirely feminine aesthetic" (39). Even before her association with the cubists, Apollinaire had accessed her work after the Salon des Independents in 1908:
Though she has masculine defects, she has every conceivable feminine quality. The greatest error of most women artists is that they try to surpass men, losing in the process their taste and charm. Laurencin is very different. She is aware of the deep differences that separate men from womenessential, ideal differences. Mademoiselle Laurencinís personality is vibrant and joyful. Purity is her very element (qtd. in Sandell 24).John Quinn, collector and life-long supporter of modern art, praised Laurencin as a femme peintre: "One of the things that I like about Laurencin is that she paints like a woman, whereas most women artists seem to want to paint like men and they only succeed in painting like hell" (qtd. in Sandell 62).
While Laurencin by all accounts seems to have accepted the gendered reading of her work, O'Keefe was contemptous of similar comments made throughout her lifetime that indicated her work was the expression of a feminine consciousness. Oscar Bluemner's essay reprinted in a 1935 retrospective of O'Keefe's work claimed her as "the priestess of Eternal Woman," her art "flowering forth like a manifestation of that feminine causative principle" (Chave 361). It is important to note that the gendered reading of Laurencin and O'Keefe's work, along with the support of major critics (Apollinaire and Stieglitz) allowed them to gain considerable status within a predominantly male art world and may explain the 1924 comment of Marsden Hartley, who knew artists like Dreier, Marguerite Zorach, and Katharine Rhoades personally: "if there are other significant women in modern art [besides Sonia Delaunay, Marie Laurencin, and Georgia OíKeefe] I am not as yet familiarized with them" (Hartley 15).
Damaging to women who did contribute work within an identified circle of artists was the development of a feminine aesthetic that was used to define the most celebrated women artists of this period, Marie Laurencin and Georgia O'Keefe.
The invisibility today of many women artists who did participate in the Armory Show and in avant-garde circles speaks to the effect of criticism that dismissed women who produced work that appeared to be indebted to the same sources as most avant-garde painting of the late 19th and early 20th century. Women who produced works that could be connected to the schools of cubism, fauvism, expressionism, and futurism were criticized as imitators. While many early American modernists were accused of similar acts of blatant replication and were often denigrated in the name of American nationalism by critics who despised modern art, major supporters of American modernists also understood the work of many women artists to be imitations rather than assimilations of theories by canonical artists. The Armory Show provides evidence of a number of women artistsDreier and otherswho participated in the growth of modern art in New York in the years around the 1913 exhibition.
The Story of the Armory Show: Writing American Modernism
[T]he Armory Show provides significant documentation of a growing number of women exhibitors in large independent shows.
In the United States as in Europe, the early 20th century saw the first generation of women who began to obtain a more or less equal education in the arts. Women artists most often acquired this access due to the advent of opportunities outside the academies. Though many classes still adopted a separate but equal policy, women gradually gained admittance to instruction and the long prohibited subject, the nude. The NAD did not exclude women from their exhibitions, but it did exclude them from membership. Christian Brinton in the International Studio notes the unusually large number of women artists in the Spring 1913 National Academy of Design Exhibition. Nonetheless, from 1825 to 1953 the NAD offered membership and associate membership to only 75 women out of 1300 total (Levin 13), which meant that women had a relatively small chance of gaining organizational control.
As was clear from the Independent exhibitions, the NAD was declining as the site of legitimate culture. The movement to open up new exhibition spaces, begun with the Eight in 1908, was moderately welcoming to women artists. The 1910 Independent exhibition included many of the same women artists who participated in the Armory Show: Florence Barkley, Bessie Marsh Brewer, Edith Haworth, Amy Londoner, Josephine Paddock, Mary Rogers, and Hilda Ward (Rubinstein 167). Henri also invited two female students for the 1911 McDowell Club shows that also exhibited in 1913, Kathleen McEnery (see below) and May Wilson Preston. The Armory Show, the largest exhibition held in New York outside the Academy of Design, gave the growing population of women artists another chance to show their work. It also marks one of the first opportunities in the U.S. for women to exhibit their work as modernists. As such, the exhibition provides evidence that there were women who were already experimenting with form and color before the Armory Show, or, like other participants, were perhaps encouraged or emboldened in part by what they saw there.
