The Armory Show – 1913

The Armory Show

The Armory Show, a seminal monthlong art exhibition held in 1913 at a military barracks in New York City, exposed Americans for the first time to cutting-edge European painters such as Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and has been credited with introducing modern art in American culture.

More tha 300 artists participated in the show, including European painters Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), as well as American artists such as Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) and George Bellows (1882-1925). Painters and sculptors representing cubism, futurism, postimpressionism, and other avant-garde European styles were included in the show, marking the first time most had been shown to an American audience.

The exhibition opened in New York City’s Sixty-Ninth Regiment armory building on February 17, 1913. Over the next month, thousands of Americans, including former president Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), toured the show.

Reactions ranged from hostile to ecstatic. Many critics singled out for ridicule Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, a cubist work that depicted a figure in motion by superimposing successive images on top of one another. Fans praised Duchamp for inventing a new way to represent motion in painting, but critics – including Roosevelt – hated it.

To fans, the exhibit was a watershed event, and it immediately has a profound impact on American art, American social realism – lifelike paintings that depicted street and factory scenes – almost immediately gave way to a more abstract style inspired by the paintings at the Armory Show.

After closing in New York, the show moved to Chicago, where it continued to amaze, inspire, and befuddle in equal proportions.

Additional Facts

1. Nude Descending a Staircase is now permanently housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

2. Although Duchamp was a successful artist, he largely abandoned painting in the 1920s to become a full-time chess player.

3. New York City has staged a new Armory Show annually since 1999.

From The Intellectual Devotional – Modern Culture by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim

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