1913 Armory Show in Documents, Letters and Pictures

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Picasso’s list of artists he said should be in the Armory Show

http://armoryshow.si.edu/about.html

Walt Kuhn scrapbook of press clippings documenting the Armory Show, vol. 1, 1913

Walt Kuhn scrapbook documenting the Armory Show, 1913. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Armory show button and lapel pin, 1913

Armory show button and lapel pin, 1913, from the Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

As part of the centennial of the International Exhibition of Modern Art, also known as the Armory Show, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art developed this digital exhibition to make our materials available to a wider public. The story of the 1913 Armory Show cannot be told without the Archives of American Art. The Archives holds the largest accumulation of primary source material, ranging from official records produced by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) to the firsthand—and often irreverent—accounts by visitors to the show. Since their discovery in the middle of the last century, these resources have enriched our understanding of the 1913 Armory Show’s indelible impact on American art. This exhibition encourages visitors to access digital reproductions of key documents about the show from the Archives’ collections.

The Archives’ holdings document the development of the Armory Show and its critical reception. Many were created by key organizers Arthur B. Davies, Walt Kuhn, and Walter Pach, who conceived, organized, and executed the exhibition of approximately 1250 artworks in record time. Related press materials reflect their savvy, professional publicity tactics, which generated enormous amounts of copy both serious and sensational and resulted in outstanding attendance and numerous sales. Artists and critics reacted both in favor and against the Armory Show. Together the letters, sales records, printed ephemera, and personal diaries paint a picture of the Armory Show that is as dynamic as the stunning diversity of works on display.

About the 1913 Armory Show

The International Exhibition of Modern Art was the first major exhibition of European modern art in the United States. Leaders of AAPS organized the show in New York, New York at the 69th Regiment Armory, from February 17 to March 15, 1913. (Gradually the moniker, the Armory Show supplanted the longer, official title.) It then traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois from March 24 to April 16, 1913. Finally, the Copley Society of Boston hosted the show at Copley Hall in Boston, Massachusetts from April 28 to May 19, 1913. Organizers boasted that the show would be recognized as “the greatest modern show ever given any where on earth, as far as regards high standard of merit.” That we continue to observe anniversaries and study its legacy is a testament to its great significance.

About the Archives of American Art

The Archives of American Art is the world’s pre-eminent and most widely used research center dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to primary sources that document the history of the visual arts in America.

Our vast holdings—more than 20 million letters, diaries and scrapbooks of artists, dealers, and collectors; manuscripts of critics and scholars; business and financial records of museums, galleries, schools, and associations; photographs of art world figures and events; sketches and sketchbooks; rare printed material; film, audio and video recordings; and the largest collection of oral histories anywhere on the subject of art—are a vital resource to anyone interested in American culture over the past 200 years.

Acknowledgements

Many of the key documents related to the Armory Show may be found in the Walt Kuhn papers and the Walter Pach papers. Their papers, now digitized, form part of the Terra Foundation Center for Digital Collections. The Terra Foundation for American Art has funded Archives of American Art’s ongoing project to create an unparalleled virtual repository for the study of the visual arts of the United States. A digitization project team–a manager, archivists, curators, digital imaging technicians, and a webmaster–ensures that the Archives remains a vibrant resource for the critical study and appreciation of American art, anticipating and responding to new digital modes of

learning

, scholarship, curatorship and reference. This web project seeks to engage and familiarize growing audiences worldwide with the Archives’ unique holdings.

-Dr. Kelly Quinn, Terra Foundation Project Manager for Online Scholarly and Educational Initiatives

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Who’s Who at the 1913 Armory Show

Many people helped make the International Exhibition of Modern Art into the influential 1913 Armory Show. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children visited the show in New York, Chicago, and Boston. Many more read about the show in sensational coverage in newspapers and magazines. Hundreds of artists either displayed their work or hoped to. Many collectors, dealers, and critics considered and assessed the work for its value to the emerging market for American Art. And, a much small cadre of devoted organizers worked diligently for months to assemble and execute the show. Each had a story to tell.

This digital exhibition is based on archival materials from the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art, which maintains the papers of key organizers including the Walt Kuhn papers, and the Walter Pach papers. Walt Kuhn’s papers contain two significant series: the records of the Armory Show and the records of Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS). Among our many other collections, one can find references to the 1913 Armory Show.

This list of Who’s Who for the 1913 Armory Show identifies figures who are related to the show and who appear on our timeline; it is not a comprehensive list.

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Walt Kuhn

Portrait of Walt Kuhn, 1904 or 1905Portrait of Walt Kuhn, 1904 or 1905. Photograph by Pangborn. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn Family papers, and Armory Show records, 1859-1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Walt Kuhn (1877–1949) was an artist, a promoter of modern art, and a stalwart dissident of academic art, especially the Ashcan School in New York City. As secretary of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS), he was charged with recording and maintaining many of the official primary source records pertaining to the Armory Show. As a faithful correspondent with his wife, his personal letters serve as a fascinating unofficial record of his efforts.

Kuhn exhibited five pieces in the Armory Show including oil paintings and drawings.

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Vera Spier Kuhn

Vera Kuhn, Summer 1914Vera Kuhn, Summer 1914. Photograph by Walt Kuhn. Walter Pach papers, 1857–1980. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Vera Spier Kuhn (1885–1961) studied jewelry-making in Washington D.C. and Woodstock, NY, and opened a studio on East 23rd Street in 1908. There, she met Walt; they married the next year. During his involvement with the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS), Vera Kuhn stayed with her mother and Brenda, their young daughter, at her mother’s home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Walt and Vera’s extensive correspondence during this period contains rich details about the 1913 Armory Show. He credited Vera with being the most important factor in his success.

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Walter Pach

Walter Pach, ca. 1909Walter Pach, ca. 1909. Photograph by Pach Brothers. Walter Pach papers, 1857–1980. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Walter Pach (1883–1958) was an artist and critic. Pach wrote extensively about art, bringing an emerging modernist viewpoint to the American public.

Walter Pach had cultivated friendships with noteworthy artists in Paris, including Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, and Constantin Brancusi. When he learned about the exhibition, Pach wrote to Arthur B. Davies and volunteered assistance. Pach soon became a critical force in making connections with European artists especially in Paris, shaping the vibrant nature of the exhibition. Along with Davies and Kuhn, he was able to bring together leading contemporary European and American artists. In late 1912 and early 1913, Pach acted as the agent of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) in Europe.

Pach exhibited ten pieces in the Armory Show including oil paintings and etchings.

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Arthur B. Davies

Arthur B. Davies, ca. 1908Arthur B. Davies, ca. 1908. Photograph by Gertrude Käsebier. Ferargil Galleries records, circa 1900-1963. Archives of American, Smithsonian Institution.

Arthur B. Davies (1862–1928) was an artist and organizer. Davies possessed formidable organizational skills which served him well as the second elected president of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS).

Davies was also a knowledgeable authority on emerging trends in European and American art in the early 1910s. Indeed, it was Davies who urged Walt Kuhn to travel to Europe to visit major exhibitions in Cologne and London. Davies helped to mount the 1913 Armory Show and, along with Walter Pach, was largely responsible for the art in the International Exhibition. His dynamic career as an artist and patron often involved promoting post-impressionism in the United States.

Davies exhibited six pieces in the Armory Show including oil paintings and pastels.

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Elmer MacRae

Elmer L. Mac Rae, ca. 1893Elmer L. Mac Rae, ca. 1893 / unidentified photographer. 1913 Armory Show, 50th anniversary exhibition records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Elmer MacRae (1875–1953) was an artist and treasurer of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS). Prior to the Armory Show, he was an active member of The Pastellists, a group of artists who banded together in 1910 to exhibit pastels. Participants in Pastellist exhibitions included AAPS members Jerome Meyers, Arthur Davies and Walt Kuhn.MacRae exhibited 10 pastels in the Armory Show.

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http://armoryshow.si.edu/highlights/

Walt Kuhn’s Itinerary through Europe, 1912

Annotated Map of Walt Kuhn’s Travels in Europe Fall 1912Annotated Map of Walt Kuhn’s Travels in Europe Fall 1912, based on The Rand-McNally New Library Atlas Map of Europe 1912, Library of Congress and the Walt Kuhn Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Walt Kuhn traveled through Europe between September and November 1912 in pursuit of works for the International Exhibition of Modern Art. The red dots indicate the places Kuhn visited.

  1. Plymouth
  2. Hamburg
  3. Cologne and Düsseldorf
  4. The Hague and Amsterdam
  5. Berlin
  6. Munich
  7. Paris
  8. London

Arthur B. Davies, his colleague from Association of American Painters and Sculptors, helped to plan the itinerary. In Paris, Kuhn met with Walter Pach who acted as the AAPS agent in Europe. Davies joined them in Paris, and traveled to London with Kuhn. Kuhn and Davies then returned to the United States on November 30, 1912.

Kuhn described his travels–via ships, trains, and automobiles–in extensive, vivid correspondence with Vera, his wife. In letters and postcards, he shared details about fellow passengers, accommodations, cafés, meals, and transportation. He also chronicled interactions with artists, gallerists, critics, and dealers. He wrote nearly daily notes in which he confided both exhilaration and exhaustion.

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Walt Kuhn letter to Vera Kuhn, October 8, 1912

Walt Kuhn letter to Vera Kuhn, 1912 Oct. 8.Final page of Walt Kuhn letter to Vera Kuhn, 1912 Oct. 8 from the Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Walt Kuhn‘s correspondence with his wife Vera Spier Kuhn offers insight into the challenges of making a major tour for the exhibition. Kuhn wrote a lengthy letter to Vera from Berlin. In it, he wrote of his travels and accommodations in Cologne, The Hague, and Berlin. In comic, poetic and occasionally problematic terms, he discussed the people and places he visited. He also explained his efforts to secure works to exhibit, in particular his search for works by Van Gogh and Cézanne.

He explained that he was too tired from his efforts for the exhibition to make any sketches. He clarified:

Being on a trip of this sort is so different from any I’ve ever tackled. I can’t forget it isn’t my money, and that I will have to produce its’ value. However, as soon as I get through with the stars, Van G[ogh] + Cezanne, I’ll feel as though there is something coming to me and when I get to Munich I’ll take a day or two off. Being spruced up all the time spoils things too. Lately I’ve shaved every day. I almost feel like a traveling salesman.

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Securing a Space: The 69th Regiment Armory

On April 19, 1912 Walt Kuhn, on behalf of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS), entered into negotiations with Col. Louis D. Conley to lease space within the 69th Regiment Armory for $5,000, plus a $500 fee for additional personnel. On May 6, Col. Conley issued the formal agreement to lease the facility for one month, from February 15 to March 15, 1913. The lease ensured that AAPS pay a fee to provide for extra janitors to clean and assistants to guard the Armory’s facilities. Col. Conley declined a request to provide extra time in the Armory to install and remove the show without further compensation. He also denied a request for extra storage space in the basement because of the need to store 16 army wagons during the exhibition.

On March 3, 1913, Col. Conley wrote to obtain 200 passes to the exhibition for use by officers and non-commissioned officers.

Letter from Colonel Louis Conley to Walt Kuhn, April 19, 1912Letter from Colonel Louis Conley to Walt Kuhn, April 19, 1912, from Series 1.1.4: Publicity, 1912-1913 (Box 1, Folder 45) of the Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Letter from Colonel Louis Conley to Walt Kuhn, March 3, 1913Letter from Colonel Louis Conley to Walt Kuhn, March 3, 1913, from Series 1.1.4: Publicity, 1912-1913 (Box 1, Folder 45) of the Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Walter Pach’s Sales Records at the 1913 Armory Show

Walter Pach’s ledger for March 4-6, 1913 contains an entry for the sale of the show’s perhaps most celebrated piece: Marcel Duchamp’s “Nu descendant un escalier / Nude figure descending a staircase.” Frederick C. Torrey, a dealer from the San Franscisco-based interior design firm Vickery, Atkins & Torrey, bought the painting for $324.00.

These sames pages also allow us to glimpse the formation of venerable American art collections and institutions. Over this three day period, Pach registered sales to several prominent art patrons and collectors. For example, on March 4 and March 5, he noted, Sold to Miss Bliss. Lillie P. Bliss bought 20 pieces of art during the Armory Show, including works by Cézanne, Denis, Gaugin, Redon, Renoir, and Vuillard. Through her acquisitions, she developed a major art collection, one that formed the core of Museum of Modern Art, (MoMA). On March 5, Pach entered H.C. Frick‘s purchase of his painting, Flowers. Henry Clay Frick, an industrialist and art patron, later donated his mansion and art to establish the Frick Collection. And, on March 6, Pach logged Dr. A.C. Barnes‘s acquistion of Maurice de Vlaminck’s oil painting, Les Figures. Alfred Barnes established the Barnes Foundation, an educational art institution, a decade later.

Another notable entry on this register is the sale of six Wilhelm Lehmbruck drawings and one Edouard Vuilllard lithograph to Mrs. C. S. Davidge on March 5. These brief lines belie her intimate involvement with exhibition. As proprietor of the Madison Gallery at 305 Madison Avenue, the address marked in the ledger, Clara S. Davidge exhibited the work of several of the founding members of Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS); Jerome Myers, Elmer MacRae, and Walt Kuhn’s showed their work in December 1911. There, they met with Henry Fitch Taylor, the gallery manager, and convened AAPS’s first official meetings. In preparation for the International Exhibition of Modern Art, Davidge solicited $3,500 from donors. And, she married Taylor on March 20, 1913; the couple “honeymooned” in Boston while they installed the show at Copley Hall.

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armory poster

Poster: International Exhibition of Modern Art, 1913
Silkscreen
William E. Finch, Jr. Archives, 1958

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NYTimes

Rethinking the Armory Show

Bettmann/Corbis

Recent scholarship has led to re-examination of the 1913 show of modern art that was held at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York. More Photos »

By
Published: October 25, 2012

In 1913 — a few months short of a century ago — you are in New York City, not yet the world cultural capital. It’s a seething, manic place, with a powerful but provincial population. Wall Street is challenging London’s dominance of the international stock market, and finishing touches are being put on the highest high-rise on the planet, the Woolworth Building, in Lower Manhattan.

Multimedia
Approaching a 100th Anniversary, a Closer Look the Armory Show
 But beneath the cheers and the whir of machines, there is another sound: shouting, as 10,000 women demanding the vote march down Fifth Avenue, and a mass protest by striking mill workers fills Madison Square Garden to the explosion point.

At one time, a New Yorker rattled by noise and change could seek solace in art, in the visual smoothness and moral sureties of, say, Gilded Age painting, with its lush landscapes, classical tableaus and teatime interiors. Now, suddenly, that option was being all but closed.

On Feb. 17, 1913, an act of cultural sabotage called the International Exhibition of Modern Art, or the Armory Show, hit the 69th Regiment Armory on East 26th Street, lodging there for nearly a month. Installed in a sequence of temporary rooms, the show revealed horror after grating horror in the form of up-to-the-minute European paintings and sculptures by the likes of Constantin Brancusi, Marcel Duchamp and Henri Matisse.

New York had never seen anything like it. The American artists in the exhibition, all milquetoast traditionalists, were stunned into silence. No one even noticed they were there. The critics and the paying public, shocked and appalled, had eyes only for the European art and looked daggers at it.

That, at least, is the account of the Armory Show that has come down to us, repeated endlessly in the history books. But in the show’s coming centennial year, at least two exhibitions will propose alternative readings that attempt to dispel, or at least modify, an accumulation of myths and misperceptions, and in the process suggest that shock can be just another form of entertainment.

“The Armory Show at 100,” scheduled to open at the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library a year from now, in October 2013, is conceived as a kind of reconstitution in miniature of the event, using 90 works from the original exhibition, along with archival materials — period photographs, newspaper clips, restaurant menus, postcards, popular prints — to evoke a social and intellectual context. The show will offer nuance to the standard shock-and-awe Armory story.

The second exhibition, “The New Spirit: American Art in the Armory Show, 1913,” which opens at the Montclair Art Museum on Feb. 17, a hundred years to the day from the original, will try to readjust another misperception: that the American art that made up fully two-thirds of the show was so conservative as to be beneath notice.

In reality, in the first decade of the 20th century many New York artists, eager to move beyond academic styles, closely followed modernist advances in Europe and adjusted their work accordingly. It was artists like these who selected the art for the Armory Show, including its most inflammatory European entries. They knew exactly what they were doing and expected the uproar that followed.

What they may not have foreseen was the scope of the task they had set for themselves. The Armory Show, as it turned out, was a kind of organizational miracle, a classic example of the American can-do ethic in action, and under serious handicaps: an impossible schedule, a background of professional rivalries and the practical difficulties of transportation and communication in a pre-air-travel, pre-Internet age.

At the same time, their project had New York precedents. Alfred Stieglitz had been creating exhibitions, albeit small ones, of American and European modernism since 1902. In 1910, the painter Robert Henri, who commanded a small army of student-acolytes, produced the salon-style “Exhibition of Independent Artists.” With more than 100 participants, it was the largest survey of progressive new American art up to that time. That it proved to be a popular hit could be attributed to an aggressive advertising campaign but also to a genuine appetite for diverse and experimental art in the city.

Although the show was conceived by Henri, three other artists did most of the legwork: two Henri students, Walt Kuhn and Walter Pach, and a particularly cosmopolitan Henri contemporary, Arthur B. Davies. All three would be key players in the Armory Show.

How they came to assume those roles is a labyrinthine tale. In January 1912, the three joined some two dozen colleagues in establishing a broad-based professional coalition, called the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, which was nominally dedicated to providing two things: exhibition opportunities for young artists, American and foreign, operating outside academic boundaries; and educational art experiences for the greater good of the American public.

Internal squabbles and shake-ups followed, leaving Davies as president and Kuhn as the group’s secretary and wily press agent. In the end, the association would produce just one exhibition, the Armory Show. A few fundamentals were settled on: the exhibition would be the largest of its kind ever in the city, it would travel to other cities, and it would include American and European work.

Then the clock started ticking. The show had to be up and running within a year. The 69th Regiment Armory was settled on as the site, though the lease for the space was up in the air for months. Other sites in Chicago and Boston were confirmed. By far the most unwieldy task, though, was securing art, particularly after the decision was made, largely by Davies, to including a sizable helping of new vanguard European work, much of it familiar in New York only by report.

In September 1912, Kuhn left on a hunting-gathering tour abroad. He first visited, just under the wire, the Cologne Sonderbund exhibition, an immense new-art roundup that would serve as a model and source for the New York show. He then dashed on to collections, galleries and studios in other European cities, contracting for loans as he went.

In Paris he met up with Pach, who had settled there years earlier and become friends with Duchamp and Matisse, and who knew the art scene inside out. In standard Armory sagas, Pach is a functionary who shouldered the job of insuring work and shipping it to New York. As fresh research confirms, however, he did far more than that. In his polymathic role as trans-Atlantic liaison, artist, critic, connoisseur and broker for all sales of art from the exhibition, he was a crucial element in establishing the presence of European Modernism in the United States.

Just last year, the New York art dealer and scholar Francis M. Naumann, who organized a 2011 survey of Pach’s paintings, discovered the artist’s long-missing Armory account books, which meticulously record every Armory sale. The books confirm that American art was priced much higher than European art, but also show that while the majority of the sales were of European work, a bargain under the circumstances, a significant number of American paintings were sold to American collectors who went on to support American careers.

Finally, as noted by the art historian Laurette E. McCarthy, who wrote the catalog for the Naumann survey, Pach’s notebooks suggest that the financial success of the Armory Show was in large part a result of his diplomatic skills as an insider salesman, who knew exactly which piece to pair up with which client in a new generation of Modernist collectors that he helped form.

In November 1912, Davies joined Kuhn in Paris, and with Pach’s help they nailed down loans of three paintings that would end up being among the Armory Show’s lightning-rod main attractions: Matisse’s “Blue Nude (Souvenir of Biskra)” and “Red Madras Headdress,”and Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.”

Incredibly, it was only when Davies and Kuhn returned to New York in December that a call for American work went out in the form of an open invitation to “nonprofessional as well as professional artists to exhibit the result of any self-expression in any medium.” Davies and the painter William Glackens seem to have made the final cut from the submissions, though by then the project had veered into crisis mode and facts are hard to find.

Kuhn, at that point, started doing what he did best: advertising and promoting. He cooked up a logo: an uprooted Revolutionary War-style pine tree. He printed posters and papered the city. He designed “campaign buttons” to be handed out “to anybody, from bums to preachers.”

In mid-January, plans were devised for transforming the armory’s cavernous drill hall into viable exhibition space by dividing it with partitions. And in mid-February, with art still arriving from all over, construction was at last under way. The installation of the more than 1,000 objects began.

Work was arranged in two chronological and implicitly evolutionary sequences, throughout 18 partitioned spaces. In the European spaces paintings by Delacrois, Ingres and Courbet paved the Modernist way to Cézanne, Duchamp, Matisse and Picasso. The major American pioneer was Albert Pinkham Ryder, from whom many streams were made to flow: the meaty street-level realism of Henri and George Bellows, the half-abstract Impressionism of Stieglitz favorites John Marin and Maurice Prendergast, and the hard-to-align Euro-American blend of Marsden Hartley.

With the last piece in place, floors were swept and the hall decked with evergreen swags. On Feb. 17, 1913, a show that a year earlier had been little more than a wild surmise opened its doors for business.

What happened next? Not much. Over the first few days there were mildly friendly reviews and a modest flow of visitors. It was only after a few negative write-ups that a buzz started to build, though by and large a buzz of avid titillation rather than of shocked outrage.

In his 2004 book “Looking Askance: Skepticism and American Art From Eakins to Duchamp” (University of California Press), the art historian Michael Leja wrote about the widespread effect that P. T. Barnum’s notorious hoaxes had on late 19th- and early 20th-century American culture, leaving audiences with a habit of “skeptical seeing and instinctive suspicion” when faced with improbable-looking phenomena they were being asked to believe in.

Improbable, not to say freakish, was the way certain European vanguard art looked to many Americans. With its nearly monochromatic palette, Matisse’s “Red Studio” was challenging even to sophisticated eyes. And Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” — famously described by a critic as “an explosion in a shingle factory” — provoked almost universal derision.

At the same time, New York viewers, including artists, to some degree knew what they were in for. Pictures of avant-garde art had been included, often with mocking commentary, in New York newspapers and magazines for years. And by no means were all Armory reviews pans; one critic wrote that he was grateful for “these shocks to our aesthetic sense.” Others were glad for a certain perspective the show offered: compared with avant-garde work from Europe, American art looked sane.

Probably the mostly common response was amusement. Cartoonists had a field day: for them the show was an outright gift. Many critics and columnists approached it in the same spirit, competing to produce self-aggrandizingly clever put-downs of art by European “Nuttists,” “Dopeists” and “Topsy-Turvyists.”

There were, of course, vitriolic reviews, not a few by artists unnerved by the changed aesthetic order the show represented. One of the most furiously attacked pieces, the sculpture “The White Slave,” by Abastenia St. Leger Eberle, was neither European nor experimental. A graphic depiction of prostitution, it directly addressed inflammatory themes in the air in New York at the time, like street crime, working-class exploitation and women’s rights.

In short, under the pressure of fresh research done for the centennial year, a number of myths drop away. The show had no New York precedents? Yes, it had some. American viewers, including artists, were caught by surprise by European work? No, they weren’t. The show’s reception was entirely hostile? No, it wasn’t. This was an art-as-entertainment event; attendance was heavy.

And what about the idea that the overwhelming attention the European work attracted had an intimidating, depressing effect on American art? The opposite seems to have been true. After the show closed on March 15, 1913, new modern art galleries opened in New York, American collectors who bought from the show supported American artists, and varieties of distinctive American Modernism already in place — Henri’s, Hartley’s, Marin’s, Edward Hopper’s — increased.

It is American art, specifically the art in the Armory Show, that suffers most in older histories, which almost without exception dismiss it as recessive, imitative, backwater stuff. It is this impression that the Montclair exhibition is meant to correct. It will be interesting to see how it makes its case.

