Everyone cites February, 1913 as the watershed moment in American art, when the Armory Show in New York brought over the first big dose of European modernism. This screen, by New York blueblood Robert Winthrop Chanler, had pride of place in the opening gallery of that show, and is now in the exhibition that celebrates its centennial at the New York Historical Society. Back in 1913, Chanler's utterly wacky screens were some of the most popular objects on view – a public success where Duchamp and the Fauves had to be satisfied with scandale. And those screens seem to argue that the months and years just before that February were the more interesting ones, when Americans knew they needed some kind of fresh and vigorous art, but had no idea yet what it ought to look like. Chanler made a grab at a solution, but it couldn't compete with its rivals from France. As the NYHS exhibition makes clear, that wasn't at all obvious at the time – and maybe ought not to seem so to us.
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