JF Ptak Science Books Post 2352
Between 17 February and 15 March 1913 there occurred in the huge building at Lex between 25th and 26th streets in NYC--the monumental International Exhibition of Modern Art at the armory of the Sixty-Ninth Regiment, the Fighting 69th (so called by Robert E. Lee), the "Fighting Irish", the famous Armory Show, the Armory Show. This was the first large public exhibition of modern art in America, and even though the 69th regiment had seen five wars (at least, so far as I can tell), the armory itself hadn't really seen one, until 1913, when battle lines were drawn among the Cubists and within and without the confines of the modern" part of modern art, the sensitive honor of the nature of art laid bare.
[Source: the New York Historical Society's excellent 100th anniversary celebration of the Armory Show, armory.nyhistory.org.]
The most legendary of the most public battles fought here was probably over Maestro Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), presenting itself as a shocking state of a-stairs, creating whimsical diversions even amongst the cognoscenti who found their way down every avenue for diversion and especially derision. (Check this fine site celebrating the 100th anniversary of the show, listing and displaying many of the most famous of the cartoons published taking a swing against art and Duchamp here http://armory.nyhistory.org/category/artworks/)
But my reason for stopping here with the Armory Show today is a chance find in Steven Watson's Strange Bedfellows, the First American Avant-Garde (Abbeville 1991) where on page 168 is a data box stating:
- "Total Sales: $44,148 ($30,491 for works by European Artists, $13,675 for works by American artists."
...which I found extraordinary. Even using the Bureau of Labor Statistic's CPI calculator this figure gets bumped up to the buying power of somewhat more than $1,000,000 in 2014 dollars, it is still incredibly shy of anything approaching any aspect of the financials of the art world. Here was the greatest collection of artists (perhaps?) of modern times under one roof with their works offered for sale for nearly a month and only $44,000 was generated, with only a third of that going to American artists.
When you consider some of the individual successes at the show--Redon collecting $7000, Cezanne $6700, Wilhelm Lehmbuch $1600, Edward Kramer $1675--you have four artists collecting more than a third of the total sales, leaving $27,000 to be shared by the rest of the exhibitors. (This is a very impressive and long list, some of names of the blockbuster of blockbuster shows shown below, via a Wiki article on the exhibition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armory_Show.)
And then when you consider that some 1600 pieces of art were exhibited, it leads me to the conclusion based on these bits of data that not all that much was sold at the monster show.
Now of course $44,000 was a lot of money in 1913, though it was still not very much money at all actually spent in a creative/explorative/appreciative manner. The total was about 100 times the average salary of an American worker (about 400/year). TO put things in perspective, the total sales at the show in terms of 100 times the average American yearly income would be about $5,000,000 which is still a tiny percentage of what the enormous sum could be had these pieces of art been for sale in 2014.
In short, really, the difference in the numbers is so vast that they are almost without meaning sop far as comparison goes between 1913 and today. That said, I still find it extraordinary.
By the way, Duchamp sold four pieces for a total of $972, according to Mr. Watson.