One way, the wrong way, would be to try to come up with American “masterpieces” to rival, say, Matisse’s “Blue Nude,” a losing game. Another way would to be to focus on the almost disconcerting diversity of early American Modernism. By assembling some 50 American pieces from the original show, many by artists now obscure, Montclair will take that route. And depending on how it is presented and interpreted, that sounds like the right direction.

Diversity has ever been our strength. The art historian Ilene Susan Fort once noted that for early 20th-century American artists, Modernity meant not a fixed set of forms or systems of theory, but “an openness toward subject matter, style, cultural ideals and personal beliefs and attitudes.”

Interestingly, the same words would accurately apply to New York right now. To some observers, Modernity describes an art with no center at all; to others, an art with a center that is everywhere. It should be instructive in the coming year to look back at a time when art in this city was simultaneously feeling its way and charging the atmosphere.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 28, 2012, on page F1 of the New York edition with the headline: Rethinking the Armory Show.

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http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5567/

A Royal Disaster: Cortissoz Critiques the Armory Show

In February and March 1913, thousands of New Yorkers poured into the 69th Regiment Armory for an “International Exhibition of Modern Art.” By the time the so-called Armory Show had completed its tour of the U.S., a half million people had seen the exhibit—one of the most influential in American art history. Up to that time, the nation’s galleries, patrons, and schools of art were firmly in conservative hands and favored staid, traditional European art. The self-consciously “modern” Armory show challenged the artistic establishment. Two-thirds of the 1,600 works were by Americans, and the Europeans whose works were exhibited—Picasso, Matisse, Seurat, Van Gogh, Gaughin, and Duchamp among them—were far from the conservatives that Americans were used to. Of course, not everyone accepted the new direction. In this Century magazine article entitled “The Post-Impressionist Illusion,” the influential art critic Royal Cortissoz equated the (allegedly negative) influence of modernism on American art with that of immigrants on American society.


It is said that when the former President of the French Republic, M. Fallieres, went to the opening of the autumn Salon of 1912, he looked long at the paintings of the Cubists and Futurists. “Charming!” he murmured to the Under-Secretary for Fine Arts, who stood at his elbow, and then he added anxiously, “But you won’t have to buy any for the state galleries, will you?” I know perfectly well how that anecdote must have been received whenever it was repeated in Post-Impressionist circles. “Oh, Fallieres! But he was always a bourgeois, anyway.” It so happened, however, that the solicitude of the French functionary has been shared by all kinds of people, including some quite competent artists; and I note this fact at the outset because the confusion in which the whole subject of Post-Impressionism has been enveloped has been rendered worse confounded by much foolish recrimination.

The Post-Impressionists themselves have not made most of the noise. This has been developed largely in print, and hierophants of the “movement,” which as I shall presently endeavor to show, is not, strictly speaking, a movement at all, have made tremendous play with one of the favorite devices of those who traffic in the freakish things of art and letters. “Behold this masterpiece!” they say. “What! you see nothing in it? You find it ugly? Well, well, what a besotted idea of beauty you must have! Repose yourself before this canvas. It is saturated in beauty. You do not see it because you have the Philistine eye; but with patience and reverent study you may hope to unlock the secret of our great man.” And so on, with many a delicate suggestion of compassionate good will. It is an old trick. The playgoer who does not like dirty plays is denounced as a prude; the music-lover who resents cacophony is told he is a pedant; and in all these matters the final crushing blow administered to the man of discrimination is the ascription to him of a hidebound prejudice against things that are new because they are new. If he declines to be convinced of this, he is reminded triumphantly that all revolutionaries in the domain of thought, from Galileo and Columbus to Wagner and Manet, have been for a time persecuted and derided. Ergo, since the Post-Impressionists have provoked a vast amount of scornful mirth, they are necessarily great men.

It is not my purpose to laugh at them, nor do I wish to swell the flood of recrimination of which I have spoken. In the foregoing remarks I have sought merely to clear the ground of the cant which often encumbers it. Let us look at Post-Impressionism for what it is, regardless alike of its acolytes and its equally furious opponents. I said just now that it was not a movement at all. A movement, I take it, represents in art, at all events, what men do when they are pretty closely allied by strong sympathies and by fidelity to a body of principles susceptible of some sort of definition. Such a group need not be wedded to a formula, but it cannot well avoid subscribing to a fairly definable scheme of ideas. . . . I must take the risk and state what, after careful study, I have gathered to be the Post-Impressionist aim. It is to eschew such approximately accurate representation of things seen as has been hitherto pursued by painters of all schools, and to cover the canvas with an arrangement of line and color symbolizing the very essence of the object or scene attacked. For some occult reason it is assumed that a portrait or picture painted according to the familiar grammar of art, understood of all men, is clogged with irrelevant matter. The great masters of the past, to be sure, are not invalidated, and they need not be sent to the lumber-room; but their day is done, and with the Post-Impressionists we must slough off a quantity of played-out conventions before we can enter the promised land.

The temptation to go deeper into the metaphysics of the subject is not, I admit, very strong, for I do not like to chew sawdust, nor do I enjoy going down into a cellar at midnight without a candle to look for a black cat that isn’t there. . . . The cat, I maintain, is not there. That is the nubbin of the whole argument. Post-Impressionism as a movement, as a ponderable theory, is, like the cat, an illusion. The portentous things we hear about it are not the adumbrations of an intelligible and precious truth, but are mere ex-parte assertions. . . .

These are the days of impossible beliefs, but not of lost causes, and the first belief engendered in the Post-Impressionist is an immeasurable belief in himself. What chiefly impresses me about him as a type is his conviction that what he chooses to do in art is right because he chooses to do it. This egotism is doubtless compatible with some engaging qualities. I have read the volume of letters written by Van Gogh to his friend Bernard, and I have read the latter’s introductory pages. It is plain that these two were full of a candid enthusiasm for painting, keenly interested in the masters, ancient and modern, and ardently desirous of solving technical problems. But of each it may also be said that he had “too much ego in his cosmos,” and in the case of Van Gogh, the result was disastrous. . . . Passionately in love with color, and groping toward an effective use of it in the expression of truth, he gives you occasionally in his thick impasto a gleam of sensuously beautiful tone. But as he grew more and more absorbed in himself, which is to say more and more indifferent to the artistic lessons of the centuries, his pictures receded further and further from the representation of nature, and fulfilled instead an arbitrary, capricious conception of art. The laws of perspective are strained. Landscape and other natural forms are set awry. So simple an object as a jug containing some flowers is drawn with the uncouthness of the immature, even childish, executant. From the point of view of the Post-Impressionist prophet, all this may be referred to inventive genius beating out a new artistic language. I submit that it is explained rather by incompetence suffused with egotism. The man was unbalanced. Once, when he was staying at Arles, a girl of his acquaintance received from him a packet which she opened, expecting it to reveal a welcome present. She found that it contained one of the painter’s ears, which he had that morning cut off with his razor. The incident is too horrible, intrinsically and in its suggestion of the most tragic of human ills, to be lightly employed for purposes of argument. Nevertheless, it is legitimate to affirm that the hero of this anecdote, who spent some time in an asylum and ultimately committed suicide, was unlikely to think straight. That has been the trouble with all the Post-Impressionists. They have not thought straight.

The thinking they have done, and they have done much, has been invertebrate and confusing. Steadily, too, it has led them to produce work not only incompetent, but grotesque. It has led them from complacency to what I can only describe as insolence. If these seem hard words, let me recall an incident of the Post-Impressionist exhibition in London two years ago. Mr. Roger Fry, writing in defense of the project, cited various persons who were in sympathy with it, and named among them Mr. John S. Sargent. In the course of a letter to the London Nation that distinguished painter said: “Mr. Fry may have been told—and have believed—that the sight of those paintings had made me a convert to his faith in them. The fact is that I am absolutely skeptical as to their having any claim whatever to being works of art, with the exception of some of the pictures by Gauguin that strike me as admirable in color, and in color only.” The italics are mine, and I hope I may be pardoned for using them, for it is important, I think, that the testimony in this case of a master like Sargent should not be overlooked. . . . If Matisse were: the demigod he is assumed to be, there would be at least some hints of an Olympian quality breathed through his gauche puerilities. Picasso, too, the great panjandrum of the Cubist tabernacle, is credited with profound gifts. Why does he not use them? And why must we sit patient, if not with awestruck and grateful submissiveness, before a portrait or a picture seemingly representing a grotesque object made of children’s blocks cut up and fitted together? This is not a movement, a principle. It is unadulterated “cheek. . . .”

I make no excuse for ignoring a multitude of names in this brief survey. Why dwell upon names that mean nothing?

It is the dull sterility of this so-called “movement” that offers the chief point of attack for those who resent its intrusion into the field of art. Let the Post-Impressionists and their loquacious friends wax eloquent among themselves as to what constitutes beauty and what they may mean by the theories through which they assume to develop its secret. Their debatings are worthless so long as they go on producing flatly impossible pictures and statues. The oracular assertion that the statues and the pictures are beautiful and great is merely so much impudence and “bounce.”

It is, after all, a little cool for ill-equipped experimenters to take themselves so seriously. The dabster in music or the drama or literature is usually expected to acquire some proficiency in his medium before he undertakes to speak out. By some mysterious dispensation, which no one yet has accounted for, the artist, and especially the painter, is early let loose upon the world, whether he has acquired a decent training or not.

Here, from the incomplete, halting methods of Cezanne, there has flowed out of Paris into Germany, Russia, England, and to some slight extent the United States, a gospel of stupid license and self-assertion which would have been swept into the rubbish-heap were it not for the timidity of our mental habit. When the stuff is rebuked as it should be, the Post-Impressionist impresarios and fuglemen insolently proffer us a farrago of super-subtle rhetoric. The farce will end when people look at Post-Impressionist pictures as Mr. Sargent looked at those shown in London, “absolutely skeptical as to their having any claim whatever to being works of art.”

Source: Royal Cortissoz, “The Post-Impressionist Illusion,” Century, 85 (April, 1913): 805–810, 812, 814, 815. Reprinted in Roderick Nash, ed. The Call of the Wild (1900–1916), (New York: George Braziller, 1970).

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http://hyperallergic.com/61890/scholar-unearths-two-long-lost-1913-armory-show-installation-photos/

Scholar Unearths Two Long-Lost 1913 Armory Show Installation Photos

Installation shot of the Cubist room at the 1913 Armory Show

Hagelstein Brothers, installation shot of the Cubist room at the 1913 Armory Show, originally published in the “New York Tribune” (both historical images via the Smithsonian Archives of American Art blog)

Earlier this year, Frieze Art Fair invaded New York to much acclaim, shaking up the Armory Show art fair’s monopoly in the city. Then came the retirement of the Armory Show’s director of 18 years and the news that the historic fair was going up for sale (no one has bought it yet). It seems safe to say that the future of our version of the Armory Show is uncertain.

Its past, however, is undisputed: The fair, or the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, as it was officially known, was a watershed moment, introducing American artists and the art-viewing public to the European avant-garde, including artists like Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp, Brancusi, and more. And now, just in time for the show’s centennial next year, we know a little more about it, thanks to two newly rediscovered installation photographs from the original fair.

Hagelstein Brother, installation shot of the Matisse Room at the 1913 Armory Show

Hagelstein Brother, installation shot of the Matisse Room at the 1913 Armory Show, originally published in the “New York Tribune”

The pictures were found by art historian Laurette E. McCarthy, who details her discovery on the blog of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. Taken by the Armory Show’s official photographers, the Hagelstein Brothers, they depict the Cubist room — with a painting by Duchamp and a sculpture by Alexandre Orchifenko, among other pieces — and the Matisse room at the show.

Although the pictures were published in the New York Tribune at the time and then included in organizer Walter Kuhn’s first scrapbook of press clippings for the show, they were laid in the book sideways, and so repeatedly missed by scholars and researchers ever since. According to McCarthy, a Duchamp scholar verified for her that the photos have not been reproduced since 1913.

Now they’re being republished in time for the Armory Show’s 100th anniversary, which the New-York Historical Society has announced it will celebrate with an exhibition next fall. The Armory Show at 100 sounds like a fantastic exhibition: it will include some 75 artworks that were on view in the original exhibition, including Cezanne’s “View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph,” Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase,” and Tahitian paintings by Gauguin; plus archival material — artifacts, photos, documents, etc. — to explicate both the history of the show itself and the context in which it took place.

McCarthy also writes in her blog post about an Armory anniversary exhibition opening at the Montclair Art Museum exactly 100 years to the day after the original. The influence and status of the current Armory Show may be waning, but for next year, at least, we’ll have plenty of reminders of why it was so important.

Tagged as: Armory Show, ar

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By Avis Berman  |

Forces for the new: Collectors and the 1913 Armory Show

 Fig. 14. Self-Portrait by van Gogh, c. 1887. Oil on canvas, 15 ¾ by 13 ⅜ inches. Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, gift of Philip L. Goodwin in memory of his mother, Josephine S. Goodwin.

On February 17, 1913, the most important art event ever held in America-the International Exhibition of Modern Art, quickly abbreviated to the “Armory Show” on account of its location in the Sixty-Ninth Regiment Armory at Lexington Avenue and Twenty-Fifth Street-opened its doors. Because of its huge scope (nearly every progressive tendency in Europe and America was represented) and implications (the inevitability of aesthetic revolution, the legitimate claim of the avant-garde to a great tradition, and the demonstration that American artists were roughly twenty-five years behind their European counterparts), the Armory Show and its aftermath forever transformed the course of art in America. This year, two major exhibitions will celebrate the Armory Show’s one hundredth anniversary: the New-York Historical Society will examine the epochal episode and its impact on art and culture, and the Montclair Art Museum in NewJersey will focus on the Americans in the exhibition.

Artists created, organized, and brought off the gigantic undertaking that was the Armory Show, but pioneering collectors also played vital roles. They too became generative forces who helped transform public taste in the process of reshaping their own. They were instrumental in creating the climate in which avant-garde painting and sculpture were not only established in the marketplace, but were also dignified as a legitimate field of connoisseurship and study.Artists created, organized, and brought off the gigantic undertaking that was the Armory Show, but pioneering collectors also played vital roles. They too became generative forces who helped transform public taste in the process of reshaping their own. They were instrumental in creating the climate in which avant-garde painting and sculpture were not only established in the marketplace, but were also dignified as a legitimate field of connoisseurship and study.

Artists created, organized, and brought off the gigantic undertaking that was the Armory Show, but pioneering collectors also played vital roles. They too became generative forces who helped transform public taste in the process of reshaping their own. They were instrumental in creating the climate in which avant-garde painting and sculpture were not only established in the marketplace, but were also dignified as a legitimate field of connoisseurship and study.

 Avant-garde collecting before the Armory Show

The collectors who shared the insurgent artists’ sense of mission were part of a small but forward-looking coalition that had arisen before 1913. In December 1911, frustrated by the paucity of modern art in big New York exhibitions, the painters Arthur B. Davies, Walt Kuhn, Elmer MacRae, Jerome Myers, and Henry Fitch Taylor decided to organize an exhibition of their own. After several meetings, these and other like-minded artists banded together as the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS). Their aim was to assemble what would become the Armory Show.1

Once the AAPS was in existence, it had to be recognized as a legal entity. The association was incorporated by the group’s pro bono legal advisor and most avid supporter, John Quinn (Fig. 3a). Quinn would amass an unsurpassed collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American and European art. At its zenith, the collection contained over twenty-five hundred works of art, including more than fifty paintings by Picasso, nineteen by Matisse, eleven by Georges Seurat, and twenty-seven sculptures by Constantin Brancusi, as well as important works by Cézanne, Henri Rousseau, André Derain, Juan Gris, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Georges Rouault, Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin.

A corporation lawyer who began collecting books and prints about 1900,2 Quinn became a wealthy man from his legal practice. His career failed to fulfill him, but it did enable him to pursue his interests in art and literature. In 1909, while abroad, Quinn met the Welsh artist Augustus Edwin John, who introduced him to French art. By 1911 Quinn’s curiosity about modern art had been ignited by reports of Manet and the Post-Impressionists, the ground-breaking exhibition organized by Roger Fry at the Grafton Galleries in London.3 In February 1911 Quinn resolved to acquire works by the painters whom Fry had identified as the big three progenitors of the new: Cézanne, van Gogh, and Gauguin. He began protracted negotiations to obtain canvases by those artists from the Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard.4

One of Quinn’s close friends was Frederick James Gregg, the art critic for the NewYork Sun. Gregg was in charge of publicity for the upcoming Armory Show, and apparently he informed Quinn about it. On July 1, 1912, Quinn incorporated the association and, from then on, he was in the AAPS’s inner circle and in the thick of their plans. He signed the lease for the armory building, gave interviews and speeches, sponsored a dinner, and stopped by the show almost daily.

Quinn was not the first American to discover or buy important examples of modern art. He was preceded by nearly a decade by the Stein family (see Fig. 2). Gertrude Stein and her brother, the writer, painter, and aesthetician Leo Stein, lived together in Paris from 1903 until 1914. Their oldest brother and his wife, Michael and Sarah Samuels Stein (1870-1953), followed them to Paris in 1904.5 In 1904 Leo Stein, who started his and his sister’s collection, purchased paintings by Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir, and Maurice Denis; a year later, he bought Matisse’s Woman with a Hat (1905; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), which defined the entire family’s collecting for years to come. Indeed, Michael and Sarah Stein went on to become Matisse’s steadfast friends and patrons. The Steins’ contribution to the Armory Show took the form of the major loans they made: two Picasso still lifes and Matisse’s Red Madras Headdress (Fig. 5), Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra (Fig. 6), and La Coiffure (1907; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart).

Albert C. Barnes (Fig. 3b) was the only other collector on American shores who rivaled Quinn in voracity. Barnes eventually accumulated hundreds of Renoirs, Cézannes, Matisses, and Picassos. He also bought numerous paintings and works on paper by Chaim Soutine, William Glackens, Charles Demuth, Maurice Prendergast, and Marsden Hartley. A Philadelphia native, Barnes took a medical degree, but never practiced. He then studied chemistry, psychology, and pharmacology. He and another chemist developed an antiseptic eye-drop solution that would prevent infant blindness, which they called Argyrol. Within two years of Argyrol’s invention in 1902, the two men were rich. In 1911 Barnes asked Glackens, a former high school classmate, for guidance about modern art. In February 1912 he sent Glackens to Paris with $20,000 to form the nucleus of a collection of  French masters. He returned with approximately twenty works. This success further fueled Barnes’s desire, and he acquired paintings on his own throughout 1912. In December Barnes was in Paris on a major shopping trip, buying work by Cézanne, Honoré Daumier, Renoir, and Picasso. During this visit he met Leo and Gertrude Stein and viewed their collection. The two men quickly became friends and, three months before the Armory Show, Barnes bought his first Matisses from Leo Stein-Still-Life with Melon (1905) and The Sea Seen from Collioure (1906).

Katherine Sophie Dreier (Fig. 3d) was also well versed in the European avant-garde before 1913. Dreier grew up in Brooklyn in an affluent and liberal home. She trained to be a painter and studied art abroad between 1907 and 1914. During the summer of 1912 she visited the Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne, Germany, an enormous display of contemporary art that Davies used as a model for the Armory Show. Overwhelmed by the originality and expressiveness of the Fauves, German expressionists, and post-impressionists, Dreier embraced the modernist cause. She traveled to the Netherlands, buying van Gogh’s Adeline Ravoux (Fig. 11), which she loaned to the Armory Show. She would participate too by exhibiting two oils and buying lithographs by Redon and Gauguin.

Lillie Plummer Bliss (Fig. 3f), another collector who would shape the future of modern art in America, was profoundly influenced by Davies.6 Bliss was the daughter of a textile manufacturer in New York. Although she had been collecting prints and drawings for some years, in 1909 she met Davies, who formed her mature tastes. She was one of the financial backers of the Armory Show, although her contributions were anonymous and the amount of her donation remained a secret. Six weeks before the show opened, Bliss purchased an oil by Renoir and a pastel and a painting-Jockeys on Horseback Before Distant Hills (Fig. 9)-by Degas, and lent them anonymously to the show.

Whereas Bliss kept silent about her affiliation, Quinn trumpeted his connection to the Armory Show. He was the biggest lender and buyer, sending in seventy-nine works,7 and spending $5,808.75.8 Tied to his acquisitiveness was his almost singlehanded expansion of the American art market because he made the sale of contemporary art from abroad commercially feasible. In 1909 Congress legislated a 15 percent duty on the importation of all works of art that were less than twenty years old. Customs regulations stipulated that any works borrowed for a show in which a sale might result had to have a bond posted on them in advance. Thus the AAPS was required to post bond for hundreds of works of art coming from Europe-about a third of the objects on display were by foreign artists.

On January 20, 1913, Quinn, accompanied by Kuhn, argued for the repeal of the tariff act before the HouseWays and Means Committee. He declared that “art belongs to no country. Genius cannot be fostered or created by a tariff act.”9 He also pointed out the inherent inequity in a law that permitted the wealthiest collectors to purchase older European masterpieces duty-free while the less affluent patron was burdened with a tax on the only art that might be within his or her means. The act was repealed in October 1913, and Quinn responded by intensifying his quest for objects that would have been exorbitant to obtain before his legislative victory over import duties. Among his matchless post-Armory purchases were Picasso’s Still Life (1915; Columbus Museum of Art); Brancusi’s The Kiss, which he commissioned (Fig. 12); Seurat’s The Circus (1890-1891; Musée d’Orsay); and Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy (Fig. 10).

Collectors’ responses to the Armory Show

For some collectors the Armory Show was a confirmation of their earlier intuitions. Barnes, fresh from his mega-spree in Paris and trophies from the Steins’ collection, confined himself to the purchase of a painting by Maurice de Vlaminck. Advised by Davies, Bliss bought twenty works, including nine by Odilon Redon (see Fig. 8). For others, the exhibition was a door to perception. Arthur Jerome Eddy, the second largest buyer at the Armory Show, could also claim to be the boldest. Eddy, a lawyer, had been active as a collector and patron since the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where he was so impressed by a display of paintings by Whistler and by Rodin’s The Kiss that he commissioned portraits of himself from both artists (see Fig. 15). Churning out articles, reviews, and lectures that courted controversy, he liked being an agitator for modern art.10

Eddy’s absorption of and adaptation to the new art were rapid. In New York and Chicago he bought eighteen paintings and seven lithographs for a total of $4,888.50. Among his most daring acquisitions were Jacques Villon’s Young Girl (1912; Philadelphia Museum of Art), Vlaminck’s Village (1912; Art Institute of Chicago), Francis Picabia’s Dances at the Spring (Fig. 13), and Duchamp’s King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes (Fig. 1) and Portrait of Chess Players (1911; Philadelphia Museum of Art).

The sensibility of Walter Conrad Arensberg (1878-1954) was similarly radicalized by the Armory Show, although it was fascination with the art that he failed to buy rather than the purchases he made in 1913 that dominated his trajectory as a collector. A Harvard graduate who developed an interest in art when he worked in New York as a reporter for the Evening Post, Arensberg moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, after his marriage in 1907 to Louise Stevens (1879-1953). The Arensbergs visited the Armory Show toward the end of its New York run, but much of what engaged them had already been sold.11

The power of the exhibition and the general excitement of New York persuaded both Arensbergs that they belonged in Manhattan. By early 1914 they had taken an apartment at 33West Sixty-Seventh Street, and they opened it to artists, writers, and anyone else with a revolutionary or creative spirit. Duchamp, who first arrived in the United States in June 1915, was its star, and Katherine Dreier is thought to have first met him at the Arensbergs’ apartment in 1916.12 Dreier became obsessed with the seductive Frenchman, “seeking,” as Francis Naumann has observed, “every conceivable excuse to be in Duchamp’s company.”13 Under Duchamp’s influence, Dreier became a patron of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, and she was the first person in the United States to buy or show a work by Piet Mondrian. In 1920, with Duchamp and Man Ray, Dreier founded the Société Anonyme. The aim of the Société, the first museum of modern art, was to bring the international avant-garde to public attention through lectures, publications, and exhibitions.

