Wednesday, January 23, 2013

National Pie Day

...seriously, it really is National Pie Day today according to the American Pie Council.  Today is not to be confused with National Pi Day on March 14th.

We'll see just how long the copyright lawyers let this stay up on YouTube:

The Inaugural Poet

Richard Blanco, an openly gay Cuban American poet, was President Obama's selection for the inauguration poem.  The choice was extraordinary, as remarkable as Obama's embrace of the gay rights movement into the broader struggle for human freedom and dignity as manifested in feminism, in the struggle for African American civil rights, in the labor movement, and in numerous other such movements by the marginalized to stake their claim upon the promise spelled out in the Declaration of Independence.

Richard Blanco has a life story that a lot of us who are not Cuban can identify with.

I am seven, I think. My grandmother tells me I eat wrong: "Don't use a straw, ever. Los Hombres don't drink soda with a straw. Now throw dat away and sit up." I look wrong: "Dios mío, you nosin but bones. Dat's why the boys at school push you around. Even a girl could beat you up. Now finish your steak, or else." My friends are all wrong: "I no taking you to dat Enrique's house neber again. He's a Mamacita's boy. I don't want you playing with him. I don't care what you say, those GI Joes he has are dolls. Do you want to play with dolls; is dat what you want señorita?"

I play wrong: "I told your mother not to get you those crayons for Christmas. You should be playing outside like un hombre, not coloring in your girly books like dat maricón Juan Alberto." I speak wrong: "Hay Santo, you sound like una niña on the phone. When is your voice going to change?" And I walk wrong too: "Stop clacking your sandals and jiggling like a sissy. Straighten up por Dios--we're in public." I am wrong ("I'll make a man out of you yet . . ."), afraid to do or say anything (". . . you'll see . . ."), scared to want or ask anything (". . . even if it kills me . . ."), ashamed to be alive.

Substitute grandmother for mother and that could almost be my life's story.  I came to the same conclusion about my mother that Richard Blanco did about his grandmother.  They both loved us the best they could and the best that they knew how.

I am so grateful to be alive to see Richard Blanco and all he represents stand in the same place on Inauguration Day as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Capitol Dome Just Got A Little Bigger and a Little Higher

Just wow:
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
 ... from President Obama's Second Inaugural Address today.

I never ever thought I would here my kind mentioned by a President of the United States in an inaugural address together with the struggle for women's equality and with the long fight for the Civil Rights of African Americans.  For the first time in my life, I feel like a part, and a historic part, of the United States.

There were a lot of shout-outs to Philadelphia architect Thomas Ustick Walter's US Capitol dome from Senator Chuck Schumer and from Myrlie Evars today.  The cast iron dome which almost did not get built, was finished 150 years ago this year in the midst of the Civil War.

The unfinished US Capitol dome looming over Lincoln's first inauguration, March 4, 1861

As Myrlie Evars said in her invocation, the US Capitol dome represents the unity of the American people and their collective sovereignty.

And it was an ex-slave who cast Thomas Crawford's statue of Freedom in bronze on top of the dome.

"It Ain't Necessarily So."

... from a recent school textbook in Texas.

I can remember when good earnest Bible believing people used to quote the Noah and his sons story to convince very young me that racial segregation was ordained by God.

The Bible says all kinds of things.

Hat tip to Joe.My.God.

"Now Is The Time!"

From Dr. Martin Luther King's sermon to striking sanitation workers in Memphis, March 18, 1968:

You know, Jesus reminded us in a magnificent parable one day that a man went to Hell because he didn't see the poor. And his name was Dives. There was a man by the name of Lazarus who came daily to his gate in need of the basic necessities of life. Dives didn't do anything about it. He ended up going to Hell.
But there is nothing in that parable that says that Dives went to Hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came before him talking about eternal life. And he advised him to sell all. But in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery, and not setting forth a universal diagnosis.
If you will go on and read that parable in all of its dimensions, and all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between Heaven and Hell. And on the other end of that long distance call between heaven and Hell was Abraham in Heaven talking to Dives in Hell. It wasn't a millionaire in Hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn't go to Hell because he was rich. His wealth was an opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus.
Dives went to Hell because he passed by Lazarus every day, but he never really saw him. Dives went to Hell because he allowed Lazarus to become invisible. Dives went to Hell because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived. Dives went to Hell because he maximized the minimum, and minimized the maximum. Dives finally went to Hell because he wanted to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.
And I come by here to say that America too is going to Hell, if we don't use her wealth. If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to Hell. I will hear America through her historians years and years to come saying, "We built gigantic buildings to kiss the sky. We build gargantuan bridges to span the seas. Through our spaceships we were able to carve highways through the stratosphere. Through our airplanes we were able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Through our submarines we were able to penetrate oceanic depths."
But it seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, "even though you've done all of that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security, and you didn't provide for them. So you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness." This may well be the indictment on America that says in Memphis to the mayor, to the power structure, "If you do it unto the least of these my brethren, you do it unto me."…
Now you're doing something else here. You are highlighting the economic issues. You are going beyond purely civil rights to questions of human rights. That is distinct…
Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't have enough money to buy a hamburger? What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn't even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don't earn enough money to take our family on a vacation? What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school, when he doesn't earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?
So we assemble here tonight. You have assembled for more than thirty days now to say, "We are tired. We are tired of being at the bottom. We are tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. We are tired of our children having to attend overcrowded, inferior, quality-less schools. We are tired of having to live in dilapidated, substandard housing conditions where we don't have wall to wall carpet, but so often we end up with wall to wall rats and roaches.
"We are tired of smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. We are tired of walking up the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. We are tired of working our hands off and laboring every day and not even making a wage adequate with daily basic necessities of life. We are tired of our men being emasculated, so that our wives and our daughters have to go out and work in the white ladies' kitchens, cleaning up, unable to be with our children, to give them the time and the attention that they need. We are tired."
So in Memphis we have begun. We are saying, "Now is the time." Get the word across to everybody in power in this town that now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time to make the real promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time for city hall to take a position for that which is just and honest. Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Now is the time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Bikini Girls With Machine Guns"

Well, it looks like the battle is joined over gun regulation.  Kudos to the President for really trying this time.

I'm all for tighter gun regulation.  I've always said that guns should be regulated at least as much as cars.    And semiautomatic military weapons should be off the market for the same reason tanks and missile launchers are off the market.

And yet, I think the real problem is that in this country we really love to kill things and blow shit up.  It makes us underpaid disposable drones feel powerful and in control somehow.


EJ Dionne wrote a good essay in today's WaPo pointing out the scope and ambition of the President's proposals while reminding us that by international standards, they are very cautious.
Those who are invested in perpetuating the status quo on weapons are going ape this morning.  I think what they are really afraid of is not Obama, but that Newtown was finally that step way too far, and that the general consensus of opinion on gun violence really has shifted in a big way this time. 

Perhaps I am cynical about these things (remembering the less than charitable public reaction when AIDS first appeared), but it seems to me that something horrible has to happen to affluent white people before something gets done.  Kids, even little kids, have been gunned down in inner cities for decades, though usually one at a time, and frequently unintentionally.  Still, what happened in Newtown really was excruciatingly horrible in its size and savagery.  But then, so was Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tuscon, Aurora, and the hundreds of other gun massacres that have happened over the last 20 years.

Will there ever come a time when "American as Mom, apple pie, and random gun violence" will ever be a thing of the past?  I don't know.  We are a violent people with a violent past who love revenge fantasies about as much as we love money and sex.  To paraphrase the Marquis de Sade, we yearn in all our pores for bloodshed.

