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Saturday Art: New York Armory Show of 1913


Nude Descending a Staircase
by Marcel Duchamp

(Picture courtesy of williamcromar photostream at

The hundredth anniversary of the even that introduced this country to Modern Art is taking place this year.  Above is one major work introduced to the U.S. art world in that exhibit.

The traditions of representational art had been breached in the beginnings of impressionism, with artistic interpretation coming to the fore.   Replacing pure technique with imagination, modernity found various reactions in different groups characterized by their own versions of art appreciation.

The Armory Show of 1913, officially known as The International Exhibition of Modern Art, was the first large exhibition of such works in America. The exhibit challenged and changed both the academic and public definition and attitude toward art, and by doing so altered the course of history for American artists. Marking the end of one era and the beginning of another, The Armory Show shattered the provincial calm of American art. It rocked the public and blasted the academies of painting and sculpture. Four thousand guests visited the rooms on the opening night. For the first time, the American public, the press, and the art world in general were exposed to the changes wrought by the great innovators in European art, from Cezanne to Picasso. The exhibit led to profound changes in the art market in the United States, and to the broad acceptance of modern works.


Exhibitors’ names read like a Who’s Who list of American art. Among them were: George W. Bellows ((1992-1925), Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938), Solon Borglum (1868-1922), Patrick H. Bruce (1880-1937), Mary Cassatt (1845-1926), Stuart Davis (1892-1964),James Earle Fraser (1876-1953), Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Edward Hopper (1882- 1967),Elie Nadelman (1882-1946), Maurice Prendergast ((1859-1924), John Sloan (1871-1951), Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), Bessie Vonnoh (1872-1955), and James Whistler (1834-1903). Among those European artists whose work was seen in the US for the first time were Wassily Kandinsky(Russian, 1866-1944), Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973), and Marcel Duchamp (French, 1887-1968) who later spent much time in New York. While the purchase of Cézanne’s ‘Hill of the Poor’ by the Metropolitan Museum of Art signaled an integration of modernism into official art channels, the shock and outrage which ensued from Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending the Staircase’, and Matisse’s ‘Luxury’, connected the Armory Show with an avant-garde who aggressively questioned the boundaries of art as espoused by institutions.(snip)

The new art, welcomed by the Armory Show, was considered a negation of the basic values of academic art, a negation that challenged the whole education method.For centuries, the artist’s training had been in the study of the nude figure, in drawing and painting from careful observation of the model, and in the copying of works of the old masters. In the minds of Academy followers, works in which the human figure scarcely existed or was deformed at liberty were incomprehensible. Understandably, these opponents of modern art felt that they defended a threatened heritage, and in the name of all past and sacred values, they opposed a new possibility of freedom in art. In the face of such opposition, American artists, confident of the necessity that art relate to contemporary life, appealed to freedom and modernity.(snip)

 Viewers were encouraged to accept non-representational form because of its derivation from the art of the continents’ first peoples, deliberately distancing it from European modernism. Armory Show critics participated in arguments concerning ‘cultural relativism’ and ‘primitivism’ that became key elements in the discourse on early 20th-century art. With the desire to cultivate a distinctly American art, which was not merely a product of the 1930s but was very much at the heart of the Armory Show debates, came a reevaluation of Native American cultural objects and their position within an American art tradition.

Artists from many different backgrounds and practices were represented.  The Armory Show marked a new breadth of art recognition, and brought American tastes into a realm that had been growing through the rest of the world.

Below is another work introduced to the U.S. at the 1913 Show.

(Picture below courtesy of wallyg at


Matisse study for Luxe; Calme et Volupte

 (Picture below courtesy of j-No at

New York Armory Show 2013

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Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.