The Arensbergs’ burgeoning collection hinged on what had slipped away in 1913. They assembled six paintings from the Armory Show: Roger de La Fresnaye’s Paysage, No. 1 (1912; Philadelphia Museum of Art), which had been sold to Quinn; and Young Girl, The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes, Dances at the Spring, and Albert Gleizes’s Man on Balcony (Portrait of Dr. Théo Morinard) (1912; Philadelphia Museum of Art), which had belonged to Eddy. Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) (1912; Philadelphia Museum of Art) was obtained from the California dealer Frederic C. Torrey after Quinn declined to pay the $1,000 asking price.14 The Arensbergs also bought paintings by Picasso, Georges Braque, Robert Delauney, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Kandinsky, Klee, Morton L. Schamberg, Charles Sheeler, and fifteen sculptures by Brancusi.

The Armory Show’s main buyers did not belong to that elite group of titans who had begun buying old masters in the nineteenth century, but there was one remarkable exception. The most surprising Armory collector was the industrialist Henry Clay Frick (Fig. 3c). Frick was an incomparable collector of medieval, Renaissance, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and decorative arts, but he paid a visit to the Armory Show on March 4, 1913. He toured the show with the painter and critic Walter Pach, who was in charge of sales at the event, and he was struck by Cezanne’s Old Woman with a Rosary (1895-96; National Gallery, London). Frick was on the point of buying it, but was dissuaded by the dealer in tow, who has been identified as Charles Carstairs of M. Knoedler and Company.15 Carstairs, who was Frick’s long-time advisor, might have humored his client were it not for the Cézanne’s price tag: An Old Woman with a Rosary was the costliest object in the Armory Show. It was listed for $48,600, and Frick could easily have afforded it-in 1910 he paid just under $300,000 for Rembrandt’s Polish Rider.16 But Carstairs would not allow a huge amount of money be squandered outside his own establishment, and he prevailed on Frick to avoid such an expensive risk. Frick did emerge with one item from the show. He bought a still-life of flowers for $87.50 by Walter Pach.17

The Armory Show did not mesmerize or transform all the early patrons of twentieth-century art in a uniform manner. Duncan Phillips (Fig. 3e), who would later be known for his support of modern European art, was incensed by what he saw at the show, and it took him several years to change his mind. A banking and steel heir, Phillips lived in Washington, D.C. In 1912 he dismissed the French avant-garde because he believed that they had not incorporated the traditions of the old masters into their own work.18 After labeling Cézanne and the post-impressionists “a bunch of damned fools,”19 and finding Monet’s surfaces too “messy,”20 he protested that the purpose of art was to enhance life with beauty, romance, and dreams. This assumption was violently undercut by the Armory Show, and Phillips walked out in disgust.21

In 1916 Phillips encountered Davies, whose romantic paintings he admired, despite the artist’s dangerous association with cubism. He began to moderate his attitude toward Cézanne, van Gogh, and Gauguin, although Matisse remained anathema. Two years later, after both his father and older brother died within months of each other, Phillips decided to establish a “museum of modern art and its sources” in their memory.22 In resolving his own grief, he reconsidered his dogmatic views. Phillips bought his first Monet (Fig. 7) in 1918 and, by the time the Phillips Memorial Art Gallery opened, he had come to terms with cubism and fauvism and was their champion. Under his leadership, the Phillips Collection became a singular beacon of modernism in an otherwise aesthetically ossified city.

Legacy: The formation of institutions

By the 1920s the first generation of collectors began to institutionalize their holdings. The Phillips Memorial Art Gallery was inaugurated in late 1921; in 1922 Barnes chartered his eponymous foundation as an educational institution, making his collection the central core of a curriculum of study. It opened on March 19, 1925, in Merion, Pennsylvania. Quinn died in 1924, and his collection was dispersed. Arensberg, Dreier, and Bliss bought significantly from the Quinn estate. So did Ferdinand Howald, A. Conger Goodyear, and Mary and Cornelius J. Sullivan. These four became prominent buyers in the 1920s, and they all planned to give their collections to museums. Doubtless the sad fate of Quinn’s possessions further influenced the first wave of collectors to preserve their collections by founding or affiliating with public institutions.

In January 1926 the American art critic Forbes Watson wrote an editorial in The Arts mourning the breakup of the Quinn collection. He wished that someone had purchased everything for a new museum of modern art. One of Watson’s readers was the painter and collector Albert E. Gallatin (1881-1952), who credited Watson’s plea as the inspiration for establishing his Gallery of Living Art, which housed his personal collection of cubism, neo-plasticism, and constructivism, on the premises of New York University in 1927.23 Lillie Bliss was at the heart of the most momentous venture of all: in May 1929 she met with fellow collectors Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Mary Sullivan, and Goodyear to discuss establishing a museum in New York.24 The Museum of Modern Art opened on November 8, 1929. These and other new museums of contemporary and modern art25 were the fruit of the Armory Show and the collections it inspired or engendered. No longer branded freakish aberrations, vanguard painting and sculpture were vindicated as permanent additions to the history of art.

AVIS BERMAN is a writer and art historian specializing in American art. This article is adapted from her essay in the catalogue for the exhibition The Armory Show at 100.

  1 Milton W. Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, 2nd ed. (Abbe­ville Press, New York, 1988), pp. 48-49. Brown’s chronicle has remained the classic account of the exhibition; I have relied on its data on buyers, lenders, exhibitors, and prices in this essay.  2 Judith Zilczer, “The Noble Buyer:” John Quinn, Patron of the Avant-Garde (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1978), p. 19.  3 The exhibition was on view from November 8, 1910 to January 15, 1911.  4 The paintings acquired from Vollard in 1912 after Quinn’s visit to Paris were Mme. Cézanne en robe rayée (Portrait of Madame Cezanne) of c. 1877 (Fig. 4); a van Gogh Self-Portrait of 1887 (Fig. 14); and Gauguin’s 1902 Promenade au Bord de la Mer (private collection). 5 Rebecca A. Rabinow, “Discovering Modern Art: The Steins’ Early Years in Paris, 1903-1907,” in The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in association with Yale University Press, New Haven, 2011), pp. 21-23.  6 The best source of information on Bliss is Rona Roob’s definitive article, “A Noble Legacy,” Art in America, vol. 91 (November 2003), pp. 73-83. Unless otherwise stated, all information on Bliss is drawn from this essay. Roob establishes that Bliss began collecting modern art before the Armory Show, not after it.  7 Zilczer,“The Noble Buyer,” p. 27.  8 Ibid., p. 28.  9 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Ways and Means, Tariff Schedules: Hearings Before the Committee of Ways and Means on Schedule N, Sundries, vol. 24-26l, 63rd Congress, 1st session, 1913, 4537-4550, quoted in Zilczer, “The Noble Buyer,” p. 29.  10 Paul Kruty, “Arthur Jerome Eddy and His Collection: Prelude and Postscript to the Armory Show,” Arts, vol. 61 (February 1987), p. 41. Unless otherwise stated, all information on Eddy is taken from this article.  11 Francis M. Naumann, New York Dada, 1915-23 (Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1994), p. 25. Unless otherwise stated, information on the Arensbergs comes from Naumann’s authoritative publication. Walter Arensberg ending up buying four lithographs, one of which he returned.  12 Ibid., p. 156. 13 Ibid., p. 158.  14 Frederic C. Torrey, the original owner of Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, decided to sell the painting in 1919. See Francis M. Naumann, “Frederic C. Torrey and Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase,” in West Coast Duchamp, ed. Bonnie Clearwater (Grasfield Press, Miami Beach, Fla., 1991), pp. 10-23, for a full account of Torrey’s purchase and sale of the canvas.  15 Walter Pach, Queer Thing, Painting: Forty Years in the World of Art (Harper and Brothers, New York, 1938), pp. 200-201; John Rewald, Cézanne in America: Dealers, Collectors, Artists and Critics, 1891-1921 (Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1989), p. 203.  16 Colin B. Bailey, “Henry Clay Frick, Roger Eliot Fry, and Rembrandt’s Polish Rider,” Frick Collection Members’ Magazine,  vol. 2 (Spring/Summer 2002), p. 10.  17 Correspondence in the Frick Collection Archives confirms Frick’s interaction with Pach at the Armory Show, and Pach’s ledger book, recently donated to the Archives of American Art, records the sale of the still life to Frick.  18 Elizabeth Hutton Turner, “Modernism in France: Part I: Bonnard, Matisse, and the School of Paris,” in The Eye of Duncan Phillips: A Collection in the Making, ed. Erika D. Passantino, (Phillips Collection, in association with Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999), p. 185.  19 Entry for July 13, 1912, Duncan Phillips Journal HH, quoted in David W. Scott, “The Evolution of a Critic: Changing Views in the Writings of Duncan Phillips,” in The Eye of Duncan Phillips, p. 19.  20 Duncan Phillips, “Sorolla: The Painter of Sunlight,” Art and Progress, vol. 4 (December 1912), pp. 791-797, quoted in Scott, “The Evolution of a Critic,” p. 12.  21 Scott, “The Evolution of a Critic,” p. 13.  22 Ibid., pp. 12-13.  23 Gail Stavitsky, “A.E. Gallatin’s Gallery and Museum of Living Art (1927-1943),” American Art, vol. 7 (Spring 1993), p. 49. Before the 1920s Gallatin collected Whistler, Beardsley, Beerbohm, and American impressionists and realists; the character of his collecting was not particularly affected by the Armory Show.  24 Roob, “A Noble Legacy,” p. 80. Bliss bequeathed a significant portion of her collection-which at her death contained paintings and works on paper by Cézanne, Daumier, Degas, Gauguin, Redon, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso-to the Museum of Modern Art.  25 Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who subsidized the Armory Show but did not attend it, consolidated her galleries for young artists into the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1930. Both Gallatin and the Arensbergs later gave their collections to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Cubes! The Horror!

Chaos at Armory show.

At the 1913 Armory Show, Marcel Duchamp forced American art audiences to confront a new way of seeing. They didn’t appreciate that.

(Photo: The Museum of Modern Art/Scala/Art Resource, NY (1913 Armory Show); Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images (Duchamp))

1913
Once artists are expected to shock, it’s that much harder for them to do so. And the prototype for all New York art scandals to come was not over Chris Ofili or Robert Mapplethorpe but the 1913 Armory Show. The infamous exhibit displayed more than 1,000 works of art by more than 300 artists. The roster included Picasso, Matisse, Manet, and Cézanne, all unknown in this country. Also on hand was Marcel Duchamp’s Cubo-Futurist Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2). The outrage aimed at this one work was epic. People packed the Lexington Avenue Armory by the thousands to gawk at, ridicule, and revile it.

Today the painting hangs quietly in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and it takes effort to grasp what the to-do was about. No longer looking like the “explosion in a shingle factory” it was said to resemble, it is a well-constructed, small, brownish, semi-abstract image of angled stairways, banisters, balustrades, a landing, and a sort of stop-action stick figure. It’s still visionary in its ideas, but hardly shocking.

Viewers didn’t just dislike the painting; they saw it as a threat—un‑American, a ruse, a challenge to their religious faith. Remember that in 1913, there was no American avant-garde to speak of. Americans presumed paintings should be of historical scenes, Hudson River landscapes, presidents, cowboys, and Indians. There were plenty of nudes, too, but they weren’t taboo as long as they were realistic depictions of spent-looking, lounging women, or moony girls with budding breasts. Duchamp’s painting broached cognitive boundaries. People weren’t able to handle that he redefined what originality was, or that he was trying to shatter what he considered a dead academic language of painting. In retrospect, there was a good reason for the scandal: Gallerygoers were faced with a living, breathing image of rebellion.

In art, scandal is a false narrative, a smoke screen that camouflages rather than reveals. When we don’t know what we’re seeing, we overreact. Oscar Wilde wrote that “there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral” work of art. He’s right. Art is good, bad, boring, ugly, useful to us or not. It does or doesn’t disturb optical monotony, and succeeds or fails in surmounting sterility of style or visual stereotype; it creates new beauty or it doesn’t. Scandals happen when people are certain—­certain that a bunch of angled shapes on a brown ground is vulgar. Certainty sees things in restrictive, protective, aggressive ways, and thus isn’t seeing at all. What the scandalized don’t take into account is that more than one thing can be (and often is) true at once.

To engage with art, we have to be willing to be wrong, venture outside our psychic comfort zones, suspend disbelief, and remember that art explores and alters consciousness simultaneously. When someone sees something immoral, he or she is actually seeing something immoral in him- or herself. This built-in paradox is one of art’s services to us. It creates space for doubt, accepting that we’re human animals. Scandal is only human.

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December 2012

The Armory Show at 100

by James Panero

The lessons of the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art.

Burke

was right!

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For a century, the 1913 “International Exhibition of Modern Art,” better known as the Armory Show, has served as a shorthand in the history of taste. Here is the exhibition that dazzled American provincialism with European sophistication. Here is the event that delivered American culture, kicking and screaming, to the world stage. Here is the moment that separates the reactionary past from the more enlightened present. We may remember little about the barnstorming tour that brought the latest paintings of Duchamp, Picasso, and Matisse—along with up to 1,200 other works—to New York, Chicago, and Boston, but we know enough not to make the same mistakes again. No longer will the avant-garde be dismissed, will progressive cultures be ridiculed, or will the masterpieces of contemporary art remain unrecognized. These have been the lessons of 1913. We are all Armorists now.

The centenary of the Armory Show should put these assumptions to the test. The year 1913 was more than the unofficial start of the twentieth century. It was a highpoint in both European and American cultural innovation. While the historic exhibition of the Armory Show contained some of the most advanced paintings and sculptures coming out of Paris, its most radical feature was the show itself, an American creation with an ambition, foresight, and appreciation of these developments that has yet to be duplicated. “No single event, before or since, has had such an influence on American art,” wrote the Whitney Museum director Lloyd Goodrich at the time of its fiftieth anniversary. Another fifty years on and this claim has only been confirmed.

The centenary will be a time to reflect not only on what we’ve learned over the past century but also on what we’ve forgotten, a reconsideration that is already underway. Starting December 6, WNYC radio will air a series of specials on the “culture shock” of 1913 featuring a broad survey of this annus mirabilis, from an 1963 interview with Milton W. Brown, who published his Story of the Armory Show around the fiftieth anniversary, to a consideration of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, to a colloquy on the zipper, invented in 1913 in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Just as the fiftieth anniversary of the Armory Show inspired impressive memorial exhibitions, at least two shows have been planned to coincide with the centenary. Opening on February 17, 2013—a hundred years to the day from the Armory’s inauguration—The Montclair Art Museum will launch “The New Spirit: American Art in the Armory Show, 1913,” an exhibition that will examine the Armory’s under-appreciated American art, which represented two-thirds of the original New York display. Then in October, The New-York Historical Society will mount a retrospective featuring over seventy-five works as well as materials about the history of the early Teens. The show will be paired with a catalogue promising thirty-one essays on the 1913 exhibition. While the Armory Show may now be only a vague historical event, by the end of 2013 we should all have given it a thorough reconsideration.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the cultural atmosphere of the United States, and of New York in particular, where the creative forces of the Armory Show took shape, shared more with the progressive developments of Europe than is often acknowledged. New, modern forms of art that broke with the salon styles of the academies developed in parallel on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1908, a group of realist painters known as The Eight, all from Philadelphia, all ex-newspaper artists, exhibited together in a sensational show in New York that challenged the refinement of academic painting with a journalistic eye and “paint as real as mud.” Five of these artists—Robert Henri, George Luks, William Glackens, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn—became derisively known as The Ash Can School. A sixth member of The Eight, more of an idealist than a realist, was Arthur B. Davies, who went on to become the impresario of the Armory Show five years later.

At the same time, Alfred Stieglitz was showing both American and European modernist painting and sculpture at The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, at 291 Fifth Avenue, better known simply as “291.” In what Marsden Hartley called “probably the largest small room of its kind in the world,” Stieglitz mounted the first exhibitions in America of Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia, Constantin Brancusi, as well as African sculpture. He also gave the first one-man shows to the early generation of American modernists, including Alfred Maurer, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Arthur B. Carles, Oscar Bluemner, Elie Nadelman, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Stanton Macdonald-Wright.

Although the realists and modernists were often at odds, the two American movements shared a dislike for the National Academy and New York’s circle of academicians, which controlled the city’s artistic establishment. With their record of off-the-grid exhibitions, the two camps developed a communal do-it-yourself spirit. In late 1911, several of these independent artists (including some academicians) came together to start an association that could serve as an alternative to the Academy and exhibit “the works of progressive and live painters, both American and foreign,” as this new “Association of American Painters and Sculptors” (AAPS) announced in its mission statement. “We do not believe that any artist has discovered or ever will discover the only way to create beauty.” Recognizing “the new spirit,” the association sought to “lead the public taste in art rather than to follow it.”

Arthur B. Davies, the association’s president, was a charismatic fundraiser and leader. Curiously, his charms also allowed him to carry on a bigamist relationship with two families that did not know about the other until his death in 1928. As the head of the AAPS, Davies became a “dictator, severe, arrogant, implacable,” the painter Guy Pène du Bois later remembered. He also drove the association’s remarkable accomplishments as both its heart and soul. For the inaugural (and only) exhibition of the AAPS, he thought big.

In 1912, Davies saw a catalogue for the Cologne Sonderbund Show, an historic survey of over six hundred modernist works, and decided he wanted a similar version for himself. Because of another commitment, he sent the association’s secretary, the painter Walt Kuhn, to Germany to investigate, advising him at the dock, “go ahead, you can do it.” Kuhn arrived in Cologne on September 30, the last day of the exhibition, and quickly took in this survey of Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Signac, Picasso, and Munch. The swift assembly of the Armory Show had begun.

Later in November, Davies met up with Kuhn in Paris. Here, in a little over a week, the two engaged in a tour of the city’s most progressive cultural circles. After visiting the studio of the Duchamp brothers, Davies exclaimed, “That’s the strongest expression I’ve ever seen,” and promoted them extensively during the run of the show. They saw Odilon Redon in his studio, whose work would also be represented and appreciated. (“We are going to feature Redon big. BIG!” Kuhn exclaimed). When they visited Brancusi his studio, Davies said “That’s the kind of man I’m giving the show for” and bought a sculpture on the spot.

All of these introductions came by way of Walter Pach, an unofficial American member of the AAPS living in Paris. Through recent studies, in particular Walter Pach (1883–1958): The Armory Show and the Untold Story of Modern Art in America, by Laurette E. McCarthy, Pach’s full influence has only recently been acknowledged. Pach was the brains of the show. His eye and his connections secured the European components of the exhibition. He was also the key interpreter for the French avant-garde. He translated excerpts of Gauguin’s Noa Noa, the painter’s Tahitian journal, in one of the many widely distributed publications created for the show. His later translation of Eugène Delacroix’s Journal, published by Crown in 1948, is a modern classic.

Pach introduced Davies and Kuhn to the Stein family, those great American collectors of the avant-garde, who provided their own trans-Atlantic connections for the exhibition. They also demonstrated, like Pach, how modernism never developed in full isolation from the United States; even in Paris, it was as much international as it was French. Pach further persuaded Paris’s dealers to participate in the American exhibition. Ambroise Vollard, Durand-Ruel, Félix Fénéon of Bernheim-Jeune, Galerie Emile Druet, and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler lent much of the work to the show, which was supplemented by loans from American private collections and the artists themselves. The more historical paintings by the Impressionists, the post-Impressionists, and the Nabis—work that already enjoyed a robust European market—satisfied Davies’s desire to show the continuity of modern art, from Goya to the Cubists. For its creators, the Armory Show was about the evolution, rather than the revolution, of art.

All the while, Davies and Kuhn were arranging the logistics of the exhibition. For the New York show, Kuhn rented the recently constructed 69th Regiment Armory from the National Guard for $5,000, plus $500 for expenses. This building, which remains in service today on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, gave the Armory Show its unofficial name. At approximately 2200 percent inflation since 1913, that cost of the venue alone was over $128,000 in today’s dollars, a huge amount for a newly formed artist association. Davies found the money. In a matter of days, the AAPS divided the massive open space into twenty-eight octagonal cubicles and filled it with bunting and greenery that had been donated by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and her sister-in-law, Dorothy Straight. Kuhn, a master of publicity, built up the event even before the first patrons opened. Then, for less than a month, starting on February 17, 1913, the Armory Show became the school, the square, and the sensation of New York.

No admirer of modern art can help but dream of walking through those galleries. “Anyone with a drop of collector’s blood in his veins must develop a retrospective itch to have been there and had the same chance at prescience,” writes Milton Brown in his history. Consider the masterpieces that passed through those doors: View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph (1887), alternatively called Colline des pauvres or “The poorhouse on the hill,” by Cezanne, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Models (1888), by Seurat, now in the collection of The Barnes Foundation; Blue Nude (Souvenir of Biskra) (1907), by Matisse, now at the Baltimore Museum of Art; The Red Studio (1911), by Matisse, now in New York’s Museum of Modern Art; The Garden of Love (1912), by Kandinsky, now at the Metropolitan Museum; and, most famously, Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), by Marcel Duchamp, now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

What’s even more remarkable than the presence of these paintings—some of them barely dry—is the prescience of the visitors who saw them. We may not have a time machine to take us back to the Armory Show, but many of those who flocked to the exhibition found a machine that took them into the future. Mentored by Davies and Kuhn at the show, Lillie Bliss eventually assembled the twenty-six Cézannes that formed the nucleus of MOMA. Alfred Stieglitz purchased five drawings by Alexander Archipenko, a drawing by Davies, a statuette by Manolo (one of several artists there who never became a household name), and the exhibition’s only Kandinsky, which he donated to the Metropolitan. The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, contains three of the Duchamps that were at the show, including Nude Descending a Staircase (originally purchased at the fair by the San Francisco–based lawyer Frederic C. Torrey). Katherine Dreier formed the Collection for the Société Anonyme, now at the Yale University Art Gallery, and Arthur Jerome Eddy formed his collection at the Chicago Art Institute.

While most of the work at the Armory would be considered a bargain by today’s standards, not everything was cheap. The Cézanne purchased by the Metropolitan was listed at $8,000 and sold for $6,700—or, adjusted for inflation, about $150,000 today. All told over its entire run, the Armory Show sold 35 American paintings and sculptures (for $11,625 total), 130 foreign works (for $12,886 total), and 205,000 tickets, leaving it with a slight profit at the end of its exhausting three-city run.

This is all not to suggest The Armory Show was universally embraced. While the New York press was generally favorable, often full of praise save for some cranky responses from the city’s establishment critics, the show’s reception at its next stop, The Art Institute of Chicago, was far less gleeful. The Institute’s academic student body staged public protests during the exhibition and even burned in effigy the figure of Walter Pach. Today this display sounds gruesome, but I suspect at the time it was meant to be somewhat jocular. Pach, after all, never went into hiding during his stay in the Land of Lincoln. In fact, this free publicity helped boost the Chicago run of the show, a smaller version of New York stripped of its American art component. At 100,000, Chicago had the highest attendance numbers of all three venues, compared to 87,000 in New York. At only 17,000, Boston proved to be a disappointing third stop in late April, one that says much about the “Brahmin mind,” writes Brown, and the city’s cultural passivity.

The Chicago press largely vilified the show, calling it “profane,” “blasphemous,” “obscene,” “vile,” “suggestive,” and a “desecration.” But Chicago also saw some of the Armory’s most eloquent defenders, in particular Harriet Monroe in the Sunday Tribune. “In a profound sense these radical artists are right,” she observed. “They represent a search for new beauty, impatience with formulae, a reaching out toward the inexpressible, a longing for new versions of truth observed.”

The excitement around the show, both in New York and Chicago, both positive and negative, speaks to the broad conversation the culture of art enjoyed in 1913. The heated response paralleled the modernist experience in Europe, where the 1913 Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring degenerated into a riot. “Of course controversies will arise,” predicted Davies, “just as they have arisen under similar circumstances in France, Italy, Germany, and England.” The responses were often colorful, for example the famous descriptions of Duchamp’s Nude as a “lot of disused golf clubs and bags,” an “orderly heap of broken violins,” “a staircase descending a nude,” and most famously “an explosion in a shingle factory.” Even former President Theodore Roosevelt took part. There is “no requirement that a man whose gift lay in new directions should measure up or down to stereotyped and fossilized standards,” he wrote in his own mixed review of the show, but the “lunatic fringe was fully in evidence.”

