AE Monthly

Articles - April - 2013 Issue

The 1913 Armory Show Revisited – The New Spirit

4 entrance to armory nyc 1913

Entrance to the huge exhibit of more than 1200 works as it looked in 1913.

100th Anniversary of Landmark 20th Century Exhibit

Many special events & on-line sites join in celebration

The Armory Show, even 100 years later the name alone conjures up superlatives: it was huge, it was modern and it was America’s first look at new (and what many thought exceedingly strange) ideas of art and beauty coming from Europe. Mabel Dodge (who helped to organize and promote the show) wrote to Gertrude Stein that it was “the most important public event… since the signing of the Declaration of Independence” and predicted it would cause “a riot and a revolution and things will never be the same afterwards.”

Artists and sculptors like Cezanne, Matisse, Van Gough, Gauguin, Rousseau, Brancusi, Braque, Munch, Kandinsky and Kirschner filled the galleries along with their mostly much tamer American counterparts. Work from the Fauves, the Cubists, Impressionists filled 18 rooms. The “Futurists” (a catch-all term for the strange new wild men - and a few women) were the talk of the town.

The show presented over 1,200 pieces representing work by 300 artists. About a third of the artists were Americans. It ran only a month in NYC - from February 15 to March 15 and everybody who was anybody went to see it.

They jammed the huge space at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue at 25th Street in Manhattan. Though many of these images would one day routinely grace the coffee cups, t-shirts and dish towels of museum shops from coast to coast, in the spring of 1913 they were scandalous – and new vocabulary in fact was invented to describe and ridicule the show and the artists in it.

“Confusion, bewilderment, anger, and stubbornness were ubiquitous in the reports on the Armory Show,” wrote Kristen M. Osborne in her recent evaluation of its impact sub-titled ‘Much Ado About Everything.’

“Some reviews were vitriolic and derisive in tone, often accompanied by comic strips and little rhymes that mocked and jibed the artwork. Critics were almost as innovative in fashioning an aspersion as the artists were in composing the pictures that received them.

“The criticism flung at the show on its opening day did not abate as the exhibition stretched into March. First impressions of the vastness of scale, the cosmopolitan aura, and the significance of New York as a venue were not denied, but the art itself, particularly the Cubists and the rest lumped under the 'Futurists,' were mercilessly attacked.”

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