Forces for the new: Collectors and the 1913 Armory Show

Legacy: The formation of institutions

By the 1920s the first generation of collectors began to institutionalize their holdings. The Phillips Memorial Art Gallery was inaugurated in late 1921; in 1922 Barnes chartered his eponymous foundation as an educational institution, making his collection the central core of a curriculum of study. It opened on March 19, 1925, in Merion, Pennsylvania. Quinn died in 1924, and his collection was dispersed. Arensberg, Dreier, and Bliss bought significantly from the Quinn estate. So did Ferdinand Howald, A. Conger Goodyear, and Mary and Cornelius J. Sullivan. These four became prominent buyers in the 1920s, and they all planned to give their collections to museums. Doubtless the sad fate of Quinn's possessions further influenced the first wave of collectors to preserve their collections by founding or affiliating with public institutions.

In January 1926 the American art critic Forbes Watson wrote an editorial in The Arts mourning the breakup of the Quinn collection. He wished that someone had purchased everything for a new museum of modern art. One of Watson's readers was the painter and collector Albert E. Gallatin (1881-1952), who credited Watson's plea as the inspiration for establishing his Gallery of Living Art, which housed his personal collection of cubism, neo-plasticism, and constructivism, on the premises of New York University in 1927.23 Lillie Bliss was at the heart of the most momentous venture of all: in May 1929 she met with fellow collectors Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Mary Sullivan, and Goodyear to discuss establishing a museum in New York.24 The Museum of Modern Art opened on November 8, 1929. These and other new museums of contemporary and modern art25 were the fruit of the Armory Show and the collections it inspired or engendered. No longer branded freakish aberrations, vanguard painting and sculpture were vindicated as permanent additions to the history of art.

AVIS BERMAN is a writer and art historian specializing in American art. This article is adapted from her essay in the catalogue for the exhibition The Armory Show at 100.

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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