There is a reason that such an exhibition, with such energy, has never been repeated. We like to think we live in a post-Armory age, but we rather seem to be locked in a pre-Armory moment. Today our own cultural establishment announces its agenda with auction headlines. A professionalized museum class dictates the story of art to an increasingly passive public. A hundred years ago, the artists of the age said enough to their own academic culture. Without any government, academic, or institutional support, they found like-minded souls who helped nurture and propagate a renewed vision for culture. “Something is wrong with the world,” observed the banker James A. Stillman after seeing the Armory Show in New York. “These men know.” The Armory successfully cast aside “the dry bones of a dead art,” wrote Alfred Stieglitz. We should be so lucky if today’s academic thinkers similarly become the footnotes of history, and a resurgence in art once again captures the vital spirit of the times.

James Panero is the Managing Editor of The New Criterion.
more from this author

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 31 December 2012, on page 10

Copyright © 2013 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com

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Document Deep Dive: The Most Influential Art Show You’ve Never Heard Of

Van Gogh, Cèzanne and Degas lined the walls of the famed Armory Show 100 years ago, but it was Marcel Duchamp who stole the thunder

  • Smithsonian.com, February 14, 2013,

The Armory Art Show in New York in 1913.

The Armory Art Show in New York in 1913. (© Bettmann / CORBIS)

In mid-December of 1911, a small group of forward-thinking artists gathered at the Madison Gallery in New York’s Upper East Side. Frustrated with the contemporary art scene, the men hatched a plan to ensure that their work and other thought-provoking Modernist pieces, coming from America and Europe, had a place to be shown.

Walt Kuhn, the faithful record keeper of the bunch, took minutes at the inaugural meeting, and others held in the weeks to follow. First, the artists collectively formed the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, to, as one member put it, “lead the public taste in art rather than follow it.” Then, the organization immediately set to work on its grand vision—a public presentation of the newest, most promising art of the time.

The International Exhibition of Modern Art, or Armory Show, as it is more affectionately known, opened to the public on February 17, 1913, at the 69th Regiment Armory on East 26th Street in Manhattan. The show would travel to Chicago and then on to Boston.

“It is really one of the biggest moments in 20th century American art,” says Kelly Quinn, a historian at Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, “because artists and the American public got to see things in new ways. Artists wrote to each other about how profound it was for them to see new things happening on canvases. They were then predicting how transformative and what a lasting legacy this is going to be.”

Up until this point in time, only Americans who had the means to take a grand tour of Europe had seen the works of European Modernists, such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne and the Cubists. Others who were interested could read about the art or see black-and-white reproductions, but wouldn’t have been able to behold the images themselves. At the Armory Show, for the first time, Americans could pay a dollar in admission, or 25 cents in the afternoons and weekends, and see more than 1,200 paintings, sculptures and drawings by esteemed and emerging American and European artists.

One of the most talked about paintings in the show was Marcel Duchamp’s Nude descending a staircase, now held by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The portrait, comprised of sharp, geometric shapes, stupefied onlookers. “It is so radical, because it is breaking the form and breaking the human figure,” says Quinn. “This was a new way of looking. A body in motion in a painting—that really had not been captured in this kind of way before.”

The Archives of American Art is indispensible when it comes to telling the story of the 1913 Armory Show. In its collection, the research center holds the papers of Walt Kuhn and Walter Pach, two AAPS members and key organizers of the exhibition. For the centennial, the archives has organized an online exhibition—a timeline comprised of letters, photographs, press and publicity materials that chronicle the staging of the show and the public’s reaction to it.

The selected documents—annotated with the help of Quinn and Milton W. Brown’s book, The Story of the Armory Show, below—capture, more specifically, the tale of Duchamp’s show-stopping Nude, from its entry into the show to its sale.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Document-Deep-Dive-The-Most-Influential-Art-Show-Youve-Never-Heard-Of-191242881.html#ixzz2LqBLiyod
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As Avant-Garde as the Rest of Them:

An Introduction to the 1913 Armory Show


Luxury, II
Henri Matisse
Luxury, II (1907-08)
Burned in effigy
by AIC students

Even before the Armory Show opened, organizers and more than a few journalists described the exhibition as an invasion of modern art on America. In the New York Times and Sun, headlines like “It Will Throw a Bomb Into Our Art World and a Good Many Leaders Will be Hit” and “Cubist, Futurists, and Post Impressionists Win First Engagement, Leaving the Enemy Awestruck” greeted the public, emphasizing the paintings of Duchamp, Matisse, and Picabia and the sculpture of Brancusi as intellectual warfare. TheChicago Record-Herald announced an equally resounding battle cry of “Advance Guard Arrives” when the show moved from New York to Chicago in March 1913.

The exhibition was described in these terms by supporters, skeptics, and adversaries of the new art. The architect-turned-artist Oscar Bluemner, who had already adopted formal principles that combined the flattened perspective of cubism and the stark simplicity of precisionism, used a similar rhetoric of revolution to describe the recently closed Armory Show in Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work, perhaps the most informed journal on modern art in America at the time: “The exhibition of the new art from Europe dropped like a bomb. Before the people could gain their breath, some prune-fattened authorities of the old regime at once hurled the pits and stones of their wrath and contempt against the cubists” (42). The “authorities” of the National Academy of Design and the Art Institute of Chicago joined students, professional critics, and the general public in responding to the Armory Show. Accusations of quackery, insanity, immorality, and anarchy were typical responses, as were parodies—caricatures, doggerels and mock exhibitions. In Pittsburgh, however, artists reacted by exhibiting sincere cubist-inspired studies during the Chicago run of the show, and in New York, Wanamakers placed “cubist” fashions in their department store windows. Though many directed their insults and praise at a loosely defined cubism, Matisse was most fiercely attacked for distorting the human form to monstrous proportions. The most memorable response was a public demonstration held by students of the Chicago Art Institute. Matisse was put on trial, and copies of three Matisse paintings were, along with “Henry Hairmattress,” burned in effigy.

Called a “Rebellion in Art” by Meyer Schapiro and a “Success by Scandal” by Barbara Rose, the exhibition has consistently been fashioned as a moment of cultural crisis and a radical break with tradition, out of which emerged a new and vital art, literature and drama. Its legacy correlates not only with the pandemonium of the 1913 Rite of Spring performance, but also with a moment Virginia Woolf recalls, coinciding with the close of Britain’s Armory Show, the First Post-Impressionist Exhibition in London: “On or about December 1910, the human character changed” (Stansky 4). Her remark, partly tongue-in-cheek, recognizes the credence given to these cultural happenings as vehicles to substantially alter aesthetic consciousness, leading to crucial artistic innovations and significant social change.


Called a “Rebellion in Art” by Meyer Schapiro and a “Success by Scandal” by Barbara Rose, the exhibition has consistently been fashioned as a moment of cultural crisis and a radical break with tradition, out of which emerged a new and vital art, literature and drama.


America in 1913 was primed for an artistic revolt, specifically through the guise of an art exhibition. Though not all actions outside New York’s official art organ, the National Academy of Design, were couched in terms of rebellion, revolutionary rhetoric came thundering out for the 1908 exhibition of the Eight, seen as the American predecessor to the Armory Show. Eight painters—Robert Henri, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, William Glackens, George Luks, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, and Arthur B. Davies—collaborated not due to their formal affinities but in their desire for academy-independent exhibitions. Cast as a band of renegades bent on overthrowing the established regime, many of these same artists joined together to plan the Armory Show as the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS). Anti-establishment statements made by a few Armory Show organizers along with the convenient metaphor of the Armory itself encouraged a sensationalism that was by no means the only understanding of modern art projected through the Armory Show but remains its most prominant legacy. If the scandal of post-Impressionism had not reached their eyes or ears before 1913, readers of almost any daily newspaper in any American metropolis were prepared for a blow to the status-quo in the month before the International Exhibition, ensuring that New Yorkers and Chicagoans would reenact the riot of audiences in France, Italy, and England.

Armory Show Catalogue
Armory Show
Catalogue

The International Exhibition of Modern Art introduced New York to the artists Paris had met in the Salon d’Automne exhibition of 1905 and the Salon des Indépendents exhibition of 1911 (The exhibitions that brought the terms fauvism and cubism respectively into common parlance). However, the show did more than offer the public their first glimpse at a Matisse or a Duchamp. The emblem of the Armory Show, an uprooted pine tree, was taken from the Massachusetts flag carried into battle during the Revolutionary War. The application of the American Revolution consciously introduced the Armory Show and its participants as part of an international avant-garde, but also reminded the audience of the integral connection between American culture and political revolution. “The New Spirit,” the motto of the Armory Show was and continues to be liberally connected not just to changes in the visual arts but also to social, cultural, and political transformations in the early part of the last century, including the women’s suffrage movement, the Harlem Renaissance, and the rise of socialism. Martin Green nostalgically speaks of the moment that produced the Armory Show in New York: 1913: “we can say that the spirit of 1913 was an aspiration to transcend what most people accepted as ordinary and so inevitable . . . In the case of the Armory Show, it was old forms of art, appreciation and beauty” (Green 7). It was a time when “art and politics came together . . . Since then, people have looked back at that moment with envy” (Green 4). Although Green himself goes on to discuss the discontinuity between aesthetic and political revolt in 1913, the Armory Show has remained a representative secession from the 19th-century bourgeois state.


“we can say that the spirit of 1913 was an aspiration to transcend what most people accepted as ordinary and so inevitable . . . In the case of the Armory Show, it was old forms of art, appreciation and beauty.”


Dances at the Spring
Francis Picabia
Dances at the Spring (1912)

First exhibited at the
Section d’Or exhibition,
October 1912

Many historians have seen the Armory Show as the last in a long line of exhibitions which broke with the official art channels of France, Germany and England, “something of a Johnny-come-lately,” in John Rewald’s words (179). While Renato Poggioli tracks avant-garde behavior in Western art and thought back to Romanticism and Peter Bürger locates the historic avant-garde between 1924 and 1939, Pierre Bourdeau posits revolt as a structural feature of the institution of art beginning in mid-19th century France. The precedent for questioning an academy-dominated system of artistic dispersal undeniably includes the exhibitions that generated an alternative to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in the late 19th century. Starting with the Salon des Refusés in 1863 (the first Impressionist exhibition) and the massive Salons des Indépendents (the annual exhibitions that began in 1884), works of distinction were found outside the academy and a critic-dealer system took over the Ecole’s role of influencing aesthetic predilections. The Salon d’Autumne, a more selective, slightly smaller version of the Indépendents, had a more direct impact on Walt Kuhn and Arthur B. Davies, the Armory Show’s primary organizers, for it included a large section of late 19th-century French art. Like the Salon d’Automne, the Armory Show emphasized the historical progression of modern art from Goya to Duchamp. Kuhn and Davies also visited artists who exhibited in the 1912 Section d’Or exhibition, which moved the focal point of cubism out of the Salon and into a private gallery. Kuhn and Davies chose a number of paintings and sculptures that first appeared in the Section d’Or exhibition for the Armory Show, including works by Duchamp, Picabia, Duchamp-Villon, and Brancusi.

The AAPS, the official organizers of the 1913 exhibition, included all the artists who exhibited together in 1908, excluding Everett Shinn. Shinn and four of the other artists in the 1908 show, Sloan, Glackens, Luks, and Henri, were later dubbed the Ashcans for their treatment of alleys, tenements, and immigrant dwellers, primarily on the Lower East Side. Of these artists, Luks and Glackenswere most engrossed in the show’s preparations. Henri, though nominated for president of the association, took a back seat in the art-political happenings of the Armory Show after his former role as leader of the insurgents, and John Sloan was minimally involved.Arthur B. Davies, a symbolist artist who joined the Ashcan artists in the 1908 exhibition of the Eight, was the president of the AAPS and, along with Walt Kuhn, most actively shaped the exhibition. Both Kuhn and Davies helped organize several independent exhibitions after the Eight’s show, which provided a model for a large unjuried exhibition in New York. The independent shows argued for a venue outside the NAD but only included American artists. From the beginning, it was agreed the exhibition should include “the best contemporary work that can be secured, representative of American and foreign art” (Brown, Story 49). Davies undoubtedly had the most comprehensive knowledge of contemporary French and American art in the association, a knowledge Stieglitz believed was paralleled in New York only by Max Weber (Homer, Stieglitz 168).

Woman with a Mustard Pot
Pablo Picasso
Woman with a Mustard Pot (1910)
Sent from London’s Second
Post-Impressionist
Exhibition

Equally important were the series of massive exhibitions that introduced an international avant-garde to a large, often uninitiated audience. The annual Parisian exhibitions featured many artists from outside France, so much so that in 1912, the Chamber of Deputies in Paris protested the Salon d’Automne for its inclusion of so many foreign artists: they were accused of causing the scandal of cubism. The 1912 Cologne-Sonderbund, one of a series of exhibitions in Germany with international participants, was the theoretical model for the Armory Show. When Davies saw the catalog for the exhibition, he immediately asked Kuhn to travel to Cologne. When he visited the German exhibition in 1912, Kuhn secured a number of paintings for the Armory Show, including works by van Gogh, Redon, and the lone painting by Kandinsky. The most immediate predecessor to the International Exhibition was Roger Fry’s Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition of 1912-1913, which was altered greatly in its last month when many of the paintings, especially those by Matisse and Picasso, were transported to New York. The Armory Show’s “New Spirit” modeled the language of crisis and transformation that marked so many of these early 20th-century exhibitions. As such, the Armory Show became a benchmark in the history of American modernism, providing a tangible source to explain significant changes in the visual arts, literature, and drama.


Many historians have seen the Armory Show as the last in a long line of exhibitions which broke with the official art channels of France, Germany and England, “something of a Johnny-come-lately,” in John Rewald’s words.


Autumn
Alfred Maurer
Autumn, 1912
Exhibited at the
Armory Show

Retrospective analysis of the Armory Show’s impact on individual artists has been one of the most prevalent ways of explaining the genesis of modern art in America prior to Abstract Expressionism. Despite the critical focus on European, primarily French artists, over half the exhibitors at the New York show were citizens of the United States. Although most American artists were ignored by critics, some received attention for their movement away from representational form. Most art historians expeditiously mention the equally important influence of Alfred Stieglitz’s shows at the Little Galleries of Photo-Secession, known as ‘291’ for its address at 291 5th Avenue. Stieglitz championed artists like Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso as well as early American modernists John MarinMarsden HartleyOscar Bluemner, and Abraham Walkowitz, all of whom participated in the International Exhibition. Stieglitz’s exhibitions reflect the presence of modern art in America before the Armory Show and influenced a small group of artists, critics, and others living and working in New York. However, ‘291’ was virtually unknown to the general public, and especially inaccessible to those artists living outside Manhattan.

Gertrude Stein has gained almost equal recognition for her encouragement, friendship, and patronage of younger American artists like “Alfy” Maurer and Marsden Hartley (a character in Stein’s play IIIIIIIIII) who studied in Paris before the Armory Show. Stein has been rightly credited with introducing them to the work of Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne. In addition to gaining access to modern art through these two early promoters, a number of American artists who exhibited in the 1913 exhibition studied in Paris directly with Matisse, Othon Friesz, and other fauve artists. American art instructors like Arthur Dow, who taught Georgia O’Keefe and Agnes Pelton at the Pratt Institute, encouraged artists to study abstract design in the art of Japan, China, and Native America. Robert Henri, though generally relegated to the realist camp, provided reproductions of Manet, Degas, Renoir, Whistler, van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cézanne to observe. He also encouraged students to visit shows at 291 in support of American modernists like Max Weber.

Battle of Lights, Coney Island
Joseph Stella
Battle of Lights, Coney Island (1913)
Executed shortly after the
Armory Show

The status of the Armory Show as a stimulant for modern art in America has also been reaffirmed through the somewhat labored connections of modernist artists and writers to this rite of passage into the American avant-garde. Milton Brown, the most comprehensive scholar on the Armory Show in print, acknowledges that the transformation of many artists after the exhibition was short-lived, somewhat diffusing the show’s impact. However, he also reproves the effort of some scholars to push the dates of American experimentation in abstraction back before the Armory Show, which seems to have happened with Joseph Stella. Stella, who did contribute one still life to the original exhibition, was such a rapid convert that his Battle of Lights, Coney Island, painted in late 1913, was mistakenly included in the 50th Anniversary Show. Rebecca Tarbell warns against overestimating the effect the show had on sculptors (Tarbell, Impact 14); on the other hand, more recently, Steven Watson goes so far as to call Arthur B. Davies, the president of the AAPS and one of the most respected American artists of the time, a “victim” of the Armory Show, since his work took such a dramatic turn toward cubism (Watson 173).


Despite the critical focus on European, primarily French artists, over half the exhibitors at the New York show were American.


Homage to Rodin
Morgan Russell
Homage to Rodin (1910-11)
Not included in the
Armory Show

The debate on the show’s impact could never possibly be resolved, but it is profitable to note the limitations of the Armory Show’s “evidence.” As with many exhibitions, the most recent paintings and sculpture of the participants were not always included. The work shown in the Armory Show cannot be taken as a full measure of any artist’s work prior to 1913. Nor can it be assumed that participation in the show meant contribution of works understood by audiences to be post-impressionist, cubist, futurist, or more generally, modern. Morgan Russell, who had already begun his Synchromist experiments, decided to show two earlier still lifes, though some recent drawings were included. He waited to unveil his new work with Stanton Macdonald-Wright at the Salon d’Automne of 1913. Marsden Hartley, also visited by the two primary organizers, Arthur B. Davies and Walt Kuhn in Paris, wrote to Alfred Stieglitz that “‘[Kuhn and Davies] chose for the show two Cézanne/Matisse-style paintings from the summer [of 1912]. I have not chosen them myself, chiefly because I am so interested at this time in the directly abstract thing, but Davies says no American has done this kind of thing and they would serve me and the exhibition best at this time. I am to send six drawings and these will be the abstract thing of the present'” (Haskell 28). The work of many artists from the period surrounding the Armory Show has been destroyed, sometimes skewing the image of transformation proclaimed by critics of the exhibition. For years, Marguerite Zorach’s early work was unknown; her Study, included in the Armory Show, has never been found. Other American artists who were moving farther from representational form, Max Weber and Arthur Dove, were not in the exhibition at all.

Landscape

Charles Sheeler
Landscape (1913)

Personal accounts of artists have helped to mythologize the Armory Show’s role in the origin of modern art in America. The painter Stuart Davis became interested in non-representational form shortly after the show but did not develop a distinct style until the early 30’s. In articles and autobiographical accounts, Davis consistently cited the Armory Show as the point when “the American artist became conscious of abstract art” (Kelder 112). Davis reflected at the 50th Anniversary of the show that “My personal reaction to the rowdy occasion was an experience of Freedom, no doubt objectively present in the mechanics of many of the foreign items on display” (Munson-Williams-Proctor 95). His remarks are echoed by those of Charles Sheeler, who claimed he found in the exhibition “a new way of life” (Munson-Williams-Proctor 95).

While the effects of the Armory Show on American painters and sculptors has been hotly debated, the exhibition has been cited as a fomenter for American literary modernism as well. In his autobiography, William Carlos Williams discussed the Armory Show as a zero hour: “There was at that time a great surge of interest in the arts generally before the First World War. New York was seething with it. Painting took the lead. It came to a head for us in the famous ‘Armory Show’ of 1913″ (Williams 134). Williams undoubtedly conflated the Armory Show with what his wife later called “the second Armory Show,” the Society of Independent Artists Exhibition in 1917 (Terrell 56). Christopher J. MacGowan dismisses the influence of the Armory Show on Williams, calling it a “red herring . . . [Williams] did not attend the show; his interest in painters and his adaptation of painterly ideas to his poetic strategy are evident in his writings before 1913″ (1). These biographical debates merely secure the status of the exhibition in the history of American modernism; so strong was the Armory Show’s clout that Williams aligned his own history with this epic event.

In support of the psychological schism engendered by the show, Williams describes Duchamp’s Nude among other works as creating “an atmosphere of release, color release, release from stereotyped forms, trite subjects” (Halter 11). Although the Nudebecame so overused as an emblem of modern art that Williams admits “[it] is too hackneyed for me to remember anything clearly about it now,” he does recall its initial impact: “I laughed out loud when I first saw it, happily, with relief” (Williams 134). For Williams’, the show signified a fundamental rupture in poetic form and allowed individual experimentation to take place: “There had been a break somewhere, we were streaming through, each thinking his own thoughts, driving his own designs toward his self’s objectives . . . The poetic line, the way the image was to lie on the page was our immediate concern . . . I had never in my life before felt that way. I was tremendously stirred” (Williams 138). Williams’ account of the show relies on the conscious compression of many years into one spring in 1913. It also demonstrates Williams’ association between the Armory Show and a communication with other artists and writers.


The status of the Armory Show as a stimulant for modern art in America has also been reaffirmed through the somewhat labored connections of modernist artists and writers to this rite of passage into the American avant-garde.


Walter Arensberg's Apartment

Charles Sheeler
Walter Arensberg’s Apartment (c. 1918)
A full-size photo reproduction of Duchamp’sNude, created by the artist, is in the center. Arensberg bought the original in 1927.

Williams, in the period immediately following the Armory Show, enjoyed friendships with Mina Loy, Wallace Stevens, Charles Sheeler, and Charles Demuth, who all loosely congregated around Walter Arensberg, a poet and patron of modern art starting with the Armory Show and Stevens’ friend from Harvard. Perhaps because of his connection with Williams and Arensberg, Stevens is also connected to the Armory Show. There is no evidence that he actually saw the exhibition or even knew of its existence, but critics have used the show to analyze his affinity for techniques espoused by cubism. For Glenn McLeod the Armory Show is a point of origin, “from [which] we can trace the development of modernism in all the arts in America . . . it was soon after the Armory Show that Stevens began writing his first mature poems . . . His poetic transformation in the wake of the Armory Show established a pattern of close parallels with events in the art world that would characterize his poetic process for the rest of his life” (McLeod 3). McLeod’s claims do not stand alone. Joan Richardson, who believes Stevens probably went more than once to the exhibition, sees the Armory Show as an event that confirmed his own tendencies in writing. The impact, according to Richardson, was seen in his work of 1913 and 1914. Whether or not Stevens attended the show, it has become a touchstone to explain his involvement in literary modernism.

The commitment of critics and artists to the exhibition as a moment of significant social and cultural change can be seen in the placement of the Armory Show beside other crises in American history like the Stock Market Crash, John Brown’s Riots, and the Dust Bowl in America in Crisis (Mancini 833). The exhibition’s historical resilience is demonstrated in its presence among discussions on the socialism of The Masses, the affirmation of an African-American aesthetic in the Harlem Renaissance, and the women’s suffrage movement in 1915, The Cultural Moment: The New Politics, the New Woman, the New Psychology, the New Art, and the New Theatre in America. Reworkings of the Armory Show in autobiographical exploits like Mabel Dodge’smemoir Movers and Shakers and Carl Van Vechten’s novel Peter Whiffle or hyperbolized fictions like Jean Luc Godard’s filmBand of Outsiders (Bande á Part) have also helped to immortalize the event as a moment of rupture between “old” and “new.” Quite recently, the Armory Show resurfaced in the 1999 court trial surrounding the “Sensation” show in the Brooklyn Museum, when contentions of sacrilegious art caused Mayor Rudolph Giulianni to attempt closing the exhibition.

Introducing the Armory Show as an emblem for cultural crisis and transformation serves to recognize the most prevalent understanding of the Armory Show’s place in early twentieth century American culture. What it also points to are the innumberable manifestations and resurgences of the Armory Show, the stories of the Armory Show that have been repeatedly told, but rarely reexamined. If we except the Armory Show’s benchmark status, or at least resign ourselves to it, shouldn’t the claims made for the Armory Show be scrutinized and reinvestigated? Recent scholars have most consistently attacked the emphasis on an American rejection of modern art (see Martinez, Mancini). It seems the concern of these critics to rethink the critical response to the show as a “monolithic screed against all things new” (Mancini 835). Though many newspapers in New York, Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere rejected, ridiculed, and lampooned the work of Matisse and Duchamp, there were a number of critics who treated the artists as legitimate and forward-thinking practitioners. Moreover, even the harshest critics addressed the exhibition as a monumental undertaking for its creation of a new venue for art outside the National Academy of Design. What these recent scholarly accounts of the Armory Show give us is a model for reexamining some of the other stories of the Armory Show, those claims made by earlier art historians and cultural theorists that deserve reevaluation.