Monday, January 7, 2013

"Time ... To Die"

I've been following the arguments on Thinking Anglicans over the Church of England's latest tone deaf blunder as it finds itself more and more out of step, and alienated from, its own countrymen over the gay issue.  Its position as any kind of moral conscience for the nation becomes ever more untenable as the larger public, especially its younger part, discards the condemnations of homosexuality as but another archaic ancient superstition that cannot survive the tests of evidence, experience, reason, or justice.  Demonization of same sexuality belongs in the dust bin along with slavery, the subjugation of women, and the Ptolemaic cosmos (all of those things once defended by the churches as necessary for salvation).

Christ famously said to Peter that "upon this rock I shall build my church."  Homophobia is the stone that the builders should have rejected, and has now been made the chief cornerstone of Christianity.  And upon this rock, the Church will wreck itself.  Christianity is now all about policing sex lives.  All of the other issues such as social justice, hospitality, generosity, charity (in the fullest sense of that word), and trying to live life consistent with the concept of an all loving self sacrificial God simply fall by the wayside.
Christianity is now all about trying to rationalize and impose legal order on that one part of life that most successfully resists all rationality and law.  "Love conquers all" said the ancient classical poets, including law and reason.  The best and only rule we could possible impose on our animal ids is "Do No Harm."  The absolute best thing we could possibly do is to sublimate our selfish animal passions into selfless spiritual ones, as the best saints in Christianity and all other religions have done before, but few people are really capable of that.  All of us, even the best of us, live life as we can, and not as we should.  Indeed, to try to excise that passionate part of us that causes us so much harm and grief in life is to cut out the very force of life itself.  As the poet WH Auden reminds us in his homage to Sigmund Freud, Eros the same god who brings grief and humiliation to both gods and mortals also builds our cities.
The Christian faith denies any body versus spirit dualism.  We don't believe in spirits trapped in fleshly prisons or in any "shedding of this mortal coil."  The animal that plays host to our souls, the same one that always fears for its own safety, the same one that eats and shits and drools and lusts and pukes and eventually decays, dies, and rots, will see salvation along with us.  "If only my soul is saved, then I am not saved for I am more than my soul" said someone I can't remember.  "I am the dust and ashes of the Temple of the Holy Ghost, and what marble is so precious," said John Donne.

Historic institutional Christianity will die over the gay issue.  Those who cling to the Clobber Verses as central articles of the Christian Faith up there with belief in the Incarnation and the Resurrection will find themselves  marginalized in wilderness compounds along with the last true believers in racial supremacy.  By that point, historic institutional Christianity will have lost all credibility and will effectively be dead.   On the one hand, as someone who loves that whole spiritual and cultural legacy, the prospect of that death fills me with grief.  On the other hand, as someone aware that at the heart of the whole religion is a person who willingly chooses to die so that others might live, I accept that dying as necessary.

Perhaps it is necessary and even welcome for institutional Christianity to die.  Historically it did a lot of harm to humankind as all movements and institutions founded upon the impossible demand for absolute certainty always do.  The Great Commandment to spread the Gospel became a license to conquer both individual souls and nations.  Christianity became, together with Islam, an imperial religion.

That faith that says that Love is stronger than death, and that our dying may be an end but not a conclusion, may survive the demise of the institutional framework that sustains (and inhibits) it.  It must survive if those of us who identify as Christian really believe that the God of Love is too great to be contained by any religion or any institutional framework, and that same God keeps His promises and keeps faith with us.
We are a Resurrection people.  It is necessary to die to be reborn. 

Nothing is forever.  Only God endures (if we believe in Him).

William Blake, "Albion Worshiping Christ" from Jerusalem, 1804

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


On my iMac, all of my posts on this blog are clear and intact.  I've heard from some out there that this blog is cutting off in mid-sentence or appearing in fragments.

Anyone having trouble reading this blog?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

1913, The Year Art Turned Around And Bit Us

Happy New Year everybody!

This new year is full of important centennials marking several events in which modern art burst upon the public.

This post was inspired by a radio special produced by WNYC here in New York.

