...Menard's fragmentary Quixote is more subtle than Cervantes'...Sometimes you get ideas that you are in no position to implement: and so you start passing the idea around, hoping that someone better suited will pick it up and run with it. This is one of those.
-- Jorge Luis Borges
The 1913 Armory Show (officially the "International Exhibition of Modern Art") was a major exhibition of European modern artists in the U.S. -- frequently (although no doubt simplistically) described as the event that introduced modern art to America. This site has a lot of information about the Armory Show, including a partial digital reconstruction of the show; a contemporary photograph of the exhibit hall is here. It was a striking and important cultural event. There is a good basic introduction to the event in this article, which describes the show as follows:
The exhibit challenged and changed both the academic and public definition and attitude toward art, and by doing so altered the course of history for American artists. Marking the end of one era and the beginning of another, The Armory Show shattered the provincial calm of American art... The Armory Show has consistently been regarded as a moment of cultural crisis and a radical break with tradition, out of which emerged a new and vital art, literature and drama. Noted art historian William H. Gerdts has referred to it as ‘epochal’.
So what about recreating it for the centennial in 2013?
Note that I am not talking about putting on a new show of modern (or contemporary or current or whatever word you want to choose that hasn't been co-opted by a now-past cultural moment). That sort of thing happens all the time, in numerous venues -- in fact, there is a current Armory Show which does that, annually if their web site is anything to go by. Lots of different people put on shows of hot new artistic happenings: my guess is they're frequent enough to become, by themselves, old hat.
No, what I am suggesting is a literal recreation of the 1913 Armory Show for the 2013 centennial: get all the same works of art (or as many as possible: all would be the goal, although possibly not attainable) and reproduce the show. Let people of 2013 see what rocked the world of 1913.
Partly this would be fun in and of itself -- a chance to see a seemingly long-past art show, like going to see a Shakespeare play in the recreated Globe Theater. But mostly it would be an interesting lesson in cultural shift. For undoubtedly the works -- singly and together -- would mean very different things to us today. Would they still seem as powerful? Would they seem dated? Would they remind us of possibilities forgotten?
Like Pierre Menard's Don Quixote, the same "text" in a new cultural context would mean something radically different in a new context. Seeing it in this new way would teach us about art (the art of the now-century old modern, the art of our time, art in general); it would teach us about the past, and about ourselves.
It's not only that we know it would be a great show (since it was before); it's also that it would be a great show in both expected and unexpected ways. From its multiplicity of readings, I think it would have far more to say about contemporary art than any contemporary contemporary art show could. -- At the very least, it would make a great counterpoint to them.
So what about it? Is there a visionary curator in the house?