==

Marketing Modern Art in America:

From the Armory Show to the Department Store


Steinway Advertisement
Advertisement for Steinway Pianos
Run in Vanity Fair and Vogue in the 1920s.

In seeking an explanation for the growth of the modern art market in the United States, critics invariably call on the 1913 Armory Show. Soon after the Armory closed its doors on the still-glistening trophies of modern art, galleries started opening theirs. Frederick James Gregg, publicity chairman for the exhibition, saw the relocation of the art market outside the National Academy of Design as the chief accomplishment of the 1913 exhibition. Shortly after the show closed in New York, Gregg declared the Armory Show a success, anticipating its ability to spawn gallery openings in downtown Manhattan: “It was said by one of the critics that, if the Association had stopped short and not hung a single picture, or put up a single piece of sculpture, it would have performed a notable work in solving what had been regarded as one of the town’s great problems” (Gregg, For and Against 14). Peter Watson’s From Manet to Manhattan: The Rise of the Modern Art Market, also posits the Armory Show as the trail head that led, if circuitously, to a booming American market for modern art. Armory Show scholar Milton Brown echoes Watson’s conclusions: “with this first important breech in the solid wall of the ‘old master’ market, a new era in American collecting was opened. If people were willing to buy, there were soon dealers ready to sell” (Brown, Story 105). Bruce Altshuler goes so far as to say that the Armory Show’s crowning achievement was not its impact on individual artists who sought to learn the mysteries of cubism in the wake of the Armory Show but its ability to capture the attention of collectors and gallery owners, hyping up the desirability and profitability of modern art: “While the Armory Show did not significantly influence the styles or greatly expand the knowledge of these American painters, it did foster an environment receptive to their efforts. Bringing modern art to the attention of a greater public, inspiring collectors and patrons, creating a market in which galleries could survive, the Armory Show was of signal importance for the new American art” (Altshuler 77).

While such broad claims are immediately suspect, how much did the organizers of the Armory Show welcome the “contaminating” marketplace where art became nothing but another commodity? Statements made by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors reflect their embrace of Progressive Era economic ideals like free-trade and trust-busting as well as a recognition of the usefulness of marketing strategies borrowed from other “shows,” such as Barnum’s Circus and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows that advertised so loudly they refused to be ignored. Critics who opposed the Armory Show and the artists it featured claimed a concern not for the stability of bourgeois culture but for the blatant and outspoken relationship between art and advertising and critics, dealers and publicity stunts, as well as the conscious self-promotion by numerous artists.

During the late teens and early twenties, the little galleries that opened in Manhattan diffused some of the sensationalism of large exhibitions like the Armory Show. Almost all of these new dealers had shown their commitment to American and European modernists before and during the 1913 exhibition through purchasing their work. Methods of distribution and publication through these galleries, along with a number of little magazines, primarily produced in New York, became increasingly consequential to an international coterie of contemporary artists. In addition to these pioneering (and presumably anti-mass-market) efforts, writers for widely circulated art periodicals such as Arts and Decoration and International Studio promoted much of the art at the Armory as did the editors of “smart” magazines that contained articles on contemporary poetry, politics, film, and philosophy and that carried a much larger readership. The ForumThe Century, and Vanity Fair were three of the first magazines to discuss modern art on a regular basis after the Armory Show. The New York daily presses also contained extended art-critical discussions by Henry McBride and Hutchins Hapgood, giving an even broader audience detailed perspectives on the new art. Finally, far from the little rooms of Stieglitz’s ‘291’ but perhaps not so far from Katherine Dreier’s Société Anonyme, Inc. (which means, literally, Incorporated, Incorporated), department stores were actually some of the first sponsors of cubism after the Armory Show. While little galleries and little magazines did much to distance modern art from commercialism, advertising and mass-marketing, individual artists were not so uncomfortable with using the modern publicity engine. Widespread vehicles of circulation that focused their attention on a white, upper-middle-class readership blurred the distinction between modernism and the modern through fashionable magazines, dailies, and department stores.


Far from the little rooms of Stieglitz’s ‘291’ . . . department stores were actually some of the first sponsors of cubism after the Armory Show.


Taking Art to the Streets

The Eight
Newspaper clippings
announcing the Eight’s decision
to show outside the academy.

In exploring the Armory Show’s position within a growing market for modern art in America, this essay will first detail some of the exhibition conditions prior to the Armory Show in New York. In the first decade of the last century, the National Academy of Design held a qualified monopoly on the New York art market. The academy exhibitions, while not state-supported like the Parisian Ecole des Beaux Arts shows, were, along with the Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh, the primary publicity channels for art in America (Schwartz 12). As with the European academic system, a small jury of full members voted on the thousands of works submitted to the NAD annually. However, even after gaining member status, those who were not in full favor had their paintings excluded or hung above eye level with poor lighting (Schwartz 12). In part, irregularities were due to the size of the NAD exhibition hall, but the preferences of the most influential academy members were apparent in the priority shown to Barbizon or Impressionist painting, mid to late 19th-century French models. Rebellions and ruptures had occurred in the academy before the 1908 exhibition of the Eight, but usually the separation was temporary and chiefly founded on hanging politics—the Society of American Artists, which broke off from the Academy in 1877, had reunited with the NAD in 1906 (Clark 110).

Although a lack of space had always prevented many artists from getting their work shown, in 1906, the Academy did not have enough room to hang all the accepted works, so a committee was appointed to eliminate all works that did not promote “harmony” on the walls (Schwartz 16). The Academy’s emphasis on uniformity and their rejection of all but three artists in 1907 exacerbated the longstanding problem of Academy biases. Robert Henri, an academician who had long objected to the choices of his fellow judges, decided that independent exhibitions were essential to the artists not yet accepted into the Academy. The Eight’s exhibition, which included Henri, Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan, reportedly attracted over 300 people per hour and grossed $4,000 in sales. (Schwartz 49) Other Henri students, including George Bellows, Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent, participated in a larger independent exhibition in 1908, using an abandoned building to show their paintings. This show did not receive much attention from the press or the general public, and the lack of interest was evaluated as a result of poor advertising (Marlor 2).

Partly because of the Eight’s efforts, by 1910, public awareness of exhibition problems in New York had grown. According to Philadelphia’s Public Ledger, “the Academy of Design has not sufficient room in its galleries for the exhibits of its own members, whose pictures year after year are accepted with but slight prospect of being hung” (Archives). The president of the NAD, John Alexander, also recognized the organization’s failings and was determined to have a new building erected. He likewise acknowledged that New York needed more galleries for art to thrive (Alexander 4). In an effort to provide more hanging room for paintings, a group of academicians proposed to use public land on Central Park for an exhibition building, but other members rejected the plan because they did not want the NAD to become reliant on state money and government approval. The Eight and other artists inside and outside the academy realized they must encourage a market for the work they wanted to exhibit through other means.


Although a lack of space had always prevented many artists from getting their work shown, in 1906, the Academy did not have enough room to hang all the accepted works, so a committee was appointed to eliminate all works that did not promote “harmony” on the walls.


Four exhibitions in 1910 and 1911 reflect the initiative many New York artists took to develop academy-independent shows. Nearly 650 works of art were shown in a former club building, drawing an overwhelming crowd at the Independents Exhibition of 1910. A much smaller exhibition was held in 1911, at the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, one of many art organizations in New York. Organized by Rockwell Kent and Arthur B. Davies, “An Independent Exhibition of the Paintings and Drawings of Twelve Men,” also included Maurice Prendergast and Luks from the Eight. The participating artists agreed to an academy boycott, which accounts for Henri’s decision not to show. who did not agree with the academy boycott, did not join the Twelve Men exhibit. In solidarity with their teacher and mentor, Sloan, Bellows and Glackens chose not to exhibit either. At Davies’ suggestion, however, Hartley, Maurer, and Marin, who had previously showed at Stieglitz’s ‘291’ gallery, took their place (Perlman, Lives 193-194). At the same time, Henri arranged for a Union Club exhibition, which included the Eight and artists who would later be associated with the Ashcan school—George Bellows, James and May Wilson Preston, and Edith Dimock. Henri also arranged for a year-round art gallery to be used by self-organized groups at the McDowell Club, a former concert space, where costs would be paid by the artists themselves. For the inaugural 1911 show, Davies, Luks, and Prendergast were invited to exhibit but declined. Jerome Myers, Henry Fitch Taylor, and Elmer MacRae, who had exhibited together at Clara Davidge’s Madison Gallery, applied to show but were rejected for the first exhibition (Perlman, Lives 201). In recognition of the need for more independent shows, Myers, Taylor, and MacRae, along with Walt Kuhn, began planning a large independent exhibition of their own, the exhibition that became the Armory Show (Perlman, Lives 202).

The artists who met at Clara Davidge’s gallery in November of 1911 were not academy members, but they were not part of Stieglitz’s coterie of painters at ‘291’ either. They understood first hand the lack of a market to support the growing number of artists in New York. They also recognized that the Eight and the 1910 Independent shows were successful because they heavily employed the press as a publicity channel. Myers, Taylor, MacRae and Kuhn invited a total of 25 painters and sculptors to join the planning committee for the exhibition, including seven members of the NAD. J. Alden Weir, who had been involved in securing a place for American Impressionist painters to exhibit outside the academy, was the first president of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, the group who organized the Armory Show. The Ten, as Weir’s American Impressionists were called, did not see their exhibitions as direct attacks on the academy system. By the time of the Armory Show, many NAD members showed influences of Impressionism in their painting. Weir claimed that he accepted the presidency “on the distinct understanding that no opposition to the National Academy of Design was intended” (Brown, Story 54). After reading a public statement from the AAPS in the New York Times that spoke out against the academy’s “ability to lead the public taste,” Weir resigned as president (Brown, Story 49). Even with the AAPS’ outright attacks on the academy as an institution, NAD president John Alexander continued to see the Armory Show as a temporary surrogate for an otherwise dominant academy.

Walt Kuhn addressed the lack of exhibition space in New York before the Armory Show in his short pamplet, The Story of the Armory Show, published in 1938: “It is necessary to realize that at this time most of the younger American artists, especially the progressive ones, had no place to show their wares. No dealer’s gallery was open to them, the press in general was apathetic; maybe one citizen in a thousand of our citizens had a slight idea of the meaning of the word ‘art'” (5). Although less than ten galleries were dedicated to showing contemporary American work before the Armory Show, Kuhn’s account neglects to mention the growing support for contemporary artists at a small number of Manhattan galleries.


[The organizers of the Armory Show] recognized that the Eight and the 1910 Independent shows were successful because they heavily employed the press as a publicity channel.



Stieglitz at the Little Galleries
of Photo-Secession (‘291′)
at 291 Fifth Avenue

Most familiar to the history of modern art are Alfred Stieglitz’s shows at ‘291.’ Stieglitz’s shows of American and European modernists, begun in 1906, reflected the work of American artists entirely uncommitted to the National Academy of Design. Stieglitz showed work by Maurer, Marin, Hartley, Carles, Dove, Weber, and Walkowitz before 1913. The ‘291’ shows generally did not attract large audiences, but by 1910 the exhibitions were reviewed in most major New York papers. William Macbeth, in addition to his support for the Eight, had shown American art exclusively since opening his gallery in 1892 and ran several solo exhibitions for Davies, Henri, and Sloan. Other contemporary American artists could count on the Madison Gallery to show their work. Run by Clara Davidge and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the Madison Gallery was host to many an AAPS meeting in the year before the Armory Show. Finally, other New York galleries would show American work on occasion; as early as 1901, the Allan Gallery held an exhibition of work by Glackens, Maurer, Henri, and Sloan (Marlor 1). The previous efforts of the Eight and Independent exhibitions had also, by 1913, already encouraged dealers to open galleries in New York that favored contemporary artists, both European and American. William Zorach wrote Marguerite shortly before the Armory Show that “Six galleries have exhibited Post-Impressionism . . . The new movement is hitting New York hard. They’ve formed a society of younger painters in opposition to the academy” (Tarbell, Zorach 36). Whatever Zorach’s counted as post-impressionism at the time, there is evidence of a number of galleries willing to show contemporary, non-academic European and American art before the Armory Show. The Murray Hill galleries, for example, held an exhibition of Max Weber’s cubist-inspired paintings in 1912 (Homer, Stieglitz 138), and Alfred Maurer’s fauve paintings were at the Folsom Galleries in January 1913.

The Market for Contemporary American Art

While exhibition opportunities were bleak but not non-existent, American artists could not expect any financial success for their work. In Paris, artists like Matisse and Picasso had secured a small but lucrative market for their art by 1913, primarily through dealers like Ambroise Vollard, and Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, Berthe Weill, and Emile Druet. Although the 19th century saw an increase in American art patrons, all but a few collectors consistently overlooked paintings and sculpture produced by Americans and most ignored the work of contemporary artists as well (Watson, Peter 84). Although galleries started showing contemporary European and American art, the painters with the highest market value were those of the French Barbizon School including Corot, Rousseau, and Millet (Watson, Peter 84). Julius Rolshoven, an American artist himself, argued well before the Armory Show that patronage was often based on nationality alone: “The American artist is as capable as any other foreign artist. It is on account of purely commercial principles that he fails to receive encouragement. A dealer in Chicago claims that the profit on two otherwise equal paintings would be 300% for a foreign painting and 25% for one by an American” (Rolshoven 14). While attempts to establish equivalency between American and European artists are somewhat reductive, American-born painters and sculptors who did not establish themselves as international, Parisian-based artists were not patronized by many collectors.


Although galleries started showing contemporary European and American art, the painters with the highest market value were those of the French Barbizon School including Corot, Rousseau, and Millet.


Peter Watson believes the opening of a number of large British aristocratic estates during the late 19th and early 20th centuries influenced the art market globally, especially in America. The Settled Lands Act in England enabled families to petition the Court of Chancery to break the “entail,” the terms of a family’s trust. With the court’s permission, heirlooms could be sold, bringing a number of old master paintings into the market. Paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, Raphael, and Van Dyck attracted the attention of wealthy industrial capitalists and art patrons like J.P. Morgan, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Clay Frick. Although paintings by European Impressionist artists sold to a few dealers, pre-19th century paintings became fashionable to buy in the years between 1882 and the First World War. The market for contemporary European art was also discouraged through a tariff on any artistic goods produced within the last twenty years (Dunlop 168).

Many artists and critics considered collectors, who were assumed to use paintings and sculpture to accumulate wealth or elevate social status, as the fundamental problem with the art market. American collectors were accused of being uneducated, conspicuous consmers. Sadakichi Hartmann, a critic for Camera Work and Forum, remarked in “The American Picture World, Its Shows and Shams,” that, “Americans have the reputation of being the most generous picture buyers in the world . . . But the American collector has not yet learned to buy art for art’s sake. He patronizes art for self-aggrandizement, for the sake of direct advertisement, of notoriety, of speculation, of crude and selfish reasons . . . And so the average citizen gets the erroneous idea that art is not for such as he” (Hartmann 48-49). Although many agreed with Hartmann’s assessment of American art collectors as unsophisticated nouveau riche, they also sensed that transforming the market could encourage more artists to abandon the dull, acceptable models that seemed to plague American art. Oscar Bluemner discussed the relationship between market demand and artistic innovation, contradicting arguments by his contemporaries that works of art should be producer, not consumer driven: “No wonder that our art is so extremely unoriginal. It is unrepresentative of our own life and our demand for it is very small in comparison with the large market for Europe’s dead art” (Bluemner 28). For Bluemner, establishing a market for modern art was integral to overcoming the complacency within American art, not only by encouraging of artists who were already working independently from the academic system (like himself), but also by emboldening more painters and sculptors to engage in work that questioned the boundaries of art production. The AAPS maintained that showing Americans the possibilities for contemporary art through the International Exhibition was a means of revolutionizing art in America. To this aim, the Armory Show organizers argued for opening the art market, stating that foreign competition was good for American artists. According to the AAPS, the 1909 Tariff Law, which retained the duty on foreign works of art less than twenty years old, was an illustration of the lack of vital interaction between American and European artists. John Quinn, lawyer, art collector, spokesperson for the Armory Show, and later defender of Joyce and Eliot, spent almost a year persuading Congress to remove the duty from all works of art. The tax was finally dropped in October of 1913.

Attacks On the Critic-Dealer System

Finding a space for contemporary work to be shown outside the academy was only part of the shift of aesthetic control from the Academy and auction houses in New York. Before 1880, the discussion of visual art in America was primarily limited to magazines, which were directed at a moneyed, educated upper class—35 cents was the charge of most magazines. Art criticism was not considered a prestigious field within newspaper reporting but as an entranceway into more reputable journalism (Olsen 10). When magazine prices fell, there was still less reason for daily newspapers to secure art critics. However, a few resilient magazines like The Century (1870), The Forum (1886), and International Studio (1897) allowed more writers to become personally attached to specific magazines, and as a result the practice of art criticism became a viable career option. Newspapers slowly and sporadically began admitting art reviews, and in 1880 they started establishing art editors and separate art columns. The Saturday and Sunday editions, which were introduced at the turn of the century, provided a medium for art critics that was competitive with the smaller, more expensive magazines. Like the magazine critics, writers for the newly established art columns adopted a more personal and individual style of journalism than previously observed (Olsen 12).

Between 1887 and 1902, the number of art reviews in the New York Times and New York Tribune rose rapidly. Unlike music, literature, and drama that had established individual sections, architecture, sculpture, and painting were still not featured on a weekly basis. In first decade of the 20th century, opinion about art reviews in the mass media seemed to shift. Widely circulated newspapers, such as the New York Times, began to take on the responsibility for shaping public taste: “One source claimed that the unprecedented rise in attendance at an exhibition was the direct result of the stirring reviews of the show found in the daily press” (Olsen 16). Due to the presumed power of critics as tastemakers, editors began to give them more leeway in what they could write. Between 1908 and 1910, the leading New York newspapers finally acknowledged the visual arts as a legitimate journalistic field (Olsen 16).

Those who wrote against the now-canonical modernists at the Armory Show often disagreed as much with the methods of presentation as with the art itself. Critics who rejected the work of artists like Matisse, Duchamp, and Picabia routinely pointed to problems inherent in a critic-dealer system, which the salon-style Armory Show nourished. Members of the National Academy of Design and the Royal Academy in London claimed that modern artists, critics, and dealers were abusing new mediums of advertising, contending that the self-promotion of artists and conflicting interests of dealers would overshadow the individual talent of an artist. Since the Armory Show in New York was outside academy and gallery, organizers, representatives and supporters of the exhibition focused on the relationship between cultural democracy and an international, free-market economy, positing the exhibition as a means to release undifferentiated works into a large market where the audience could make choices based on individual preferences.

In her article on the critical response to the Armory Show, JoAnne Mancini discusses the ways in which Armory Show skeptics, primarily writing in the daily press, adhered to a Guilded Age emphasis on institution building for a broad public audience rather than honing professionalism within the field of art-criticism, because it was associated with elitist, coterie consumption. According to Mancini, critics who objected to the 1913 exhibition believed their duty was to cultivate an interest in art for the general public in order to support the building of art museums and art academies. While these institution-building critics certainly saw museums as a way of educating a mass audience, they also argued that the critics who supported modern art were novices within the field of art criticism. The most vocal opponents to the Armory Show in New York, Kenyon Cox, Royal Cortissoz, and Frank Jewett Mather, had been writing for newspapers and magazines for many years before the exhibition and had a broad-based knowledge of art history. Cox was an artist, instructor, and academician, Cortissoz had been working for the Herald Tribune since 1891 and had established a well-earned reputation in the field, and Mather was an Art History professor at Princeton University. In addition to arguments that supported institution-building, these well-credentialed critics argued against the new art on aesthetic grounds and attacked the professionism of newer critics who defended the artists (for example, Henry McBride, who had just joined the Sunbefore the Armory Show).


Since the Armory Show in New York was outside academy and gallery, organizers, representatives and supporters of the exhibition focused on the relationship between cultural democracy and an international, free-market economy, positing the exhibition as a means to release undifferentiated works into a large market where the audience could make choices based on individual preferences.


Cox, Cortissoz and Mather had viewed and reviewed the work of Matisse and Picasso before the Armory Show when they visited their shows at ‘291.’ Their critical analysis of almost all works of art was primarily grounded in the standards of John Ruskin. Phrases like ‘truth and honesty’ and ‘fidelity to nature,’ which were coined by Ruskin, became mainstays in the American vocabulary of critical writing (Olsen 4). According to many skeptics of the new art, its supporters were amateurs, writers who had no knowledge of art history. Frank Jewett Mather spoke of the critics who supported modernism as superficial dilettantes: “The trouble with the newest art and its critical champions is that fundamentally they have no real breadth of taste. These people are devoted to fanaticisms, catchwords, all manner of taking themselves too seriously” (Olsen 63). Mather suggests that critics who support the work of Matisse and Picasso have no collective standard for their evaluation because they did not possess an expansive education in artistic traditions. These new critics were susceptible to passing fads and temporary fashion and simply suffered from a lack of experience.

According to Mancini, Cox, Cortissoz, and Mather also argued for a representational art that they assumed would appeal to a wide audience, a “common sense” approach to art appreciation. This focus is distinct factor not only of the title, but of the discussion of post-impressionism and the Armory Show in Royal Cortissoz’s 1913 book, Art and Common Sense. The organizers of the Armory Show, however, professed a similar egalitarian ideal for art, but they argued that an unjuried, independent exhibition would “let the public decide” where their tastes lay instead of having them subjected to the same aesthetic standards in exhibition after exhibition. Articles against the Armory Show argued that it was too inclusive, eschewing all established boundaries and making art “as democratic as the circus” (Brown, Story 154). Either the artists who challenged the “truth and fidelity” standard had to be denied access to the art world or professional critics had to be denied authority in directing public taste; they often were at the Armory Show: “The exhibition is certainly a terrible leveler. With all the established canons abandoned, the layman is as good as the critic and the critic is no better than a king” (For or Against).

Although supporters of this very loosly defined modernism were attacked for not possessing an awareness of art history, defenses of Picabia, Duchamp and Marin at the Armory Show primarily used evolutionary historic models to explain the emergence of modern art, supported by the layout of the AAPS show (Cortissoz countered these interpretations with an article entitled “The Illusion of Progress”). Christian Brinton’s “Evolution, not Revolution in Art” in The International Studio emphasized a model of gradual artistic transformation from the Impressionists through the post-Impressionists, while John Weichel argued in Camera Work that the modern artist was drawing not from the past but from an ur-form, present in all times and all places, but overshadowed by academies, institutions, and prizes.


Articles against the Armory Show argued that it was too inclusive, eschewing all established boundaries and making art “as democratic as the circus.”


In the negotiation for critical authority during the Armory Show, artist statements were used to both legitimize artistic production and condemn artists for self-promotion. Articles by Francis Picabia, Oscar Bluemner, Arthur B. Davies, and Samuel Halpert encouraged the opinion that modern art exhibitions were showcases for self-promotion. The members of the AAPS were initially accused of using the exhibition to get their own work shown, however, most of the organizers were represented as meagerly as other American artists. Whistler’s lawsuit against Ruskin could not have been too far from the informed critic’s mind. Ruskin had accused Whistler of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face,” a line that appeared more than once in critical discussions of Maurer, Marin, and Kandinsky. Claiming that Whistler was an ill-educated imposter and a coxcomb, Ruskin had primarily objected to Whistler’s list prices for his paintings (McCoubrey 181). Though the Ruskin-Whistler case was one among many illustrations of unestablished artists as charlatans, imposters, and “art fakers, ” a number of critics described the insincerity of the artist as a new phenomenon, arising from increased access to advertising, mass media, and dealers.