Due to the Armory Show's benchmark status, the study of many early 20th-century American artists is focused on their painting before and after 1913. Milton Brown reminds us of the aim of the exhibition committee, which was to exhibit works "in which the personal note is distinctly sounded" (Brown, Story 90). Brown praises the organizers for their foresight: "out of the mass of works, they accepted examples by Oscar Bluemner, Maurice Becker, Glenn O. Coleman, Stuart Davis, Andrew Dasburg, Edward Hopper, Bernard Karfiol, Joseph Stella, and Margaret and William Zorach" (Brown, Story 90). Brownís list contains those painters and sculptors who would later gain recognition as modern artists. Barbara Rose similarly narrows down the "hundreds of paintings and sculptures by Americans, [to] a few dozen [that] could be described as modern . . . These included the sculpture of Nadelman and Lachaise, and the paintings by Bruce, Burlin, Bluemner, Carles, Dasburg, Halpert, Hartley, Marin, Prendergast, Russell, Schamberg, Sheeler, Stella, and Walkowitz" (Rose, American Art 75). Rose also includes Stanton Macdonald-Wright as an exhibitor, but there is no evidence that he participated. (Rose, American Art 75). While neither Brown nor Rose profess the list to be complete, the lack of women artists is striking.
While neither Brown nor Rose profess the list [of future American moderns who participated in the Armory Show] to be complete, the lack of women artists is striking.
The remarks [that followed Zorach's exhibition of her Study in the Armory Show] are similar to those made about Matisse's Woman with Green Eyes when it was exhibited at the 1910 Grafton Gallery exhibit in London.
As she participated in many of the same exhibitions as other modernists, she also began work in a medium that was generally not accepted as avant-garde. She started working on tapestries, translating the designs she created on canvas into wool. Tapestries were more convenient to create after the birth of her first child, and the sales from Zorach's work also supported the family for entire years (Hoffman 27). Zorach continued to paint throughout the 20s but returned to painting on a much more regular basis in the 1930s.
Zorach, like many artists in New York at the time, explored cubist treatment of line and space in the years following the 1913 exhibition.
Two other painters, Kathleen McEnery and Anne Goldthwaite, were among the artists who participated in post-Impressionism before the show, but, in many senses of the word, remained independents. McEnery moved from New York not long after the Armory Show, and Goldthwaite, who never accepted modernism, began producing representational studies of the American South. Ethel Myers, who has been recognized primarily in relation to the Ashcan school, produced small caricatures comparable to the work Lachaise produced and received favorable reviews at the Armory Show. These artists are not exceptions; they attest to the fact that many women artists were working in New York in the early 20th century and that some explored non-representational form to a certain extent before the Armory Show. McEnery, Goldthwaite, and Myers, however, were not announced as modernists at any of Stieglitz's galleries, at Whitney's Studio Club, Dreier's Société Anonyme, or by any other champions of American modernism.
While the Armory Show did not appear to affect Goldthwaite's work, critics began connecting her painting with Cézanne's after the 1913 exhibition. According to A. D. Defries in the International Studio in 1916, Goldthwaite's landscapes "were simply very sincere studies in the manner of the French artists at the beginning of this century" (Defries 4). Defries cited other critics' insistence on Goldthwaite's allegiance to Cézanne, but emphasized the artist's own denouncement of a by this time established modern tradition: "[My use of Cézanne's techniques] has been unconscious" (Defries 4). She described the unwanted affiliation with modernism in her memoirs: "I had not been back from Paris long, and whenever I had shown my work I had been called a modernist . . . Perhaps I was modern, but if it were true, I was so innately and not by conscious effort" (Breeskin 30). Her rejection of Cézanne's influence on her painting seems in part a reaction against being pronounced as an imitator of male painters: "Though I was constantly being pigeon-holed and attacked, I never really got over being surprised each time it occurred" (Breeskin 30). Defries used Goldthwaite's lack of theoretical discourse on her painting as a reflection of her feminine consciousness:
I have found that women artists work much less consciously than men, and have fewer theories about their work. The work of women in this direction seems almost completely a case of intuition becoming unconsciously articulate. Women reason less, and in time when they attain a greater freedom they may prove to be nearer to the unreasoning spirit of creation than the more trained mentality of the male can ever be (Defries 4).Defries follows the pattern of many critics who attempted to essentialize a feminine aesthetics (though Defries' notion of consciousness also allows influence from external events, such as the suffrage movement). Goldthwaite later reached some acclaim as a regionalist, primarily for her paintings of African-Americans in the South, where she was born and spent most summers. These paintings overshadowed her earlier work, much as Thomas Hart Benton will be remembered as a painter of American Scene murals rather than as an early modernist.
