Many exhibitions have been held in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories, but the Armory Show refers to the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art that was organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors—the first large exhibition of modern art in America. 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 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. The show became an important event in the history of American art, introducing astonished Americans, who were accustomed to realistic art, to the experimental styles of the European Avant-garde, including Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism. The show served as a catalyst for American artists, who became more independent and created their own “artistic language.”
On 14 December 1911 an early meeting of what would become the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) was organized at Madison Gallery in New York. Four artists met to discuss the contemporary art scene in the United States, and the possibilities of organizing exhibitions of progressive artworks by living American and foreign artists, favoring works ignored or rejected by current exhibitions.
Once the space had been secured, the most complicated planning task was selecting the art for the show, particularly after the decision was made to include a large proportion of vanguard European work, most of which had never been seen by an American audience.
The Armory Show was the first, and, ultimately, the only exhibition mounted by the AAPS. It 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. News reports and reviews were filled with accusations of quackery, insanity, immorality, and anarchy, as well as parodies, caricatures, doggerels and mock exhibitions. 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.
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. Gutzon Borglum, one of the early organizers of the show who for a variety of reasons withdrew both his organizational prowess and his work, labeled this piece A staircase descending a nude, while J. F. Griswold, a writer for the New York Evening Sun, entitled it The rude descending a staircase (Rush hour in the subway). The painting was purchased from the Armory Show by Fredric C. Torrey of San Francisco.
The purchase of Paul Cézanne’s Hill of the Poor (View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph) by the Metropolitan Museum of Art signaled an integration of modernism into the established New York museums, but among the younger artists represented, Cézanne was already an established master.
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 Whitmanwhen 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.
Starting with a small exhibition in 1994, by 2001 the “New” New York Armory Show, held in piers on the Hudson River, evolved into a “hugely entertaining” (New York Times) annual contemporary arts festival with a strong commercial bent. The 2008 and 2009 Armory Shows did not hold back on the more crude and vulgar works, which are not unknown for the show, which has been less tame in past years.
On November 5, 2013, Swann Auction Galleries in New York will hold their Armory Show at 100 Auction, which will exhibit works by over 100 of the artists represented in the original 1913 exhibition. The carefully curated catalogue includes works by Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia, Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis and Alfred Henry Maurer to name several. Swann is the only auction gallery that will hold a specialized auction commemorating the 1913 Armory Show.
Commemorating the Centennial
Five physical exhibitions in 2013 celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Armory Show, as well as a number of publications, virtual exhibitions, and programs. The first exhibition, “The New Spirit: American Art in the Armory Show, 1913,” opened at the Montclair Art Museum on Feb. 17, 2013, a hundred years to the day from the original. The second exhibition organized by the New-York Historical Society, titled “The Armory Show at 100,” took place from October 18, 2013 through February 23, 2014. The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, which lent dozens of historic documents to both the New York Historical Society and Montclair for the exhibitions, has created an online timeline of events, 1913 Armory Show: the Story in Primary Sources, to showcase the records and documents created by the show’s organizers. Showing contemporary work, a third exhibition, The Fountain Art Fair, was held at the 69th Regiment Armory itself during the 100th anniversary during March 8-10, 2013. The ethos of Fountain Art Fair was inspired by Duchamp’s famous, “Fountain” which was the symbol of the Fair. The Art Institute of Chicago, which was the only museum to host the 1913 Armory Show, presented works February 20 – May 12, 2013, the items drawn from the museum’s modern collection that were displayed in the original 1913 exhibition. The DePaul Art Museum in Chicago, Illinois presented For and Against Modern Art: The Armory Show +100, from April 4 to June 16, 2013. In addition, the Greenwich Historical Society presented The New Spirit and the Cos Cob Art Colony: Before and After the Armory Show, from October 9, 2013, through January 12, 2014. The show focused on the effects of the Armory Show on the Cos Cob Art Colony, and highlighted the involvement of artists such as Elmer Livingston MacRae and Henry Fitch Taylor in producing the show.
American filmmaker Michael Maglaras produced a documentary film about the Armory Show entitled, “The Great Confusion: The 1913 Armory Show”. The film premiered on September 26, 2013, at the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut.
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