Kenyon Cox drew the line between sincere artist and self-marketer at 1905: “Up to the time of Matisse, the revolutionaries, I believe, were for the most part sincere enough . . . they made no money out of their beliefs . . . But with Matisse, with the later work of Rodin, and above all, with the Cubists and the Futurists, it is no longer a matter of sincere fanaticism. These men have seized upon the modern engine of publicity” (Cox, “Cubists and Futurists” 1). Cox correctly identified the awareness of countless modern artists that the press could give voice to their work and their theories; the publication of Futurist manifestos in major Italian and French newspapers were the most glaring indication of this phenomenon at the time. The use of such methods was, for Cox, antithetical to art production. Although Matisse and Duchamp were not involved in promoting their work at the Armory Show, their paintings became the billboards, examples of “individualism exaggerated and made absurd for the sake of advertising” (Cox, “Cubists and Futurists” 1). Cox’s discussion of this essential underpinning of the art market was later diffused by the passage of much modern art into a smaller market after the Armory Show.

Cox also believed that the avant-garde was a marketing strategy devised by the artist and dealer: “the European avant-garde artist is a loudly advertised quack and a campaign of the dealers . . . since the Parisian market is tapped, they are now passing their wares hopefully onto the American market”(Cox 1). If anything, it was Kuhn who orchestrated the participation of dealers. He “visited dealers, spread the word about a mammoth American showing of the new art, told each dealer that the others had promised to cooperate [and] painted a picture of an American market ready to accept the latest word” (Brown, Story 68). The dealers who participated, Henry Thannhauser, Ambroise Vollard, and Henry Kahnweiler, avoided “modern” marketing techniques such as press releases, advertisements in the dailies, posters, logos, and invitations to attract people to their galleries, precisely to distance themselves from a commercial market.

In addition to portrayals of self-serving artists and slick dealers, critics were also willing to attribute the proliferation of modernism as a scheme wrought by a handful of overblown propagandists. Andre Tridon, critic for the New Review and the Evening Sun, recounts statements by British art authorities blaming critics for the success of modern artists: “It is odd that not a few of the Royal Academicians who have made most noise are inclined to attribute all the villainy of the new movement on the critics . . . It is their opinion that the critics by taking up the new school of painters have destroyed all art in France” (Tridon 347). The Dial, which later published writers like Eliot, Pound, and H.D. and gave space to artists like Arthur B. Davies and Jacob Lipchitz, had not yet been taken over by Scofield Thayer and Sibley Watson; articles published in 1913 attacked the critic-dealer system, which had supported the Impressionists, seeing it as a characteristic of art produced after van Gogh: “The day of the great painters is over. The day of the advertisers, the popular magazines, the journalists, the promoters, the puffers, the art dealers, has come in. It requires the clearest mind, the finest taste, the widest opportunities to remain unperturbed in the whirl” (456). Efforts to move paintings and sculptures into an entrepreneurial market threatened the autonomy of art. The Dial critic posits modern artists as self-promoters, all surface and no substance: “In the case of a great number of modern artists, it is difficult to decide whether they are eccentric by nature, or are simply posing as oddities in order to advertise themselves” (456). Many critics of Matisse and Picasso’s work identified a corruption intrinsic to the critic-dealer system; if a modern artist employed critical support, he or she was automatically open to accusations of self-aggrandizement and dubious motives.

Marketing the Show

Press
Menu signed by guests
at dinner for the press

The prodigious use of widely circulated dailies to announce the Armory Show was by no means an accident, despite Walt Kuhn’s astonishment at the welcome reception they received: “Now came a surprise. The press was friendly and willing. Sides were taken for or against, which was good” (10). Many artists in the AAPS, who had been involved in planning independent shows before, identified the media as an agent for critical success. Other organizers and participants were employed by a variety of newspapers and magazines in the New York area. Kuhn made his living as a cartoonist and Glackens worked for the World. The long list of exhibition organizers and participants included more than a few cartoonists and illustrators: John Sloan, George Bellows, Gus Mager, Denys Wortman, the Journal’sRudolph Dirks, and former Sun cartoonist, Margerie Organ. The AAPS already had friends in the press and acquired Gregg as a publicity agent within days of the initial meeting. As Milton Brown attests, “From the very outset [the members of the AAPS] made a point of getting their activities before the eyes of the public through the press” (Brown, Story 32). Invitations to the exhibition were sent out to individual members of the press, a dinner was given in their honor, and they were encouraged to attend the opening night gala.

The AAPS also arranged for a special issue of Arts and Decoration, a widely read art periodical at the time. It was produced in time for the show, with articles by Gregg, Glackens, and the sculptor Jo Davidson. In addition, the magazine included Gertrude Stein’s “Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Village Curonia,” provided by Dodge. This piece along with Dodge’s introduction “Speculations,” solidified post-impressionism as synonymous with formal innovation and freedom from conventions. Stein’s portraits of Matisse and Picasso had been published in Camera Work in 1912 but had received little attention; Stein’s portrait of Dodge, however, became as infamous as Duchamp’s Nude during the course of the Armory Show.


“From the very outset [the members of the AAPS] made a point of getting their activities before the eyes of the public through the press.”


While undoubtedly numerous organizers were involved in eliciting responses from the press, Walt Kuhn was particularly involved in marketing the exhibition. A showman himself, Kuhn had raced in country fairs to help sell his own bicycles, sold souvenir pictures, wrote and produced vaudeville acts, and spent most of his years after the Armory Show painting clowns and stage performers (Green 289). Kuhn acknowledged the need for more exposure after the Independent exhibitions of 1910 and 1911: “What we need now is publicity . . . As soon as I have it thoroughly planned we are going to give it to all the papers, and they’ll jump at it . . . I will retain the exclusive privilege of doing the talking to the press—. . . I feel absolutely certain that the thing can be done, and just think of the publicity!” (Perlman, Lives 202-203). Later, after he had launched “a press campaign to run from now right through the show and then some,” (Perlman, Lives 202) Kuhn was elated at the possibilities for success through the publicity offered by the press: “Everybody is electrified when we quote the names . . . We are taking hold of this thing in a rather modern way, which we trust will aid in bringing the people into the building” (Brown, Story 78).

Along with his excitement about the press involvement, Kuhn also recognized the importance of using an artist’s obscurity as a way of attracting a crowd: “We are going to feature Redon big (BIG!). You see, the fact that he is so little known will mean a still bigger success in publicity” (Brown, Story 78). Similar tactics were familiar to most Americans through the sensational advertising of the circus and Wild West shows that aimed to collect the most unique, obscure items (or fabricate them) to bring in a large audience. In a letter from 1860, Barnum defended his use of the outlandish to attract customers to New York’s American Museum: “The Mermaid, Woolly Horse, Ploughing Elephants, etc., were merely used by me as skyrockets or advertisements, to attract attention and give notoriety to the Museum and such other really valuable attractions as I provided for the public. I believe hugely in advertising and blowing my own trumpet, beating the gongs, drums, etc., to attract attention to a show; but I never believed that any amount of advertising or energy would make a spurious article permanently successful” (Vitale 16). In his “Layman’s Review of an Art Exhibition,” Theodore Roosevelt compared Barnum’s most successful advertising sham, the Feejee Mermaid, with cubism and fauvism: “There are thousands of people who will pay small sums to look at a faked mermaid; and now and then one of this kind with enough money will buy a Cubist picture or a picture of a misshapen nude woman, repellent from every standpoint” (Roosevelt, “Layman’s” 2). The former president identified a danger within such marketing strategies, which relied upon the public’s desire to be humbugged and hoaxed. Those who accepted the new art would only encourage the inflated language of advertising. Others saw the Armory Show as a consequence of extravagant maneuvers of publicity campaigns in the early twentieth century: “The aim has been to make this the biggest of big shows, sensationalized by the biggest of big advertising” (Archives).

For Kuhn, as for many Americans, advertising and showmanship were American peculiarities, an outgrowth of America’s increasingly consumer-driven economy and culture. Between 1900 and 1913 a lot of Americans seem to have thought of P.T. Barnum as a representative American and admired his ability to acquire their money through fraudulent means (Green 36). Kuhn claimed mass marketing as a homegrown system, quoting Calvin Coolidge’s proclamation that “America’s business is business” (Kuhn 20). Shortly before the Armory Show, Kuhn wrote to Edward Gewey of the Kansas City Post: “We are doing this according to American methods and have already spent a good deal of money on advertising” (Brown, Story 91). Kuhn connected his approach to other American business models and at one point at least predicted the Armory Show would be a profit-making venture.


For Kuhn, as for many Americans, advertising and showmanship were American peculiarities, an outgrowth of America’s increasingly consumer-driven economy and culture.


In addition to drawing on contacts in the press, posters were placed all over Manhattan in the month preceding the Armory Show. Kuhn came up with the idea for the logo, the flag of the American Revolution, and decided to use it everywhere: on stationary, catalogues, posters, and even what he called a campaign button (Adams 52). For the exhibition, the AAPS bought 50,000 catalogues for $4,400, sold at 25 cents each. Had all the catalogs been sold, the AAPS would have made a profit over $6,000. The organizers also published four small pamphlets: Cezanne, by Elie Faure translated by Pach, Odilon Redon, by Pach, Noa Noa, by Gauguin, and A Sculptor’s Architecture: Raymond Duchamp-Villon’s Architectural Facade (Brown, Story 92-93). These pamphlets gave exhibition-goers biographical and autobiographical accounts of the artists featured at the exhibition, using the artists’ monographs to secure their reputations. The copy of the Arts and Decoration’s special issue was also for sale at the Armory, and postcard-size prints of 57 paintings and sculptures in the show were available for a small charge. Books published by Ambroise Vollard and Artz & de Bois were also put out for sale. These were mostly illustrated classics with woodcuts and lithographs by Denis, Bonnard, and Rodin. The one book that sold was a complete collection of Odilon Redon’s graphic work, which included a majority of his works in the exhibition (Brown, Story 328). While the Show was undeniably well publicized, the exhibition did not generate any profit for the association. Milton Brown sees the catalogues, pamphlets, postcards, and photographs as “an educational service rather than a profit-making venture, just as the sale of works for which they took a commission was seen essentially as a service to the artists” (94). Whether or not the organizers believed they would make money on the exhibition, they certainly believed the publicity would help individual artists, and to a certain extent it did.

Sales at the Show

View of the Domain Saint-Joseph<br /><br />
” src=”http://xroads.virginia.edu/~museum/armory/galleryQ/q_41_217.s.jpg” width=”150″ height=”120″ /></a><br />
Paul Cézanne<br />
<i>View of the Domain Saint-Joseph</i></span></td>
</tr>
</tbody>
</table>
<p>By 1913, three of the most heavily promoted artists at the exhibition, Cézanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh, were already in the “old master” ranks on the European market (Brown, <i>Story</i> 132). Prices for their paintings were in the thousands, ultimately too high for any Americans to purchase. Their paintings at the Armory were also not considered to be their best work, perhaps with the exception of Gauguin’s entries in the show. Nonetheless, Bryson Burroughs managed to convince the trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to buy the first Cézanne for an American museum, an effort to acquire 20th century art that would not be repeated by the Met until 1929. A number of lithographs by Cézanne and Gauguin sold early in the show, and another featured artist, Redon, also sold scores of graphic works in the exhibition. The list of purchasers reflects the catalog of significant collectors for years to come. Davies, Kuhn, Pach, and Stieglitz all purchased lithographs by at least one of the two painters. Katherine Dreier, Lillie Bliss, and John Quinn contributed to the purchases as well.</p>
<table width=
The Brothers Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Duchamp
-Villon, and Jaques Villon in
their garden in Puteaux.

The most profitable room in the show was undeniably Gallery I, “The Cubist Room,” with Marcel Duchamp the leading seller. All four of his entries sold; the first, Nude Descending the Staircase, was purchased sight unseen by Fredric Torrey, an art dealer from San Francisco. The others sold to Arthur Jerome Eddy and Manierre Dawson, both from Chicago. Eddy is known for his early purchases of modern art and other novel products—he is reputed to be the first Chicagoan to ride a bicycle and drive a car. Dawson, a modernist painter himself, had one painting in the Chicago leg of the Armory Show. Other sales from Gallery I were works by Duchamp’s brothers, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon. The three were photographed together and included in Sunday supplements, introduced as a family of avant-garde artists. Both Duchamp-Villon and Villon sold all but one of their works in the show. Other artists with work in Gallery I, Archipenko, Derain, Gleizes, Picabia, Picasso, and Vlaminck, all sold at least one work with the same patrons—Eddy, Quinn, Stieglitz, and Davies. With prices no higher than $400, and many considerably less, the paintings and sculpture in Gallery I were low enough to attract these lawyers and artists with a moderate amount of dispensable income.

Matisse, who also received a great deal of attention in the press, sold only one drawing. His lack of sales, not reflective of his financial success in Paris, may be partially explained by the price range of his paintings. Most works were listed in the same league as works by Cézanne, van Gogh, and Gauguin—in the thousands. Other fauve painters did sell their work but at much lower prices. Charles Camoin sold two paintings as did Emilie Charmy, and Albert Marquet sold one drawing.


With prices no higher than $400, and many considerably less, the paintings and sculpture in Gallery I were low enough to attract these lawyers and artists with a moderate amount of dispensable income.


Morning
Walt Kuhn
Morning
Sold to John Quinn
at the Armory Show

Much of the critical analysis of the exhibition has focused on the lack of sales by American artists at the Armory Show. However, the prices of their paintings and sculpture posits a challenge to the assumed bias against American art. Perhaps due to the exchange rate between the franc and the dollar, many works by American artists were more expensive than those by their European contemporaries. For example, Marguerite Zorach’s Study was priced at $600, and George Luks oils started at $750 (Brown, Story 287). A great number of the American works were also loaned with no intention of sales—Marin’s Woolworth Building Series was listed as not for sale (Brown, Story 290). Works by two lesser-known American artists in the show, Robert Chanler and Edward Kramer, were shown advantageously in the exhibition hall, and their sales perhaps reflect this favorable placement. Chanler, whose decorative panels greeted audiences at the entrance to the exhibition, received a great deal of positive press and the largest sale of the Americans, selling one screen at a price of $1500. Kramer was one of the most generously represented American artists, with nine paintings, four pastels, and two drawings in Gallery N. Three of these paintings and two pastels sold. Edith Dimock, who could best be described as an Ashcan-style painter, sold the most works; all six of her modestly priced entries sold. The Armory Show’s organizers also benefited minimally from their own publicity. Kuhn sold three works, Pach sold two, andPrendergastMacRaeDaviesHenri, and Sloan each sold one. Morgan Russell, Morton SchambergLeon Kroll, and Edward Hopper all sold one painting each as well. While the critical attention and monetary support primarily prioritized the European artists in the show, critics and buyers did demonstrate an interest in the American painters who participated, and the American sales at the Armory Show overwhelmingly exceeded those of the independent exhibitions or the shows at Stieglitz’s galleries.

Little Galleries: Modern Art Havens

The Picture Buyer
John Sloan
The Picture Buyer
Sold to William Macbeth
at the Armory Show

Despite the eventual recognition of Impressionist painters in the late 19th century through both the critic-dealer system and the academy, it was no easier for new artists to be accepted into the official art circles of Paris. An alternative channel was still needed, one that was filled by a new generation of dealers (Watson, Peter 151). Ambroise Vollard and Daniel Kahnweiler are the dealers consistently commended for their early support of Matisse, Picasso, and Braque, but other galleries, most notably Berthe Weill’s, gave these artists early shows as well. Alfred Stieglitz is the only correlative in the United States for these dealers prior to the Armory Show. The ambiguous position both Kahnweiler and Stieglitz took in promoting the artists they supported has been discussed in a number of biographical and autobiographical accounts. Kahnweiler claims he spent no money on publicity before 1914 and that he “never advertised, never did anything to get his gallery talked about, and never went out of his way to court a rich client” (Kahnweiler 59). Stieglitz similarly refused to heavily market the work of the artists at ‘291,’ and consistently distanced himself from the perceived commercial motivations of an art dealer. Stieglitz was notorious for raising prices for visitors who treated works like commodities: “If he thought they wanted to buy just because they had money, he might double the price of the painting” (Homer, Stieglitz 80).

William Macbeth, in contrast to Stieglitz, believed that his duty as a dealer was to sell the work of the artists he exhibited and promoted. John Sloan’s The Picture Buyer (above), shows Macbeth purring in the ear of a potential buyer, reflecting Sloan’s own disdain for the promotion and sale of his work. The etching was Sloan’s only sale at the Armory, sold to William Macbeth himself.

‘291,’ the Madison Gallery, the Macbeth Gallery, the Murray Hill Gallery, and the Folsom Galleries continued to promote modern artists after 1913. Many other supporters of modern American and European art before and during the Armory Show opened galleries in the late teens and early twenties. Stieglitz, though best remembered for his shows at ‘291,’ ran two galleries after he was forced to close his first in 1917. He promoted the work of a small group of American artists at the Intimate Gallery and An American Place, primarily John MarinMarsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keefe, Paul Strand, and Charles Demuth. Charlie Daniel, a former café owner who became acquainted with a number of New York artists and AAPS members from their visits to his bar, initiated the post-Armory gallery openings. He started the Daniel Gallery in December 1913 to show the work of many early American modernists, including Hartley and Charles Sheeler. He also promoted the work of Lawson, Glackens, Henri and Bellows, often showing them as moderns.

Lifelong collectors of modern art such as John Quinn gave artists further opportunities to show their work in New York outside the academy. Quinn’s Carroll Gallery had its opening exhibition in March 1914. Though primarily a supporter of European modernists, Quinn also chose to exhibit work by Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, and Morgan Russell. A more nationalistic patron than Quinn, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney had helped finance the Madison Gallery and the Armory Show. She was associated with the Independents from the time of the 1910 show, where she exhibited her own sculpture. In 1914, she began exhibiting the work of younger artists in her McDougal Alley studio. She officially formed the Whitney Studio Club in 1918, to help build a community of younger American artists in New York (Platt 17). At her club, which later became the Whitney Museum, she supported a number of artists like Bellows, Sloan, Hopper, and Kent, with subsidies and purchases. She also financed trips to Paris for Stuart Davis and Morgan Russell (Platt 16). In October 1915, the Modern Gallery opened, financed by the poet and patron Walter Arensberg, who reportedly was “so transfixed by what he saw [at the Armory] that he actually forgot to go home for several days” (Naumann, Arensberg 8). Agnes Meyer, photographer and journalist, also a frequenter of ‘291,’ subsidized the gallery as well, and Marius de Zayas, a caricaturist, illustrator and close friend of Stieglitz and Meyer, ran the place. The Modern Gallery promoted the same artists as Stieglitz’s ‘291’ with a more commercial edge; de Zayas claimed he opened the gallery because he wanted to actually get some of their work sold.


Many other supporters of modern American and European art before and during the Armory Show opened galleries in the late teens and early twenties.


Other attempts to usurp both academy and gallery control of the market were present, but short-lived, after the Armory Show. Katherine Dreier’s Cooperative Mural Workshops, formed in 1914, were based on William Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement and Bloomsbury’s Omega Workshops. The workshops offered classes as well as exhibition opportunities—Isadora Duncan was a guest in 1915. Dreier is better known for Société Anonyme, through which she aimed to bring a range of modernists, American and European, to New York. In addition to exhibiting cubist, expressionist, and Dadist works together, Dreier and other artists such as Marsden Hartley lectured routinely at the Société. John Weichsel, writer for Camera Work, ran the People’s Art Guild from 1915-17, which organized modern art exhibitions in restaurants, theatres, schools, and immigrant settlement houses of poor New York neighborhoods (Bjelajac 309).

Little Magazines, “Smart” Magazines, and the Dailies

Little magazines, like little galleries, are near and dear to modernism in America after the Armory Show. The magazines started by artists and writers in the late teens and early twenties represent the artists’ own attempts to communicate within a small, localized, and self-produced market for their art. At the time of the Armory Show, Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work (1903-17) was one of the only little magazines that routinely discussed and reproduced modern art in the United States. Stieglitz’s journal, which had begun reproducing the work of Picasso and Matisse in 1907, folded in 1917 along with his gallery when Stieglitz’s money ran out. The late teens saw a number of little magazines produced for and by writers and artists living in New York. The summer after the Armory Show, Alfred Kreymburg renewed his long interest in publishing a magazine independently while visiting the artists Samuel Halpertand Man Ray. Glebe (1913-1914) and Others (1915-1919) were Kreymburg’s first projects, in which his poetry appeared alongside that of William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Charles Sheeler. Rogue (1915-16), produced by Allan Norton, contained work by Gertrude Stein and cartoons by the futurist painter Frances Simpson Stevens. 291 (1915-1916), financed by Agnes Meyer, photographer and journalist, featured work, often collaborative projects, by Meyer, Maurice de Zayas, and Katharine Rhoades, and Francis Picabia, all involved in the Dada movement in New York. These magazines, along with Soil (1916-1917) and Blind Man (1917) provided short-lived support systems for diverse experimentation in modern art and poetry for an extremely small audience in the late teens. Like Camera Work, which ran for a total of 15 years and had a subscription list of 36 in 1917, these were magazines primarily for other artists and supporters of modern art. Even more than the Bloomsbury’s Hogarth Press and Omega Workshops, these magazines formed a mini market model for the groups of artists and writers who are associated with Walter Arensberg, Alfred Stieglitz, and to a certain extent, Mabel Dodge. The longer-running Little Review (1914-1929) begun in Chicago and moved to New York in 1917, survived in the late teens by establishing an intimate, well-educated audience, and boasted a readership of 1,000 during this time period (Bishop 300). Margaret Anderson was forthright in her commercial considerations and even printed blank pages to illustrate the lost advertising space for major companies (Bishop 309). During the twenties, Jane Heap, who took over the publication of the Little Review from Anderson, ran a gallery in conjunction with the magazine, called the Little Review Gallery.

The more widely circulated CenturyInternational StudioForumArts and Decoration and Vanity Fair also presented discussions and examples of modern art but intended to reach a larger audience. These magazines in many ways helped to establish the canon of modern artists more than the little magazines could. Christian Brinton and J. Nilson Laurvik, free-lance critics who wrote for the International Studio and the Century at the time of the Armory Show and for many years afterward, consistently treated the work of modernists in their articles. Willard Huntington Wright, brother of Synchromist Stanton McDonald-Wright, worked for the Forum and covered exhibitions in New York.


Margaret Anderson was forthright in her commercial considerations and even printed blank pages to illustrate the lost advertising space for major companies.


Frank Crowninshield, art editor first for The Century and then for Vanity Fair, was instrumental in insisting that Vanity Fairreproduce the work of artists like Picasso, Matisse and Laurencin and print the work of Stein and Eliot in the late teens and twenties. Crowninshield was art editor for the Century in 1913, and was already an advocate for modern art, calling the Armory Show “our movement” in a letter to Walt Kuhn during the exhibition (Brown, Story 144). He even apologized to Kuhn for an article ran in the Century by Royal Cortissoz. With Vanity Fair, Crowninshield had much more leverage over what was included in the magazine. He suggested a change in editorial focus to Condé Nast, the publisher of Vanity Fair, when the magazine initially flopped, and was given a great deal of authority on content decisions. Nast described Frank Crowninshield’s affinity for modern art as precocious and thus somewhat damaging to magazine sales: “F.C.’s interest in the modern French art movement, at first, did us a certain amount of harm. We were ten years too early (1915) in talking about van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, etc.” (Douglas 99) Though sales for Vanity Fair never reached those of Vogue , another Nast publication, it reached a height of 100,000 readers at the beginning of the twenties (Douglas 101). By fashioning the modern art Vanity Fair supplied to readers as “authentic bohemia” for an upper-middle class New York audience, Crowninshield reached his goal of creating a magazine “to cover the things people talk about at parties” (Douglas 96). Crowninshield’s Vanity Fair was successful in legitimizing modern art and design, not only through reproductions of work (they published a portfolio of modern artists in 1936), but also through advertisements like those for Steinway pianos in the twenties. Vanity Fair may not have been first in sales, but it was first in advertising lineage (Douglas 101).


