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The Armory Show of 1913
Linda Larson

Shelley Staples


Joseph Conte

New York Times

Three forces were influencing American art at the beginning of the 20th Century:

1) Art Academies
2) Ash Can School
3) abstract artists

Members of these three proposed unity through the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (1911).

The association planned to bring American art together at the Armory Show (1913) which proposed to represent all current schools of American painting.

But who would be the organizer? (There had been years of fighting between the groups.)  They needed someone acceptable to all.

Arthur B. Davies: member of the "Eight" (1908 show) who also made regular visits to the abstractionists' gallery. He made fantasy paintings that neither offended nor excited anyone. But he had two secrets:

1) families by two wives
2) passion for modern European art

At first Davies suggested that the show include "at least some" modern European painters. (The others did not want to alienate Davies, so they agreed.)

Davies and Walt Kuhn (secretary of association) traveled to Europe in 1912; encouraged Matisse and others to exhibit.

They believed that the U.S. was ready for new styles because:

1) Economic panic (1907) resulted in doubts about big business monopolies (court dockets crowded with Sherman Antitrust Act cases).

2) Theodore Roosevelt & his "progressive" Bull Moose Party split from conservative Republican Party
(William Howard Taft) in 1912. Resulted in election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

3) Women marching for equality (right to vote in 1919).

Armory Show: 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Ave. in New York, sponsored by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

More than 1,600 entries, grouped by country; 1/3 were European.

One February night in 1913, just before show, Robert Henri visited the armory where he faced works by Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, Van Gogh... He met Davies and Walter Pach (former Henri student turned abstract artist and critic).

"I hope that for every French picture that is sold, you sell an American one." - Henri

"That's not the proportion of merit." - Pach

"If the Americans find they've just been working for the French, they won't be prompted to do this again." - Henri

New York: $30,000 of sales for foreign works ; $13,600 for U.S. works (foreign entries received all of the publicity).

Estimates vary greatly, but somewhere between 70,000 and 250,000 people visited the exhibit in New York

Instead of bridging gap, the show blew the art world apart.

Outrage: Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp.

contest to find nude; "staircase descending a nude"; T. Roosevelt found better design in a Navajo Blanket.

results: 1) established abstract as force in American art

2) public reaction dismissed as massive ignorance

3) American artists found they were far behind the Europeans

Boston: 13,000 (protests)

Art Institute of Chicago: 200,000

critic: "It was a good show, but don't do it again"

key2.gif (90 bytes) The Armory Show of 1913 was organized to bring peace and good fortune.