On May 29, 1913, a ballet by the bright new star composer Igor Stravinsksy opened at the brand new Theatre Champs Elysee in Paris.  Stravinsky and the Ballets Russe had a spectacularly successful debut with The Firebird in 1910, a huge hit with both critics and the public.  Audiences eagerly bought tickets to Stravinsky's new ballet The Rite of Spring.  This is what they saw after the curtain went up:

Here is the Joffrey Ballet's 1987 reconstruction of the original 1913 premier performance of The Rite of Spring.

Audiences used to Giselle and Swan Lake were horrified.  Instead of music with the fluid easy transitions that they were used to, Stravinsky confronted them with shrieking dissonances and pounding driving repetitive rhythms.  Nijinsky's choreography likewise disposed of the grace and fluidity of 19th century ballet for violent jerking motions and for clapping and stomping.  The sets and costumes by Nikolai Roerich were definitely not the taffeta confections audiences were used to.  Roerich intended them to be reconstructions (not evocations) of pre-Christian ancient Russia.
Some in the audience began loudly booing and shouting catcalls and insults.  Others who wanted to see the ballet began shouting back at the hecklers.  Rioting broke out in the audience.  Supposedly, the noise was so loud that the dancers could not hear the orchestra and Nijinsky had to shout rhythm counts and cues to his dancers from backstage.  The critics in the newspapers pounced and public morality scolds editorialized about license and decadence.
The impressario of the Ballets Russe, Segei Diaghilev, was delighted.  There's nothing like scandal to drive ticket sales and to establish a reputation for avant-garde bravery.  The ballet continued for 5 more performances in Paris before moving on to London and the Drury Lane Theater.

The dramatic premiere of the Rite of Spring was one of many such debuts in 1913 that shocked and outraged audiences.  What was going on?  Why was art, our refuge from chaos and disorder, turning upon us and throwing that very same chaos right back in our faces?

Arnold Schönberg found himself booed off a stage in Vienna in 1913 for works such as this:

Schönberg's work, like Stravinsky's at the time, was full of dissonances as he searched for new music forms to replace what he felt to be an exhausted 19th century Romanticism.

Audiences felt that they were being mocked and ridiculed by artists.  Who did these composers think they were, charging ticket prices to hear something that sounded like cats fighting?

Looking at these things now at a distance of a century, it is hard for us to imagine the aura of scandal and fraud that surrounded all of these works of music and art.  For us, they are the stuff of standard repertoire and text books.  For people of the time, these works were shockingly decadent and offensive.  A woman once stood up in the middle of a performance of chamber music by Ravel (which we would find quite unthreatening) and loudly demanded to know if this was the sort of music suitable for decent people and for children.  Such reactions are unimaginable to us now.  I don't know if this says a lot about audiences of the time, or about us jaded post-moderns who count Gangsta Rap and Quentin Tarantino movies among our ordinary daily entertainments.

We live in an age of technological change with the advent of digital technology and the internet.  But the changes of our era are but high tech toys compared with the huge upheavals in daily life wrought by the advent of the internal combustion engine and electrification that 1913 saw.  In 1903, the most common mode of transportation was still the horse.  City streets were filled with carriages and wagons, all horse drawn.  By 1913, city streets around the world were choked with automobile traffic.  In 1903, electric lighting was still a novelty.  By 1913, cities blazed with electric lights.

Sixth Avenue in New York in 1903

Fifth Avenue in New York in 1913

Science took off in radically new and incomprehensible directions.  By 1913, the scientific accounts of space and time were at odds with centuries of received wisdom and with common sense.  According to the new physics, space was no longer simply a void between objects, but was a kind of substance itself that could be bent, distorted, and even punctured by gravity.  Space and time became inextricably bound up together.  The time it took to cross a certain distance of space became part of that space. Einstein described matter and energy, for long considered two separate and unrelated things, to be interchangeable.  In 1913, Max Planck was in the midst of his work on quantum theory which would later lead to quantum mechanics in which all the laws of physics and common sense would be completely suspended on the sub-atomic level.

