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Sat Feb 17, 2024, 11:00 AM Feb 17

On This Day: Modern art arrives in America - shocks viewers and culture - Feb. 17, 1913 [View all]

(edited from articel)
'Armory Show' That Shocked America In 1913
February 17, 2013

On Feb. 17, 1913, an art exhibition opened in New York City that shocked the country, changed our perception of beauty and had a profound effect on artists and collectors.

The International Exhibition of Modern Art — which came to be known, simply, as the Armory Show — marked the dawn of Modernism in America. It was the first time the phrase "avant-garde" was used to describe painting and sculpture.

"It's this moment in time, 100 years ago, in which the foundations of cultural practice were totally reordered in as great a way as we have seen," she says. "And that this marks a reordering of the rules of art-making — it's as big as we've seen since the Renaissance.

The 1913 Armory Show attracted 87,000 visitors in New York City before it traveled to Chicago, where critic Harriet Monroe saw it. She wrote in the Sunday Tribune, "These radical artists are right. They represent a search for new beauty" and "a longing for new versions of truth observed."

(edited from Wikipedia)
Armory Show

The 1913 Armory Show, also known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art, was organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors. It was the first large exhibition of modern art in America, as well as one of the many exhibitions that have been held in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories.

The three-city exhibition started in New York City's 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, from February 17 until March 15, 1913. The exhibition went on to the Art Institute of Chicago and then to The Copley Society of Art in Boston, where, due to a lack of space, all the work by American artists was removed.

The show became an important event in the history of American art, introducing Americans, who were accustomed to realistic art, to the experimental styles of the European avant garde, including Fauvism and Cubism. The show served as a catalyst for American artists, who became more independent and created their own "artistic language."

"The origins of the show lie in the emergence of progressive groups and independent exhibitions in the early 20th century (with significant French precedents), which challenged the aesthetic ideals, exclusionary policies, and authority of the National Academy of Design, while expanding exhibition and sales opportunities, enhancing public knowledge, and enlarging audiences for contemporary art."


In January 1912, Walt Kuhn, Walter Pach, and Arthur B. Davies joined together with some two dozen of their colleagues to reinforce a professional coalition: The Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS). AAPS members spent more than a year planning their first project: the International Exhibition of Modern Art, a show of giant proportions, unlike any New York had seen. The 69th Regiment Armory was settled on as the main site for the exhibition in the spring of 1912.

In September 1912, Kuhn left for an extended collecting tour through Europe, including stops at cities in England, Germany, the Netherlands, and France, visiting galleries, collections and studios and contracting for loans as he went. While in Paris Kuhn met up with Pach, who knew the art scene there intimately, and was friends with Marcel Duchamp and Henri Matisse; Davies joined them there in November 1912. Together they secured three paintings that would end up being among the Armory Show's most famous and polarizing: Matisse's Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra) and Madras Rouge (Red Madras Headdress), and Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. Only after Davies and Kuhn returned to New York in December did they issue an invitation for American artists to participate.

The Armory Show displayed some 1,300 paintings, sculptures, and decorative works by over 300 avant-garde European and American artists. Impressionist, Fauvist, and Cubist works were represented. The publicity that stormed the show had been well sought, with the publication of half-tone postcards of 57 works, including the Duchamp nude that would become its most infamous.

[Insanity, immorality, and anarchy]

News reports and reviews were filled with accusations of quackery, insanity, immorality, and anarchy, as well as parodies, caricatures, doggerels, and mock exhibitions. Some responded with laughter, as the artist John French Sloan seemed to not take the exhibition seriously in his published cartoon, "A slight attack of third dimentia brought on by excessive study of the much-talked of cubist pictures in the International Exhibition at New York".

About the modern works, former President Theodore Roosevelt declared, "That's not art!". The civil authorities did not, however, close down or otherwise interfere with the show.

[Nude Descending a Staircase]

Among the scandalously radical works of art, pride of place goes to Marcel Duchamp's cubist/futurist style Nude Descending a Staircase, painted the year before, in which he expressed motion with successive superimposed images, as in motion pictures. Julian Street, an art critic, wrote that the work resembled "an explosion in a shingle factory" (this quote is also attributed to Joel Spingarn), and cartoonists satirized the piece.

The exhibition went on to show at the Art Institute of Chicago and then to The Copley Society of Art in Boston, where, due to a lack of space, all the work by American artists was removed.

[Vows to investigate by legislative white slave commission]

While in Chicago, the exhibition created a scandal that reached the governor's office. Several articles in the press recounted the issue. In one newspaper the headline read: Cubist Art Will be Investigated; Illinois Legislative Investigators to Probe the Moral Tone of the Much Touted Art:

Chicago, April 2: Charges that the international exhibition of cubist and futurist pictures, now being displayed here at the art institute, contains many indecent canvasses and sculptures will be investigated at once by the Illinois legislature white slave commission. A visit of an investigator to the show and his report on the pictures caused Lieutenant Governor Barratt O'Hara to order an immediate examination of the entire exhibition. Mr. O'Hara sent the investigator to look over the pictures after he had received many complaints of the character of the show. "We will not condemn the international exhibit without an impartial investigation," said the lieutenant governor today. "I have received many complaints, however, and we owe it to the public that the subject be looked into thoroughly." The investigator reported that a number of the pictures were "immoral and suggestive." Senators Woodward and Beall of the commission will visit the exhibition today.

— Ottumwa Tri-Weekly Courier, Iowa, 3 April 1913


The original exhibition was an overwhelming success. There have been several exhibitions that were celebrations of its legacy throughout the 20th century.

In 1944 the Cincinnati Art Museum mounted a smaller version, in 1958 Amherst College held an exhibition of 62 works, 41 of which were in the original show, and in 1963 the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York, organized the "1913 Armory Show 50th Anniversary Exhibition" sponsored by the Henry Street Settlement in New York, which included more than 300 works.

Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) was officially launched by the engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer and the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman when they collaborated in 1966 and together organized 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, a series of performance art presentations that united artists and engineers. Ten artists worked with more than 30 engineers to produce art performances incorporating new technology. The performances were held in the 69th Regiment Armory, as an homage to the original and historical 1913 Armory show.

In February 2009, the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) presented its 21st annual Art Show to benefit the Henry Street Settlement, at the Seventh Regiment Armory, located between 66th and 67th Streets and Park and Lexington Avenues in New York City. The exhibition began as a historical homage to the original 1913 Armory Show.[citation needed]

Starting with a small exhibition in 1994, by 2001 The Armory Show, now held at the Javits Center, evolved into a "hugely entertaining" (The New York Times) annual contemporary arts festival with a strong commercial bent.


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