The more widely circulated CenturyInternational StudioForumArts and Decoration and Vanity Fair . . . in many ways helped to establish the canon of modern artists more than the little magazines could.


Though often overlooked because of their mass appeal, New York dailies were also home to a number of critics who contributed intelligently to the dialogue on modern art. Hutchins Hapgood, who worked primarily for the Globe, also championed modern art in the Evening Post and the Press. Art critic for The Dial after its conversion into a choice publication for modern art by Scofield Thayer and James Watson in 1920, Henry McBride also contributed to the dispersal of modernist work in America through his column in the New York Sun. J. N. Laurvik supported the work of modernists during and after the Armory Show in the New York Times.

Department Store Cubism

Vogue, 1925“Cubist” fashion
Vogue, 1925.

The immediate success of the modern art market can be seen in the fashion design, home décor, and advertisements that appeared shortly after the 1913 exhibition. Even during the Armory Show, Wanamakers converted their store windows, advertising cubist gowns: “Ladies began to wear green, blue, and violet wigs, and to paint their faces emerald and purple” (Van Vechten 122). For many modernists, fashion design was one way of integrating radical art into the praxis of life. Whitney Chadwick discusses the use of designs for clothing in the development of Kandinsky’s paintings, the Omega Workshops, Sonia Delaunay’s “Simultaneous Dresses,” and Futurist Giacomo Balla’s 1914 manifesto, “The Antineutral Dress” in Women, Art, and Society. Kuhn welcomed the movement out of the galleries and into popular culture. According to him, the Armory Show was designed to “open up the mind of the public to the need of art. Did we do it? We did more than that. The Armory Show affected the entire culture of America. Business caught on immediately, even if the artists did not at once do so . . . Drabness, awkwardness began to disappear from American life, and color and grace stepped in. Industry certainly took notice. The decorative elements of Matisse and the cubists were immediately taken on as models for the creation of a brighter, more lively America” (Kuhn 24). Vogue similarly showed cubist styles in the 20s (see above). Promotional campaigns for Steinway used cubo-realism in their advertisements for pianos in Vogue and Vanity Fair. The advertisement accompanying this essay merges modern art (as cubism) with Gershwin’sRhapsody in Blue, which premiered in 1924 on a program of “An Experiment in Modern Music.”

Boggs & Buhl exhibition
Cubist Exhibition
Boggs & Buhl Department Store
Pittsburgh, July 1913

In addition to their launch of modern commercial design, department stores became hosts to highmodern art as well, holding the first exhibitions of cubist paintings after the Armory Show and perhaps becoming the first corporate sponsors of an exhibition (Sheon 93). Shortly after the exhibition closed in Boston in April, Gimball Brothers’ department store began working on a cubist exhibit that they planned to run for a year and travel to five different cities: Milwaukee, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New York, and Philadelphia. The exhibition of cubist works actually opened in June 1913 and ran through August, including paintings by now canonical cubists: Leger, Metzinger, Gleizes and Villon (All but Metzinger had exhibited in the Armory Show). Gimballs sponsored the show in Milwaukee, New York, and Philadelphia. In Cleveland, William Taylor, Son, and Company took over the exhibition of ten works and invited customers to view “original cubist paintings by masters of the style” (Sheon 98). Boggs and Buhl’s was host to the show in Pittsburgh and enticed customers with a doggerel by Arthur Burgoyne in the Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph:

Aesthetical highbrows these days are aflame.
With zeal for the Cubist or Futurist game.
The painters began it. Van Gogh and Matisse
And some others intent on disturbing the peace
Of the art-loving public came right to the fore
With such puzzles in color as caused an uproar.
But they rightfully banked on the constant demand
For things that the populace can’t understand
And they found that all classes, both highbrows and rubes,
Would fall for their curious futurist cubes.

Burgoyne’s poem indicates his recognition of cubism’s appeal as an anti-bourgeois art form, essential to creating a market for the new art.

Study, No. 1
Fernand Leger
Study, No. 1
Shown in the department
store exhibitions in 1913

According to Carl Holty, who saw the exhibition when it came to Milwaukee, Oscar Greenwald, Vice President and General Manager at Gimbels claimed “the exhibition was organized to capitalize on the Armory Show’s notoreity and to gain favorable publicity for the store” (Sheon 94). Greenwald may also have hoped to make a profit on the paintings, which they bought, oddly enough, for the flat rate of $100 each. He perhaps knew of the money paintings by Duchamp, Picasso, and Picabia had brought during the International Exhibition. In anticipation, Gimbels’ Parisian correspondent secured paintings by Gleizes, Leger, and Villon, who had all participated in the Armory Show, and other cubists such as Jean Metzinger. When only two paintings sold, to the Milwaukee Art Institute, the plan for further shows was abandoned. It seems unlikely that anyone involved in organizing the Gimbels’ shows was interested in the work for its artistic merit, for the unpurchased canvasses, after spending a time in the Gimbels’ business offices, remained in the basement until a flood, during which time the paintings were used to dam up a water leak (Sheon 102). That Gimbels and other department stores would hope to attract customers through cubist art reveals the extent to which the “chamber of horrors” attracted the attention of those outside the art world.

Corrine Blackmer has argued that Carl Van Vechten drew from the success of the Armory Show to market the work of Gertrude Stein (Blackmer 228). Stein’s work had been used during the Armory Show to establish cubism as a movement that encompassed all the arts, and references to her continued to appear in advertisements for the department store exhibitions in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. the Cleveland Plain Dealer managed to procure a copy of “Matisse,” which they reprinted in time for the show at William, Taylor, Son, and Company.

When the show traveled to Gimbels’ New York store in the last weeks of July, there was little press coverage of the exhibition. Arthur Hoeber did comment in the Globe that “Now that the new art movement has found its way to a department store, there ought to be no further doubt of its establishment as part of our American daily life, and its ultimate acceptance must be considered only as a question of time” (Sheon 101). While cubism was far from institutionalized, its immediate acceptance into a wider market illustrates the reliance of modern art on large, commercial venues.

Corporate sponsorship of early 20th-century art continued after the initial 1913 department store shows. When the Society of Independent Artists could not find a building for their 1918 exhibition, they were allowed to use storefronts on 42nd Street. The Belmaison Gallery, held within Wanamaker’s Department Store, began in 1922 to run shows of modern art up to Dada (Platt 27) Following the Wanamaker model, other stores, such as Macy’s and Lord and Taylor’s participated in the display of modern art later in the twenties (Platt 27).

While offering one significant method of understanding modern art’s integration into the art market in the U.S., the entrepreneurial efforts of the proprietors of little galleries and editors of little magazines provide only one aspect of the development of a modern art market in America. Techniques used by the organizers of the Armory Show, along with the work of larger circulating magazines and department stores, display a broad network of distribution and methods of canonizing modern art. The preceding sketch of the modern art market in New York before and after the Armory Show is merely an overview of the various ways in which the art at the Armory was presented and dispersed to the public. The 1913 exhibition occurred during a time of marked increase in methods of disseminating culture, and while the exhibition’s impact cannot be usefully quantified, the techniques employed during and after the show reflect a significant modification of the presentation of art in New York

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“The Part Played By Women:”

The Gender of Modernism at the Armory Show


Vogue, 1940
Frank Crowninshield’s Armory Show
Vogue, 1940

In 1940, Frank Crowninshield, former editor of Vanity Fair, a magazine that helped popularize modern art in America, commended women for their unprecedented appreciation of modern art in “The Part Played by Women,” a section of his retrospective article on the Armory Show. In 1913, Crowninshield had been art editor of The Century and wrote Walt Kuhn in support of the exhibition, enthusiastically calling it “our movement” (Brown, Story144). Crowninshield continued to promote now canonical artists such as Picasso and Matisse on the pages of Vanity Fair in the teens and twenties until it merged with Vogue in 1936. In his Vogue article written 27 years after the Armory Show, Crowninshield identified women’s consumption of the (by 1940) canonical art as an instinctive, almost impulsive reaction to the exhibition that led to the first purchases of modern art in America: “it was, without doubt, the women who reacted most spontaneously to the works seen at the Armory” (Crowninshield 115). His examination of modern art patronage in the United States stressed a pattern of gendered sponsorship, naturalizing aesthetic perception and relying on the notion of a niave gaze. By indicating the role of women in the Armory Show as consumers of the new cultural products, Crowninshield helps to disguise the position of these particular women within the field of cultural production, both as producers of cultural objects themselves and as connoisseurs with access to an education in modern art before the Armory Show. Louisine Havemeyer and Bertha Honore Palmer were the first patrons of Impressionists in Boston and New York and Chicago, and Sarah Sears “instituted the rage for Cézanne in America” (Crowninshield 115). Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Gertrude Stein, Etta and Claribel Cone, and Lillie P. Bliss complete Crowninshield’s assemblage of Armory Show allies, all women (Crowninshield 115-116). Crowninshield’s list actually includes only one patron from the Armory Show, Lillie Bliss, whose purchases were at least matched by those of John Quinn and Arthur Jerome Eddy.

Subsequent accounts of the Armory Show have similarly characterized women’s involvement in the 1913 exhibition as collectors of the new art. A prime example, reprinted in the 1975 collection of source documents on the show (as was Crowninshield’s Voguearticle), is Meyer Schapiro’s “Armory Show in Retrospect” from Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries: Selected Papers, first published in 1952 and later called “Rebellion in Art.” In this essay, Shapiro also emphasized a gendered pattern of modern art consumption:

Women, it is worth noting, were among the chief friends of the new art, buying painting and sculpture with a generous hand. Art as a realm of finesse above the crudities of power appealed to the imaginative, idealistic wives and daughters of magnates occupied with their personal fortunes . . . At this moment of general stirring of ideas of emancipation, women were especially open to manifestations of freedom within the arts (Shapiro 162).

Schapiro’s parallel between the collection of paintings and sculpture and the suffrage movement, like Crowninshield’s account, does little to explore the conditions of these women’s patronage. Shapiro’s account, like Crowninshield’s, is also silent about the participation of women artists in the Armory Show.


By indicating the role of women in the Armory Show as consumers of the new cultural products, Crowninshield helps to disguise the position of these particular women within the field of cultural production, both as producers of cultural objects themselves and as connoisseurs with access to an education in modern art before the Armory Show.


Patrons of modern art in the early 20th century provided cultural legitimacy to the avant-garde and to modern artists working in Europe and America, and women are counted among the most visible and active in institutionalizing modern art: Katherine Dreier through the Société Anonyme, Lillie Bliss and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller through the Museum of Modern Art, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney through the Whitney Studio Club, later the Whitney Museum of American Art. The depiction of women as financial supporters persists as the primary way of understanding women’s involvement in the Armory Show. As such, it excludes women artists from the story of the Armory Show, which has become such an integral part of modern art in America. Milton Brown, who wrote the most extensive published account of the Armory Show to date, does not single out women as patrons at the Armory Show, for he acknowledges the equal number of male consumers of Duchamps, Picabias, and Duchamp-Villons; he does, however, emphasize the importance of economic assistance by women before and after the show. The women who donated money to the Armory Show, both for organizational funds and through purchases of works, become reduced in Brown’s account to a set of doting admirers surrounding the charming but calculating president of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, Arthur B. Davies. In his Story of the Armory Show, Brown indicates “the general feeling” that Davies’ election as president of the AAPS was based on his financial connections, funds Davies could “manipulate [from] a whole circle of devoted women art patrons” (Brown,Story 59). The emphasis on women’s role as financiers is also apparent in the AAPS’ organizational body. Unlike the 1917 Society of Independents, which counted three women among the founders, the Armory Show’s list of officers included women only as Honorary Vice Presidents. Both Mabel Dodge and Clara Davidge received this title along with Stieglitz, Monet, Renoir, and Redon.

Elsewhere, art historians have discussed the decided shift between 19th- and 20th-century art patronage in America, the latter developing out of an increased engagement with the works and the artists themselves. Brown describes the new American collector not in his book on the Armory Show, but in his survey of early 20th-century American art: “None of them were rulers of vast financial or industrial empires. In many cases they were living on inherited wealth . . . They were less concerned with the accumulation of luxury objects as an expression of wealth, prestige, or power” (Brown, American Painting 92). Barbara Rose also indicates the motivations of art patrons who began collecting in the years around the Armory Show: “These new collectors differed from their predecessors in that they immersed themselves in the art of the present and became its evangelists . . . they also were advised, not by connoisseurs or dealers, but by artists” (Rose, Readings 79). Early modernists were most often supported by a few select patrons who were already familiar with the artists or who grew to know them closely. Critics at the time of the Armory Show expressed contentions about the intellectual and educational requirements to accept the new art in an effort to legitimize it at the Armory Show. John Weichsel’s article, “The Rampant Zeitgeist,” published in Camera Work in 1913, praises of the “class of thinkers [who] are sponsors for the most recent art, the most ingenious of any that ever existed” (Weichel 16). These patrons were not the industrial capitalists (who had been the primary collectors in the 19th century) but a new class of cultural aesthetes with fewer liquid assets but more social credibility. They were the readers and followers of Neitzsche, Bergson, Whitman, Veblen, and often Blavatsky. They represented a professed desire to keep the art market autonomous from the markets for other goods where “it is not for the maker to set the goal for art, but for the buyer” (Weichel 16). These highbrow patrons were also distinct from lowbrow art enthusiasts who were “acted upon by emotions infinitely more than by philosophical justification” (Weichel 16). Weichel offers up a modern art patron who is intelligent, educated, rational, and, in contrast to earlier counterparts, is not guided merely by a desire to amass more wealth.


Brown describes the new American collector not in his book on the Armory Show, but in his survey of early 20th-century American art: “None of them were rulers of vast financial or industrial empires. In many cases they were living on inherited wealth . . . They were less concerned with the accumulation of luxury objects as an expression of wealth, prestige, or power.”


As wives and daughters of the “magnates,” the relationship between avant-garde and modern art and a clearly capitalist system was diffused. By dividing cultural and economic development within the family, modern art remained autonomous from the capitalist market through a vague definition of these women’s position within the field of cultural production. Charlotte Gere and Marina’s Vaizey’s recently published Great Women Collectors recognizes the friendship between Mary Cassatt and both Palmer and Havemeyer before their marriages to successful industrial capitalists. Cassatt advised both women on their purchases of Impressionist paintings and instructed them in developing an aesthetic perception. Similarly, Lillie Bliss had started taking the recommendations of Arthur B. Davies before the Armory Show, and Baltimore natives Claribel and Etta Cone were life-long friends of the Steins, who introduced them to many of the painters they subsequently patronized. The consultation that occurred between painters and patrons was obviously not limited to these women collectors and their artist-friends. Walt Kuhn almost gleefully reports of the powers of persuasion he used on John Quinn, one of the top buyers at the Armory Show; Walter Arensberg, who began collecting modern art somewhat timidly at the Armory Show, was notoriously devoted to Charles SheelerMarcel Duchamp, Mina Loy, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens.

A list of similar connections between painters and patrons could go on indefinitely. Yet what the accounts of early 20th-century collectors have generally neglected is the correlation between art patronage and art production, especially in the case of women collectors. Pierre Bourdieu has described avant-garde art, the most legitimate, seemingly anti-commercial art, as art produced for producers. Focusing on women’s consumption of cultural products and naturalizing their taste masks the grounds on which modern art was often accepted or appreciated. An examination of many of these early women collectors at the Armory Show reveals their own occupations as painters, sculptors, and writers and the fact that they were recognized by their peers and often the general public as professionals.

Women Collectors and Artistic Production: Gertrude Stein and Katherine Dreier

Even a superficial examination of several of Crowninshield’s collectors reveals a list of women from upper-middle-class families who enjoyed an extensive education in the arts, both through official channels (academies, art schools, private tutors) and through encouters with key texts and authors (writers, painters, and sculptors). Sarah Sears, better known as Mrs. Montgomery Sears, was known first for her painting rather than her patronage. In 1905, W. Shaw Sparrow praised her work in Women Painters of the World. As a winner of numerous prizes and honors in major exhibitions in the late 19th and early 20th century, Sears was active in the official art worlds of Paris and New York (Sparrow 73). Sears also, because of her position as an artist and her social class, befriended Mary Cassatt and, like Cassatt, accumulated a collection of Impressionist and early post-Impressionist work.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, c. 1920

Another woman better recognized as both a patron and an artist was Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. By the time of the Armory Show, Whitney had participated in a number of large exhibitions and had gained a considerable recognition as a sculptor. She had originally worked under an assumed name, since she rightly ascertained that her family’s reputation would cause her work to be ridiculed. Whitney studied privately and at the Art Students’ League and purchased a studio in Greenwich Village (one of the marks of a professional artist). She was also a student in Paris, where Rodin critiqued her work well before the Armory Show. Whitney exhibited in the Buffalo Exposition of 1901 and the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 (Rubinstein 187); she, in addition, submitted her work to the National Academy of Design. Her Paganism Immortal won a distinguished rating in 1910 (Rubinstein 188). Although her work remained reliant on neo-classical models, Whitney was an early supporter of exhibits outside the academy, and she showed her work at the Independent exhibition of 1910 (Naumann, New York Dada 180). She decided not to show her work at the Armory Show, even though her work would have been welcomed and scarcely out of place beside academicians James Earle Fraser (her teacher) and Bessie Potter Vonnoh. In addition to the 1915 Titanic memorial, Whitney continued to produce large commissioned memorials and small statuettes throughout her lifetime. While Sears and especially Whitney played significant roles in legitimizing modern art in the United States, they were successful as academic artists during their lifetimes. Even though their relationship to the avant-garde remains as economic providers, they were informed about and engaged with the works that they purchased.


An examination of many of these early women collectors at the Armory Show reveals their own occupations as painters, sculptors, and writers and the fact that they were recognized by their peers and often the general public as professionals.


Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein, 1913

Two American modernists connected with the Armory Show, also two of the most influential patrons of modern art, are Gertrude Stein and Katherine Dreier. At the time of the Armory Show, both had gained recognition for their work but not for their patronage. Though Stein had been buying the work of Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso with her brother Leo since 1905 and had certainly influenced a number of American and European artists through their exposure to the Frenchmen’s work, the Armory exhibition introduced Stein as the first literary cubist. Martin Green comments on her connection to the show in New York: 1913: “Gertrude Stein, thanks to the force of her personality and the enigma of her work . . . was associated with the Armory Show from the first, and at every level of commentary in America” (Green 73). The Steins, listed under Leo’s name, were one of the only sources for Picasso’s work at the exhibition, and the entire family (Michael, Sarah, Leo, and Gertrude) were invaluable in sending Kuhn and Davies to the right dealers and private collections when they were in Paris (Green 74). However, it was for her work that Stein was remembered at the Armory Show.

Stein had the privilege of being the only non-visual artist included in this early dialogue on modern art in America through the publication and distribution of her portrait of Mabel Dodge, “Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia.” Stein’s portraits of Matisse and Picasso had established credibility for her work when they appeared in Camera Work in 1912 next to works by the artists. Widespread attention came when her portrait of Dodge was included in the much more broadly circulated Arts and Decoration—juxtaposed with Brancusi’s Mademoiselle de Pogany and provided for sale at the exhibition. Dodge’s own reproductions of the portrait, handed out to all visitors and pasted to the walls of her home, aided the distribution of Stein’s work as well, and Dodge’s introduction, “Speculations,” introduced Stein as a bohemian expatriate. The translation of cubism into other mediums outside painting and sculpture was lampooned from the beginning of the Armory Show in cartoons depicting cubist-inspired fashions and architecture. Stein’s writing was similarly parodied during the course of the exhibition, almost as much as the paintings by Matisse and Duchamp. Critics described her work in terms similar to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, as an enigmatic puzzle that intentionally confused the audience. One writer for the Chicago Tribune alluded to Stein in an attempt to explain the perceived incongruity between the titles and the works found in Gallery I:

I called the canvas Cow with Cud and hung it on the line,
Although to me ’twas vague as mud, ‘Twas clear to Gertrude Stein” (Brown, Story 138).

A mock telegram came from Stein at the closing of the show—a statement of her approval in the form of a parodic poem.


Stein had the privilege of being the only non-visual artist included in this early dialogue on modern art in America through the publication and distribution of her portrait of Mabel Dodge, “Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia.”


After the Armory Show, Stein’s writing persisted as a literary counterpart to European and American modern art, especially in the post-Armory discussions of cubism in the United States. Her portrait of Matisse was quoted in the 1913 reviews of department-store shows of cubist paintings in Cleveland and Pittsburgh (Sheon 99). Marsden Hartley, who had developed a friendship with Stein while he was living in Paris, wrote to her at the end of 1913, saying that “You are much talked of—even in Philadelphia you are said to be a creator of style . . . you are a new value in the eyes of many—not in the eyes of some” (Mellow 231). Hartley later used Stein’s portrait of him, found in the play IIIIIIIIII, in the foreword to his 1914 exhibition at ‘291.’ Stieglitz also reproduced this portrait in Camera Work to provide another example of modern poetry (this was also around the time he started printing Mina Loy’s work).

Katherine Dreier
Katherine Dreier, c. 1910

Another equally illustrative case of artist-turned-collector is Katherine Dreier, a painter who has only recently received much attention for her artistic production. She perhaps more than any other artist who participated in the Armory Show has been routinely “rediscovered” as an artist rather than a patron. In Abraham A. Davidson’s Early American Modernist Painting, published in 1981, Dreier’s artistic production is never mentioned, even in connection with the Armory Show (169). Her work has recently been analyzed along with other American artists who were influenced by the work of Wassily Kandinsky in Theme and Improvisation: Kandinsky and the American Avant-Garde, 1912-1950. At the time of the 1913 exhibition, Dreier had two main pursuits: painting and a social activism (She started a settlement house and was active in leadership roles in the suffrage movement). Nonetheless, Brown’s account stresses her purchases at the show, a Gauguin and a Redon, even as he acknowledges she had ‘not yet begun her campaign for modern art” (Brown, Story 129). Dreier, who was invited to the Armory Show by the committee, had already held her first solo exhibition in London in 1911 at the Doré Galleries, where the first Vorticist show was later held in 1915 (Tufts 26). She had also participated in several other group exhibitions in Frankfurt, Leipzig, Dresden, and Munich in 1912 (Herbert, Apter, and Kenney 213).

Although now known primarily as a protégé and companion of Marcel Duchamp, Drier’s interest in modern art derived from her own artistic efforts. She began studying art at age 12 (Tufts 26) at the Pratt Institute with Walter Shirlaw, who according to Dreier “taught her the connections between beauty, rhythm, and vitality, and so prepared her to read Kandinsky and to make ‘the leap into the great new expression in art.'” (Green 239) She lived and studied in London, Paris, and Munich before the Armory Show and would “come to Paris to the Steins’ salons, to meet the new ideas; the color schemes of the Fauves left her gasping” (Green 63). Dreier read Kandinsky’s Spirituality in Art in 1912 (in the original German) and understood art in the terms given to her by him and through theosophy (Green 239). She likely had seen van Gogh’s work before the 1912 Sonderbund exhibition, but the large comprehensive section provided at the Cologne show confirmed his stature as a modern master as surely for Dreier as it did for Kuhn and Davies. Dreier’s interest in van Gogh caused her not only to purchase Mademoiselle Ravoux, which she then lent to the Armory Show, but also to travel to his birthplace in Holland. According to Frances Naumann, after the Sonderbund Dreier painted a series of landscapes in a “thick impasto style reminiscent of Van Gogh” (Naumann, New York Dada 156). She also produced a number of studies of Amsterdam—most likely including The Avenue, Holland, which appeared in the Armory Show. While painting in the land of van Gogh’s birth, she also contacted his sister and acquired the rights to translate her reminiscences of her brother into English. The text, published in 1913 (van Gogh’s first autobiographical work published in the United States), includes a forward by none other than Arthur B. Davies (Herbert, Apter, and Kenney 748).


At the time of the 1913 exhibition, Dreier had two main pursuits: painting and a social activism (She started a settlement house and was active in leadership roles in the suffrage movement).