The world of 1913 was filled with new and unprecedented experiences.  People looked upon the world from vantage points no one had even imagined before, from speeding automobiles and soaring airplanes.  "The world has changed less since the time of Jesus Christ than it has in the last thirty years," wrote Charles Peguy in 1913.

In 1913, the larger public got its first look at a form of painting which had been around for about 5 years, Cubism.

Picasso, Man With A Guitar, 1913

Man with a guitar?  What man?  What guitar?  The title is telling me one thing, but what is this painting showing me?  It doesn't make sense.
Actually, if you look carefully, you can begin to see a man in a top hat holding a guitar and sitting before an advertising poster.
Picasso loved puzzle pictures.  He loved pictures with a double take where you see one thing, and then something else comes into view when you change perspective.  Renaissance linear perspective composed the picture around the point of view of the person looking at the scene.  Picasso noted that Renaissance perspective for the first time took account of the person looking at the picture, and he appreciated that.  Except that Renaissance linear perspective assumes that the person looking at the picture is a passive recipient.  Picasso wanted to make the viewer into an active participant in the picture, to make viewers work for it.  Picasso noticed that a major aspect of modern life was its growing saturation of stimuli and increasing speed.  The calm sense of resolution so valued by the classical aesthetic seemed to him no longer true to experience.  The daily experience of modern life was anything but resolved and harmonious.  It was the chaos and noise of speeding traffic and any number of things all competing for our attention.  We make our way through it all by discerning patterns in a chaos of moving fragments.  Picasso asked why shouldn't we value that chaos and disruption, that breakup of form that we all experience every day and incorporate it into art.  Picasso, together with the artist George Braque invented Cubism which has nothing to do with cubes.  It has everything to do with breaking apart the traditional perimeters of art; collapsing the distinction between the object and surrounding space, breaking apart contours, inverting mass and volume, creating something like a continuously changing stream of fragments out of which we begin to discern images.

Picasso organized all these shifting fragments around an ancient painter's device for transferring an image from one size to another, the square grid.

Drawing by Picasso from 1910

In classical art, the human figure is the central organizing principle of a picture.  Picasso turns that on its head in this drawing of a female nude with her back turned to us.  Her form is broken up and re-arranged on a grid, which itself is broken into fragments.  Lines become no longer descriptive contours showing us an arm or a leg, but have their own reasons.

  Robert Delaunay, Simultaneous Contrasts, The Sun and The Moon, 1913

By 1913, other Cubist painters like Robert Delaunay began to take the Cubist breakup of form into the realm of abstraction.  Cubism could somehow suggest the energies that passed between things, and could suggest larger cosmic forces.

It was the Italian Futurists who made Cubist form express the power and dynamism of modern urban and technological life, seen in this masterpiece by Giacomo Balla.

Giacomo Balla, Abstract Speed, 1913

Balla expresses accelerating mechanical speed in this brilliant painting.  Contrast that with this monument from 1907 to a pioneer of motorized speed, Anton Levassor.

In this monument we see the limitations of classical form with its concentration on the human form and human action in expressing unprecedented modern experiences.  Levassor and the spectators are the focus of this monument.  We also get the slightly ridiculous spectacle of a marble automobile.  This was the very thing that the Futurists wanted to destroy.

The Futurists were not "alternative" anything.  They were bomb-throwing revolutionaries.  They wanted to destroy the whole legacy of ancient classicism so that a new world of technology could be born.  The Futurists remind us that so much of Modern Art up until World War II was an art of great expectations.  It was not about the present, but about an anticipated future.

The Futurists did the first performance art, "Futurist Evenings" in which the artists would try to break up the common sense narrative direction of music and theater, and compel people to face the chaotic reality of a new technological urban world.  They would stage spectacles with competing brass bands playing two completely different tunes simultaneously.  They would bring in noises from off the street, car horns, sirens, and even factory whistles.

Futurist performance with factory whistles, 1920

The artists would sometimes deliberately shout insults at the audience trying to provoke them.  Many a Futurist performance ended with the cops called.

