This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armory Show, an art exhibit that introduced Americans to modern art, most notably to Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase [No. 1]. Last week I received a copy of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art Journal which commemorates the show. To my surprise, the journal contains an article (Meat and Beer, by Darcy Tell) about a beefsteak dinner given by the artists who organized the Armory Show in gratitude to the press whose extensive coverage helped make the show a popular success.
The Armory Show was largely organized by American artists Walt Kuhn, Arthur Davies, and Walter Pach. (Kuhn’s and Pach’s papers are preserved in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.)
In an earlier post I wrote about beefsteak dens, dungeons, and caves where men put on butchers’ aprons and threw aside the trappings of civilization. Sitting uncomfortably on boxes in dingy cellars, they drank beer and ate steaks without silverware or napkins.
The 1913 Armory Show dinner was held at Healy’s restaurant, on 66th Street in NYC, a popular place for these feasts. It had three rooms dedicated to them: the Dungeon, the Jungle Room, and the Log Cabin Room. The artists and their “friends and enemies from the press,” as they were designated on the menu, gathered in the Log Cabin Room, probably the most civilized space of the three, furnished with long tables and chairs and complete with tablecloths and napkins. While the guests ate, someone read aloud humorous, insiderish (fake) telegrams, even one purporting to be from Gertrude Stein [see link below].
I have to admit I was a tiny bit disappointed to learn that such a (presumably) sophisticated group of men as was represented at this dinner would choose to attend a beefsteak at Healy’s. By 1913, if not long before, beefsteaks were recognized as evenings of orthodox jollity for business men and conventioneers. Yet, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors paid out $234 [at least $5,500 today] for a dinner much like that enjoyed by the Paper Box Makers Association and the League of Associated Hat Men.
And, just like the hat men and box makers, they took away a regulation group photo to show for it.
© Jan Whitaker, 2013