Culture Shock 1913: The Modernist Metamorphosis

Via Studio 360

January is definitely a time for reviewing the past year in order to look forward to the year ahead. It helps to review the past in order to move forward. During this beginning of year we take time to look back at the last 12 months, but have you ever wondered what happened a hundred years ago?

A recent radio documentary does just that – looking back at the monumental year that was 1913. In this year, modernism took flight, and its arrival sent shockwaves through the world of arts and culture at the time.

The documentary explores the monumental events that shook the arts and culture world in the early 20th century. Two of these the birth of the Armory Show in New York, and the debut of the ballet The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky and Nijinsky.

The original armory show. Image from the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Armory was the antithesis of the artistic exhibitions of the time, and the perhaps the birthplace of the contemporary gallery setting that we are familiar with today. It presented new paintings that were experimental, propelling the art world into a new world of interpretation, non-traditional aesthetics, and a changed perspective on the culture of painting. The most famous painting shown at the first Armory show is perhaps Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp.

Image via University of Virginia American Studies Program.

Nude Descending a Staircase No 2 by Marcel DuChamp. Via Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Rite of Spring broke cultural ground in the music world of 1913, and is infamous for having sparked a riot during its first performance in Paris. The ideal of ballet at the time was lyrical and fluid, much like what we expect it to be today. The Rite of Spring was pretty much the opposite – flat feet, bent knees, and pulsating, rhythmic music.

Performers of The Rite of Spring. Image via Houses and Books.

Not to give too much else away, but the documentary discusses not only visual arts and music, but also makes connections between the modernist movement in arts and culture to other significant breakthroughs in science and psychology. Indeed this was an era where everything was becoming connected, and yet it resounded with dissonance at the same time.

Contemporary performance of The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Pina Bausch image from Intuitive Clutch.

Perhaps the most important point of the documentary is that it posits an undermining question. If 1913 was so monumental, then could we also be on the verge of something in this century? What is happening to us as we become more connected, but at the same time more distant in a hyper-real, digital world? We may find that out soon enough.

Listen to the full program online here.

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