We can get some glimpse into what these Futurist performances were like in this film by the artist Fernand Leger, a Cubist painter with close ties to the Futurists.  The American composer George Antheil composed the score which uses a lot of the same noises that the Futurists incorporated into their performances.

What ordeals audiences had to endure in 1913!
Artists wanted to make art anything but a refuge.  They wanted to provoke people, to shock people into letting the scales fall from their eyes and to embrace the banquet of new strange things laid out in front of them.

It was that very modern sense of great expectation that drove the first experiments with fully abstract painting around 1913.

 In 1913, the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky continued to make the abstract paintings that he pioneered in 1910.  Kandinsky was an enthusiastic follower of Theosophy, especially its apocalyptic pronouncement that the present world of the material would be destroyed and replaced by the world of pure spirit.  Theosophy proclaimed that fundamentally all the world's religions are one, that the eternal unchanging world of the spirit was at war with the ephemeral world of matter.  Kandinsky, likewise, believed that all the arts, music, painting, poetry, etc. had a fundamental unity.  He believed that it was his task as an artist to prepare people for this coming apocalypse and life in the new world of the spirit.

Kandinsky, Little Pleasures, 1913

Kandinsky believed that abstract painting would save souls.  It would save them by preparing them for life in a new world where the things by which we find our way in and make sense of the material world no longer existed.  Kandinsky wanted to make an art that directly affected feeling without resort to any external references like imagery or narrative.  He wanted to make art that would have as direct an impact on emotion as music.  Indeed, he thought of his work in musical terms, of colors as notes on a scale that would somehow affect certain "nerve vibrations."

How to organize and make coherent paintings that had no imagery?  How to do this without resort to the Cubist grid which Kandinsky thought confining and rooted in materialism?  Kandinsky always warned about the danger of abstract painting reducing itself to decoration, to the patterns on a necktie.  He knew that so much earlier abstract art was mostly pattern adorning something else from cups to domes.  He wanted abstract art to have all the dramatic power and concentration of figurative painting.  Instead of story telling and imagery, he let the counterpoint between lines and colors make their own drama.

Kandinsky, Composition with Black Lines, 1913

  In 1913, the Ukrainian artist Kazimir Malevich began making the very reductive abstract paintings for which he is famous.

 Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1913

Malevich did not exhibit this painting, or others like it, until 1915.  When he did show it, he hung this painting in a place that would have a lot of meaning for a Russian audience, in the corner.

The Malevich exhibition in Saint Petersburg in 1915

Malevich hung his Black Square in what Russians would recognize as the icon corner of a traditional Russian house.

And yet, the last thing Malevich intended was for anyone to read any kind of spiritual content into his work.  Malevich was the polar opposite of Kandinsky, who was fascinated with Russian icons.
Malevich intended his very bare abstractions to speak to a largely illiterate and pious population, to likewise prepare them for life in a new world.  That new world was not the Theosophical New Jerusalem, but a new world of science, technology, and rational thinking.  Malevich wanted to reduce painting down to its most basic components in order to begin again, to start at a kind of Aleph of form.

Kazimir Malevich, White on White, 1913

 Malevich believed that painting had the privileged position of mediator between the mind and the hand, between the imagination and practical intelligence.  Malevich wanted to generate a new form language for design in a technological world.

Modern art made its debut with the American public with the Armory Show of 1913.

The show was put on by an independent group of American artists, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, interested in developments in Europe and impatient with the stodgy conservatism of American art at the time.  The organizers of the show, Arthur B. Davies, Walt Kuhn, and Walter Pach, traveled around Europe searching out the most modern work to bring back to the USA for exhibition.  They organized a huge show of more than 13000 works of art.  They chose a very original venue for their enormous exhibition, a newly completed National Guard Armory at 25th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York (it still stands).  They organized the immense interior space into a series of small separate rooms designed around a theme, usually a particular school of modern art.  The show included works by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, and many others.

