“Nineteen Nineteen,” the major exhibition of the Centennial Celebration at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, will open on Sept. 21, 2019, demonstrating a pivotal year in world history with about 275 objects drawn from The Huntington’s holdings. The exhibition, on view through Jan. 20, 2020, has a twist: All the objects on view were made, published, edited, exhibited, or acquired in 1919—selected from the institution’s vast storehouse of some 11 million items. The Huntington that emerges from this display is one as multifaceted and surprising as the tumultuous year of its founding, a year that roiled as soldiers returned from World War I, African Americans faced violence during the “Red Summer,” women fought for the right to vote, and cripplingly high inflation sparked labor unrest.
With objects as varied as posters from the German Revolution, abstract art, suffragist magazines, children’s books, aeronautic manuals, self-help guides for soldiers returning home from World War I, and a book hand printed by Virginia Woolf at her kitchen table, “Nineteen Nineteen” connects the generous act of two extraordinary Gilded Age collectors on their magnificent Southern California estate to the international aftershocks of a war that set the stage for the 20th century. When Henry and Arabella Huntington signed the trust document on August 30, 1919, that would transform their property into a public institution, the United States and Europe began their long recovery from World War I.
Henry Huntington was once asked whether he planned to write an autobiography describing his career. He demurred and said in response, “This library will tell the story; it represents the reward of all the work that I have ever done and the realization of much happiness.” When exhibition co-curators James Glisson, interim chief curator of American art, and Jennifer Watts, curator of photography and visual culture, were considering a Huntington centennial exhibition, they decided to take Huntington at his word and allow the library and art collections to tell the tale.
“This exhibition is not a historical account of the founders, though there are biographical elements threaded throughout,” said Watts. “We chose rather to look outward to the nation and the world, using The Huntington’s remarkable collections to tell the story of a single cataclysmic year. What better way to honor a 100-year anniversary of a collections-based institution than to excavate the collections that Henry and Arabella Huntington themselves began?”