While the Armory Show did not appear to affect Goldthwaite's work, critics began connecting her painting with Cézanne's after the 1913 exhibition.
The Influence of the Armory Show: Modernism Comes to America
A second major focus of many Armory Show narratives involves an attempt to gauge the effect the exhibition had on American artists. Although numerous painters have been discussed in this contextArthur B. Davies and Joseph Stella are just two examplesthe work of female artists involved in early 20th-century American modernism has received relatively little commentary. Like Davies and Stella, these women produced work that claimed to be modern and was promoted within avant-garde spaces like the Armory Show. One artist who most poignantly substantiates the Armory Show's influence on modern art in America is Frances Simpson Stevens. She is not included in any account of the show but is the only known American to directly participate in the Futurist movement in Italy. Katharine Rhoades, who produced the Dada magazine 291 with Maurice de Zayas, was part of the Stieglitz circle, and reviews and examples of her work disclose experimentation and engagement with modernist ideals. A third woman artist, who at the time of the Armory Show displayed symbolist paintings and later went on to form the Transcendental Painting Group, is Agnes Pelton. All three of these women have received more critical attention in the last five years but have not been discussed in analyses of the Armory Show.
A second major focus of many Armory Show narratives involves an attempt to gauge the effect the exhibition had on American artists. Although numerous painters have been discussed in this contextArthur B. Davies and Joseph Stella are just two examplesthe work of female artists involved in early 20th-century American modernism has received relatively little commentary.
Returning to the U.S. due to World War I, Stevens became known to Stieglitz, who asked her for a contribution to Camera Work in 1914 (Stevens 30). During this period, Stevens also published political cartoons in the little magazine Rogue, published by Allan Norton and supported by Walter Arensberg (Naumann, "Lost" 110). Steven's solo exhibition at New York's Braun Gallery in March 1916 (Naumann, "Lost" 110) actively connected her work to the Futurists. The advertisements for the show included her own translations of excerpts from Futurist manifestos and emphasized her relationship to the movement in Italy. She showed a remarkable 21 works at this 1916 solo exhibition.
Other artists Stevens would have known, if only through Arensburg, were Morton Schamberg and Charles Sheeler, whose machine-image works parallel her Futurist-inspired painting of 1916, Dynamic Velocity of Interborough Rapid Trasit Power Station .
Miss Rhoades possesses a good sense of color, and a freshness in her manner of expressing it which is far from ordinary . . . Landscape, while entirely unrealistic in the conventional sense, conveys what is far better than any literal exactness of fact, a real sense of living air and light (19).The terms in which critics evaluated Rhoades' work at the 1915 exhibition place her paintings within a loosely defined expressionism, which prioritized emotion, intuition, and spirituality. Charles Caffin in the New York American insisted that Rhoades' reliance was on intuition, rather than observation: "Miss Rhoades seems to have a capacity of psychically sensing her subject" (19). Agnes Meyer, a journalist, photographer and fellow member of the Stieglitz circle reviewed Rhoades' work at the time of the 1915, commenting on the artist's individual vision:
her whole impulse to paint seems to spring from a close communion with and a desire to impart the underlying significance of the world as she sees it . . . There seems at first to be a strange and foreign quality in her portraits but a sympathetic study reveals the fact that she has seen further or at least differently than we (Meyer 8).Meyer again points to Rhoades' ability to visually articulate a metaphysical consciousness and stresses her status as a seer, psychic, or medium through which highly developed states of consciousness are expressed.