When the show opened, it drew huge crowds who were shocked and scandalized by what they saw (which of course drew even more and bigger crowds).  The New York tabloids had a Roman holiday making fun of all this crazy modern art in the show.

The dark star of the whole show was a French painter who was very little known at the time in Europe and in the USA, Marcel Duchamp.  His painting, Nude Descending a Staircase became the unintended centerpiece of the whole show.

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912

It doesn't look like a nude, and what would anyone be doing descending a staircase nude?   Former President Theodore Roosevelt said that the painting looked like an explosion in a shingle mill, and it does look a little like an explosion in a shingle mill.  He then went on to make dark comments about license and degeneracy in modern culture.

Marcel Duchamp was surprised and taken aback when he arrived in New York in 1913 to find himself already famous.
Later in 1913, Duchamp shocked the public even more with his next work of art, his first "readymade," the Bicycle Wheel.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, a 1950 recreation of the 1913 original

In works like this, Duchamp made the still very startling claim that what makes a work of art is not any skill of hand, but the idea, the conception.  Also, Duchamp carried to its logical extreme the desire to knock art off the pedestal that 19th century Victorian sensibility had put it on, a desire that began with Picasso and Cubists when they deliberately incorporated cheap house paints and old bits of newspaper and wallpaper in their works.

The look of cities began to change dramatically in 1913.
The first wave of skyscraper building in New York began in 1913 with the completion of the Woolworth Building, the tallest and most ambitious building the city had ever seen up to that point.

Cass Gilbert, The Woolworth Building, photographed shortly after its completion in 1913

Frank Woolworth commissioned Cass Gilbert to design a "cathedral of commerce" that would be the tallest building in the city.  Remarkably, Woolworth paid for the construction of this building entirely in cash, the only skyscraper financed without credit.
In form and size, this building would inspire the first wave of skyscraper building in New York that would culminate in the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center.
The building's height and size caused quite a lot of anxiety among city planners and ordinary citizens.  Visions of New York streets reduced to dark narrow canyons by similar buildings led to the creation of the 1916 Zoning Laws that required buildings to be stepped back above a certain level in order to let in light and air onto the street below.

A young Italian architect who had not built anything yet, Antonio Sant' Elia, began exhibiting some remarkable drawings around Europe in 1913 of fantastic urban visions of the future.

Antonio Sant 'Elia, City, 1913

Sant' Elia was a member of the Futurist movement.  He drew designs for imaginary cities without temples, palaces, monuments, or any kind of historical memory.  They are built around imagined technology, usually having to do with transportation.

This drawing is Sant' Elia's conception of a combination railroad terminal and airport, 2 things never before imagined in combination until 1913.

Sant' Elia did not live long enough to realize any of these ideas in actual construction.  These drawings would be around to inspire future architects, but even more so science fiction writers and illustrators.  Like the best science fiction illustration, these are visions based on known technology.  They are romantic visionary conceptions, as much as any celestial city imagined by William Blake.

A lot of people were imagining a coming apocalypse in 1913.  Many were positively yearning for some kind of violent break with the present status quo.   Everyone from Helena Blavatsky to Lenin to Theodore Roosevelt wanted some kind of purifying refiner's fire to purge Western Civilization of its accumulated corruption.

In 1913, an artist who mostly specialized in prints illustrating books and magazines, Ludwig Meidner, made an extraordinary series of apocalyptic paintings.

Ludwig Meidner, Apocalyptic City, 1913

Unknown forces rend and explode, destroying a city without any explicit or implied promise of a new beginning.

Ludwig Meidner, Burning City, 1913

Torn bodies lie scattered about the rubble in the foreground of this uncannily prophetic painting.

In the following year, 1914, the world really did end, though not in the way that anyone expected.  No one, not Helena Blavatsky or Lenin or Theodore Roosevelt or Kandinsky or the Futurists, or Malevich or Meidner anticipated what began in August of that year.

Near Ypres, Belgium, 1917