I was not a woman. I became merely a part of the attunement of the moment as did all the others. The strangers were standing so near that I could have touched them and I think we were touching. We had dropped our little selves. We were not-but something greater than ourselves was breathing (qtd. in Bohn 249).The poem illustrates Rhoades' interests in fashioning new images and perceptions through visual poems. In her poetry, as in her painting, she emphasized not empirical data but a highly subjective, individual expression. In 1917, Rhoades was nominated in the Bulletin of the Dada Movement for president of the Independent Artists Association along with Dodge, Stieglitz, Duchamp, Walkowitz, Loy, Marin, Pach, and Arensberg (Januzzi 578). While, as Willard Bohn attests, the lack of access to Rhoades' work prevents an evaluation of her impact, her participation in the Armory Show and her engagement in modernist projects within the avant-garde circles of the early part of the last century should contribute to the conception of womenís involvement in the International Exhibition.
Rhoades' work in the Armory Show, Taillories, also exhibited in Chicago, may or may not have been influenced by European modernism, but by the time of her 1915 exhibition with Beckett at '291,' she was described in many of the same terms as other modern artists in the United States.
The last artist who deserves reexamination in light of the Armory Show is Agnes Pelton. Unlike Rhoades and Stevens, Pelton's work has generated a moderate amount of scholarship, especially in recent years. Pelton also went through years of academic training, starting with her studies at the Pratt Institute with Arthur Dow, who also taught Max Weber and Georgia O'Keefe. Dow, according to Milton Brown, was a "pioneer in the teaching of design principles based on Chinese and Japanese art" (Brown, American Painting 138). In his book Composition, first published in 1899, Dow recommended the study of Chinese, Japanese, and Native American designs. He also argued that there should be no distinction between the fine and decorative arts (Moffatt 38). Pelton graduated from Pratt the same year as Max Weber, in 1900 (Zakian 138). In 1910, Pelton spent a year in Italy, where she studied under Hamilton Easter Field, also an enthusiast of Asian art, and an admirer of Picasso; Field commissioned the Spaniard to decorate his library in 1910. In 1911, perhaps as a result of Field's suggestions, Pelton began what she called "Imaginative Paintings," which, like Impressionism explored the effects of light, but was also influenced by Symbolism. Beginning with her first solo exhibition in 1911, Pelton had 14 such exhibitions by 1936 (Blankenship 1).
After spending ten years painting on Long Island with intermittent travels to Hawaii, Beruit, and Syria, Pelton turned to less figurative work again. Though she created her first paintings that could properly be called abstractions in 1926, she continued to develop figurative works as well. In 1929, the same year that the Museum of Modern Art opened, Pelton introduced her method of non-representational painting with an exhibition titled "Abstractions" at the Montross Gallery (Levin and Lorenz 126). After this exhibition and another in 1931, she was included in an early survey of modern art, Understanding Modern Art, published in 1931.
"Her later work is of a strictly mystical, visionary character . . . Often her pictures look like semi-materialized thought forms, and her colors have an unearthly luminousity."
Through investigating the careers of individual artists who participated in the Armory Show, it is clear that a substantial number of women artists adopted a variety of formal principles used to delineate modernism in America, whether it be through the work of Cézanne, through Matisse and other fauve artists, through cubism and all its adversaries, or through the work of Kandinsky. While Dreier, Zorach, Goldthwaite, McEnery, Myers, Rhoades, Stevens, and Pelton are only a few of the women who contributed work to the Armory Show, and there were numerous other women modernists who were not in the exhibition at all, the examples provided above illustrate the participation of women artists in the quite unique opportunity to show their work in a large, unjuried exhibition. While the dominant understanding of women's involvement in the Armory Show (as with early modernism) has been through their consumption of modern art objects, women were decidedly engaged in the experimentation and freedom that the Armory Show signified for a whole generation of artists.