Dreier exhibited both The Avenue, Holland and Blue Bowl in the Armory Show, adopting the brushstroke of van Gogh and a “deliberately primitive” style (Bohan 7). Stephen Watson refers her paintings in the show as “timid still-lifes,” but he must be speaking only of The Blue Bowl (181). Previously a commissioned muralist, after the Armory Show Dreier turned to the decorative arts, producing “large decorative panels in bright colors, which incorporated a simplified figurative style reminiscent of Gauguin” (Naumann, New York Dada 156). One of Dreier’s purchases at the show was a lithograph by Gauguin, and the artist’s Faa Iheihe, perhaps his most striking work in the show, may have encouraged Dreier’s return to mural designs.

After seeing her work at the Armory Show, William Macbeth invited Dreier to show her work in October of 1913. Like other contemporary artists, Dreier also found a place to show her work in one of the numerous club buildings in Manhattan, and the Mid-Town Association’s Drug and Chemical Club hosted a solo exhibition in November. Royal Cortissoz, strident critic of the Armory Show, described Dreier’s work not in the terms he reserved for the avant-garde, insane or demoralized, but “decorative”: “Nearly all her canvasses show a strongly marked decorative quality. The sketch for a mural decoration shows the artist’s concern with the true decorative aim. Her work shows an ability to speak the decorator’s proper language” (Cortissoz 15). The term decorative has conflicting associations in the history of modernism. The decorative arts—screen making, glasswork, pottery, and dress design—were an essential source of inspiration for many avant-garde painters and sculptors. On the other hand, artists like Kandinsky identified a danger within decorative work of reducing art to a superficial and banal rather than spiritual form. The decorative arts were also associated with the artistic production of women, and Cortissoz’s insistence on Dreier’s status as a “decorator” seems to identify her as an amateur, producing in a less sophisticated medium than painting and sculpture. The idea of a livable art appealed to Dreier, as it did to the organizers of the Armory Show. The two rooms of paintings and sculpture she constructed in a domestic setting for the 1923 International Exhibition of Modern Art Exhibition, a deliberate tribute to the Armory Show, featured the works in an upper-class apartment. By 1914, Dreier had found enough like-minded fellow artists to form the Cooperative Mural Workshops, modeled in part after the Arts and Crafts movement and the Omega Workshops of Roger Fry (Green 15). The organization, which also included fellow Shirlaw student Anne Goldthwaite and dancer Isadora Duncan, showed their work at John Quinn’s Carroll Galleries in 1915 (Herbert, Apter, and Kenney 749).

The Garden
Katherine Dreier
The Garden, 1918.

Although the Cooperative Mural Workshops soon disbanded, in 1916 Dreier helped found the Society of Independent Artists, through which she met Duchamp. She exhibited in the 1917 show and began working toward non-representational portraiture. While her interest in modern art is often understood in relation to her correspondence with Duchamp, her early abstractions are undoubtedly influenced by her interest in Kandinsky’s theories, to which she was introduced in 1912. Dreier’s most commonly reproduced work is her portrait of Duchamp, in the collection of MOMA. A slightly earlier portrait of Duchamp, called Study in Triangles, recalls Kandinsky’s first chapter in On the Spiritual in Art, “The Movement of the Triangle.” In this painting, following Kandinsky’s logic and Dreir’s painting, Duchamp reaches the top rung of the avant-garde ladder and becomes as Dreier would later call him “a modern Leonardo” (Herbert, Apter, and Kenney 9). Dreier, like other modernists, created her own means of showing her work, through the Société Anonyme and chose to use it as an exhibition vehicle for the next ten years. After the Société ran out of money, she produced a series of 40 watercolors for a 1935 exhibit at the Annot Art School in New York.

Dreier’s paintings reveal a continued concern with developing a distinct abstract style that has not been recognized in the narratives of the Armory Show. While the 1913 exhibition was only one of many influences on Dreier’s development as an artist and as a promoter of modern art, it perhaps encouraged her to combine her interest in social activism and modern art in ways that had not come together for her before the Armory Show. Reexamining her role as an artist, rather than a collector at the Armory Show, provides evidence not only of Dreier’s involvement in significant artistic production in the early 20th century, but also further questions the ways in which the discourse about the Armory Show helped to define the boundaries of the avant-garde.


Dreier’s paintings reveal a continued concern with developing a distinct abstract style that has not been recognized in the narratives of the Armory Show.


According to Pauline Ridley, “the most conventionally acceptable ways in which women could relate to the world of culture around the turn of the century was as hostesses of literary and artistic ‘salons'” (Perry, Women Artists 90). Gill Perry adds to Ridley’s argument the importance of economic capital in gaining access to predominantly male spheres of cultural production, using the example of Gertrude Stein: “For Stein, the economic power to purchase works of art . . . although this was [at first] done in consultation with her brother Leo Stein, first gave her access to the somewhat hermetic circle of avant-garde artists gathered around the figure of Picasso” (Perry, Women Artists 90). Perry’s argument overshadows Stein’s theoretical affinity with and contributions to her contemporaries during the early 20th century and ignores her negotiations within these groups regarding her gender. It also neglects to address the ways in which her consumption helped to confirm the avant-garde status of the artists whose work she purchased and showed in her home. Whitney Chadwick has spoken about the ways in which “vanguard ideology marginalizes the woman artist as surely as did the guilds in the fifteenth century, and the academies in the seventeenth and eighteenth century” (Chadwick 279). A reexamination of women artists, like Dreier, who participated in the Armory Show, underscores versions of the modern produced by women both inside and outside the vanguard coteries of the early 20th century.

Damaging to women who did contribute work within an identified circle of artists was the development of a feminine aesthetic that was used to define the most celebrated women artists of this period, Marie Laurencin and Georgia O’Keefe. Guilliame Apollinaire’sLes Peintres Cubistes, first published in 1912, defined Laurencin as a “scientific Cubist,” but her distinctive contribution was as a femme peintre: “Miss Marie Laurencin knows how to express, in the high art of painting, an entirely feminine aesthetic” (39). Even before her association with the cubists, Apollinaire had accessed her work after the Salon des Independents in 1908:

Though she has masculine defects, she has every conceivable feminine quality. The greatest error of most women artists is that they try to surpass men, losing in the process their taste and charm. Laurencin is very different. She is aware of the deep differences that separate men from women—essential, ideal differences. Mademoiselle Laurencin’s personality is vibrant and joyful. Purity is her very element (qtd. in Sandell 24).

John Quinn, collector and life-long supporter of modern art, praised Laurencin as a femme peintre: “One of the things that I like about Laurencin is that she paints like a woman, whereas most women artists seem to want to paint like men and they only succeed in painting like hell” (qtd. in Sandell 62).

While Laurencin by all accounts seems to have accepted the gendered reading of her work, O’Keefe was contemptous of similar comments made throughout her lifetime that indicated her work was the expression of a feminine consciousness. Oscar Bluemner’s essay reprinted in a 1935 retrospective of O’Keefe’s work claimed her as “the priestess of Eternal Woman,” her art “flowering forth like a manifestation of that feminine causative principle” (Chave 361). It is important to note that the gendered reading of Laurencin and O’Keefe’s work, along with the support of major critics (Apollinaire and Stieglitz) allowed them to gain considerable status within a predominantly male art world and may explain the 1924 comment of Marsden Hartley, who knew artists like Dreier, Marguerite Zorach, and Katharine Rhoades personally: “if there are other significant women in modern art [besides Sonia Delaunay, Marie Laurencin, and Georgia O’Keefe] I am not as yet familiarized with them” (Hartley 15).


Damaging to women who did contribute work within an identified circle of artists was the development of a feminine aesthetic that was used to define the most celebrated women artists of this period, Marie Laurencin and Georgia O’Keefe.


The invisibility today of many women artists who did participate in the Armory Show and in avant-garde circles speaks to the effect of criticism that dismissed women who produced work that appeared to be indebted to the same sources as most avant-garde painting of the late 19th and early 20th century. Women who produced works that could be connected to the schools of cubism, fauvism, expressionism, and futurism were criticized as imitators. While many early American modernists were accused of similar acts of blatant replication and were often denigrated in the name of American nationalism by critics who despised modern art, major supporters of American modernists also understood the work of many women artists to be imitations rather than assimilations of theories by canonical artists. The Armory Show provides evidence of a number of women artists—Dreier and others—who participated in the growth of modern art in New York in the years around the 1913 exhibition.

The Story of the Armory Show: Writing American Modernism

La Toilette des jeunes filles
Marie Laurencin
La Toilette des jeunes filles

Although many artists were neglected in the initial reviews of the Armory Show, as often happened in large exhibitions, female artists are scarcely mentioned in any subsequent art historical accounts either. Yet the Armory Show provides significant documentation of a growing number of women exhibitors in large independent shows. Nearly fifty women (out of 300 total artists) exhibited in the Armory Show; female sculptors were notably active in the exhibition, reflective of their prominence in late 19th- and early 20th-century America. The European participants primarily included painters who took part in the Paris Salons and the Cologne Sonderbund Show. Laurencin, who had exhibited with the cubists in the 1911 Salon des Independents’ exhibition, was shown in Gallery I. Though Laurencin’s work has a precarious relationship to cubism, she did experiment with similar structural techniques during the time of the Armory Show. Her painting La Toilette des Jeunes Filles, from 1912, shown in the Armory Show, confirms Laurencin’s commitment to formal experimentation in this period. Heather McPherson describes it as “the apogee of Laurencin’s cubist-inspired phase” (Hyland and McPherson 27). The fauve artist Emile Charmy was also chosen; she had not exhibited with the fauves in the 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibition but had been shown at Berthe Weill’s gallery with other fauve painters. Olga Oppenheimer, an all but forgotten German Expressionist painter, was represented by woodcuts of a popular novel, treated similarly by Max Pechstein and Georg Schrimpf, among others (Gaze 1048).


[T]he Armory Show provides significant documentation of a growing number of women exhibitors in large independent shows.


In the United States as in Europe, the early 20th century saw the first generation of women who began to obtain a more or less equal education in the arts. Women artists most often acquired this access due to the advent of opportunities outside the academies. Though many classes still adopted a separate but equal policy, women gradually gained admittance to instruction and the long prohibited subject, the nude. The NAD did not exclude women from their exhibitions, but it did exclude them from membership. Christian Brinton in the International Studio notes the unusually large number of women artists in the Spring 1913 National Academy of Design Exhibition. Nonetheless, from 1825 to 1953 the NAD offered membership and associate membership to only 75 women out of 1300 total (Levin 13), which meant that women had a relatively small chance of gaining organizational control.

As was clear from the Independent exhibitions, the NAD was declining as the site of legitimate culture. The movement to open up new exhibition spaces, begun with the Eight in 1908, was moderately welcoming to women artists. The 1910 Independent exhibition included many of the same women artists who participated in the Armory Show: Florence Barkley, Bessie Marsh Brewer, Edith Haworth, Amy Londoner, Josephine PaddockMary Rogers, and Hilda Ward (Rubinstein 167). Henri also invited two female students for the 1911 McDowell Club shows that also exhibited in 1913, Kathleen McEnery (see below) and May Wilson Preston. The Armory Show, the largest exhibition held in New York outside the Academy of Design, gave the growing population of women artists another chance to show their work. It also marks one of the first opportunities in the U.S. for women to exhibit their work as modernists. As such, the exhibition provides evidence that there were women who were already experimenting with form and color before the Armory Show, or, like other participants, were perhaps encouraged or emboldened in part by what they saw there.

Due to the Armory Show’s benchmark status, the study of many early 20th-century American artists is focused on their painting before and after 1913. Milton Brown reminds us of the aim of the exhibition committee, which was to exhibit works “in which the personal note is distinctly sounded” (Brown, Story 90). Brown praises the organizers for their foresight: “out of the mass of works, they accepted examples by Oscar BluemnerMaurice Becker, Glenn O. Coleman, Stuart DavisAndrew DasburgEdward Hopper, Bernard KarfiolJoseph Stella, and Margaret and William Zorach” (Brown, Story 90). Brown’s list contains those painters and sculptors who would later gain recognition as modern artists. Barbara Rose similarly narrows down the “hundreds of paintings and sculptures by Americans, [to] a few dozen [that] could be described as modern . . . These included the sculpture of Nadelmanand Lachaise, and the paintings by Bruce, Burlin, Bluemner, Carles, Dasburg, HalpertHartleyMarinPrendergast, Russell,SchambergSheeler, Stella, and Walkowitz” (Rose, American Art 75). Rose also includes Stanton Macdonald-Wright as an exhibitor, but there is no evidence that he participated. (Rose, American Art 75). While neither Brown nor Rose profess the list to be complete, the lack of women artists is striking.

Rhythm Magazine
Rhythm Magazine, 1911

Marguerite Zorach, the only woman artist in the Armory Show considered by either Brown or Zorach to hold claims to the modern, is one of the few American artists of either gender to have received critical attention in relation to the Armory Show, during and after the exhibition. Especially remarkable is that Zorach was virtually unknown in the New York art world. She had just moved to New York in the fall of 1912, and did not have a ‘291’ exhibition behind her as many of the other American moderns did: Marin, Walkowitz, Hartley, Bluemner, Halpert, and Maurer. In February of 1913, Marguerite Thompson Zorach had just recently moved from Paris where she had studied at La Palette under John Duncan Fergusson. Fergusson was involved in producing and editing the British little magazine Rhythm, which featured the work of artists who also exhibited together in London. While studying in Paris, Zorach developed a style similar to fauvist and early Blue Reiter works—her work from around 1910 exhibited bold color and linear rhythms. In her alliance with the group of artists from La Palette, one of many Parisian schools teaching post-impressionist techniques, she was published in Rhythm in 1911 and 1912. She exhibited in several shows in Paris in the early teens, including the American Women Artists Association in February 1910 and the 1911 Independent and Autumn Salons. Zorach also met Stein via her aunt, who knew Stein’s family from San Francisco, and through Stein she was introduced to Picasso (Hoffman 10). Upon returning to the United States, Zorach’s work became some of the first fauve-inspired paintings exhibited in this country (Tarbell, Zorach 67). Prior to the Armory Show, she also held solo exhibitions of her work in her hometown of Fresno, California and in Los Angeles.


While neither Brown nor Rose profess the list [of future American moderns who participated in the Armory Show] to be complete, the lack of women artists is striking.


Landscape
Marguerite Zorach
Landscape

Zorach submitted her work shortly before the Armory Show to the domestic committee and undoubtedly was chosen for her strong fauve style. She was represented by two paintings in the exhibition (a number consistent with other American artists)—exhibited in Gallery D. Both paintings were later destroyed, but details of one of the works are available through reviews of the exhibition. The striking feature of Zorach’s Study is her movement away from landscape, which was more typical for early fauve work (hers as well). Instead, she focused on the figure of a woman. Zorach’s choice of figure study may have elicited the criticism she received, since the perceived assault on the human form was much more egregious to critics of the Armory Show than the strident colors of fauve landscapes. This in part explains the attacks on Matisse’s work as well. Charles Camoin, Georges Braque, Emile Charmy, and Alfred Maurer, another American fauvist, were represented at the Armory Show by fauvist landscapes, but they received little or no attention in the press. An article in the New York American emphasizes the non-organic appearance of Zorach’s painting: “In the ‘study,’ by Marguerite Zorach, you see at once that the lady is feeling very, very bad. She is portraying her emotions after a day’s shopping. The pale yellow eyes and the purple lips of her subject indicate that the digestive organs are not functioning properly. I would advise salicylate of quininine in small doses” (qtd. in Tarbell, Zorach 69). Although it is difficult to interpret the response without seeing Zorach’s work, the color scheme Levy describes seems in line with Zorach’s other fauve-inspired paintings from this period. The remarks are similar to those made about Matisse’sWoman with Green Eyes when it was exhibited at the 1910 Grafton Gallery exhibit in London. Physical and mental illness of the artist or the artist’s subject was one of a number of ways of dismissing fauve portraits and non-representational art in general, and of identifying modern works. Zorach also received brief recognition for her “extreme modernity” in the New York Times.


The remarks [that followed Zorach's exhibition of her Study in the Armory Show] are similar to those made about Matisse’sWoman with Green Eyes when it was exhibited at the 1910 Grafton Gallery exhibit in London.


Provincetown
Marguerite Zorach
Provincetown, 1916.

While Zorach had embraced fauvism in the years she studied in Paris, she did not employ cubism in her work until after the Armory Show. Zorach, like many artists in New York at the time, explored cubist treatment of line and space in the years following the 1913 exhibition. Zorach participated in a number of exhibitions in conjunction with other American moderns and was the only woman artist included in the Forum Exhibition in 1915. Only Zorach, out of seventeen artists, was excluded from the catalogue, which featured essays and reproductions of one work by each of the other artists in the exhibition. She was listed along with her husband, William Zorach, next to his essay and his work (Levin, “Changing Status” 14-15). She exhibited at the People’s Art Guild and the Daniel Gallery in 1916 and at the Society of Independents’ show in 1917.

As she participated in many of the same exhibitions as other modernists, she also began work in a medium that was generally not accepted as avant-garde. She started working on tapestries, translating the designs she created on canvas into wool. Tapestries were more convenient to create after the birth of her first child, and the sales from Zorach’s work also supported the family for entire years (Hoffman 27). Zorach continued to paint throughout the 20s but returned to painting on a much more regular basis in the 1930s.


Zorach, like many artists in New York at the time, explored cubist treatment of line and space in the years following the 1913 exhibition.


Two other painters, Kathleen McEnery and Anne Goldthwaite, were among the artists who participated in post-Impressionism before the show, but, in many senses of the word, remained independents. McEnery moved from New York not long after the Armory Show, and Goldthwaite, who never accepted modernism, began producing representational studies of the American South. Ethel Myers, who has been recognized primarily in relation to the Ashcan school, produced small caricatures comparable to the work Lachaise produced and received favorable reviews at the Armory Show. These artists are not exceptions; they attest to the fact that many women artists were working in New York in the early 20th century and that some explored non-representational form to a certain extent before the Armory Show. McEnery, Goldthwaite, and Myers, however, were not announced as modernists at any of Stieglitz’s galleries, at Whitney’s Studio Club, Dreier’s Société Anonyme, or by any other champions of American modernism.

The House on the Hill
Anne Goldthwaite
The House on the Hill,
1910 or 1911.

Anne Goldthwaite’s The House on the Hill, included in the Armory Show, recalls the work of Cézanne in its deliberate emphasis on parallel landscape elements—an endless series of overlapping mounds. Goldthwaite arrived in Paris in 1906 and was immediately introduced to the work of Cézanne and Matisse at Gertrude Stein’s: “Some six days after arriving in Paris [I] met Stein and was introduced to the most remarkable pictures I had ever seen” (Breeskin 24). Goldthwaite then helped organize the Académie Moderne in Paris, under the instruction of Charles Guerin, with additional critique by Othon Friesz and Albert Marquet, who, although initially fauvists, began studying, and perhaps teaching from, the landscapes of Cézanne after 1908 (Breeskin 12). Shortly after the Armory Show, Goldthwaite became a lifelong friend of Katherine Dreier and soon after painted portraits of Dreier and her sister Dorthea (Rubenstein 178). She worked with Dreier on the Cooperative Mural Workshops and was later included in a Société Anonyme exhibition featuring former students of Walter Shirlaw, as a tribute exhibition to their teacher.

While the Armory Show did not appear to affect Goldthwaite’s work, critics began connecting her painting with Cézanne’s after the 1913 exhibition. According to A. D. Defries in the International Studio in 1916, Goldthwaite’s landscapes “were simply very sincere studies in the manner of the French artists at the beginning of this century” (Defries 4). Defries cited other critics’ insistence on Goldthwaite’s allegiance to Cézanne, but emphasized the artist’s own denouncement of a by this time established modern tradition: “[My use of Cézanne's techniques] has been unconscious” (Defries 4). She described the unwanted affiliation with modernism in her memoirs: “I had not been back from Paris long, and whenever I had shown my work I had been called a modernist . . . Perhaps I was modern, but if it were true, I was so innately and not by conscious effort” (Breeskin 30). Her rejection of Cézanne’s influence on her painting seems in part a reaction against being pronounced as an imitator of male painters: “Though I was constantly being pigeon-holed and attacked, I never really got over being surprised each time it occurred” (Breeskin 30). Defries used Goldthwaite’s lack of theoretical discourse on her painting as a reflection of her feminine consciousness:

I have found that women artists work much less consciously than men, and have fewer theories about their work. The work of women in this direction seems almost completely a case of intuition becoming unconsciously articulate. Women reason less, and in time when they attain a greater freedom they may prove to be nearer to the unreasoning spirit of creation than the more trained mentality of the male can ever be (Defries 4).

Defries follows the pattern of many critics who attempted to essentialize a feminine aesthetics (though Defries’ notion of consciousness also allows influence from external events, such as the suffrage movement). Goldthwaite later reached some acclaim as a regionalist, primarily for her paintings of African-Americans in the South, where she was born and spent most summers. These paintings overshadowed her earlier work, much as Thomas Hart Benton will be remembered as a painter of American Scene murals rather than as an early modernist.


While the Armory Show did not appear to affect Goldthwaite’s work, critics began connecting her painting with Cézanne’s after the 1913 exhibition.


Going to the Bath
Kathleen McEnery
Going to the Bath, 1912.

Kathleen McEnery studied with Henri at the New York School of Art and then moved to Paris shortly before the Armory Show. She was one of the only women invited to participate in the McDowell Club exhibition of 1911, organized by Henri. Her work of this period, though representational, reflects an engagement with a post-Impressionism through her use of a simplified palette and strong lines. Going to the Bath, shown in Gallery D, focuses on female nudes but deemphasizes breasts and buttocks, atypical for most American artists of the time. She later exhibited at the McDowell Club in 1915 and continued painting in the teens and 20s, showing her work in Rochester, where she moved in 1915, and at the Society for Independent Artists exhibitions of 1920 and 22. McEnery, like Goldthwaite, appears to have changed her work little after the Armory Show, though her later still lives show an even more striking use of color than her work in the exhibition did.

Matron
Ethel Myers
Matron, 1912.

Ethel Myers was praised in a New York Sun article just prior to the Armory Show for her individualistic works. Her choice to depart from the conventional representation of women in sculpture earned her the compliment of “not hesitating to see things as they are.” The anonymous reviewer, perhaps Henry McBride, also admires “her own amusing way” of constructing her sculptures. Susan Fort has noted Myers’ satirical stance, which “poked fun at her gender’s slavish devotion to modish attire” (Fort 77). Myers’ work has most often been compared to that of the Ashcans, yet her sculpture also shows formal exploration that was not customary in American sculpture at this time. Abstenia St. Eberle, who critics have also cited as a sculptural counterpart to the Ashcan school, employed long-established modeling techniques in her work. Myers’sculpture, on the other hand, can be usefully compared to Lachaise’s Statuette or Lehmbruck’s Kneeling Woman, which exaggerate and simplify the features of their subjects. Myers studied painting, not sculpture, at the Art Students’ League, but after marrying Jerome Myers and having a child, she switched to small sculptures, which occupied less space and allowed more room for her husband’s painting. Fifteen of her sculptures were exhibited in late 1912 at Folsom Galleries, whereMaurer’s work was shown just prior to the Armory Show. Nine of Myers’ sculptures from the 1912 exhibition were chosen for the Armory Show. Myers seldom exhibited in the 20s; she gave up sculpting and supported her family by designing women’s hats and clothes for celebrities (Rubinstein 169). When she started showing her work again after her husband’s death in 1940, her work seems to have been little affected by the Armory Show.

The Influence of the Armory Show: Modernism Comes to America

A second major focus of many Armory Show narratives involves an attempt to gauge the effect the exhibition had on American artists. Although numerous painters have been discussed in this context—Arthur B. Davies and Joseph Stella are just two examples—the work of female artists involved in early 20th-century American modernism has received relatively little commentary. Like Davies and Stella, these women produced work that claimed to be modern and was promoted within avant-garde spaces like the Armory Show. One artist who most poignantly substantiates the Armory Show’s influence on modern art in America is Frances Simpson Stevens. She is not included in any account of the show but is the only known American to directly participate in the Futurist movement in Italy. Katharine Rhoades, who produced the Dada magazine 291 with Maurice de Zayas, was part of the Stieglitz circle, and reviews and examples of her work disclose experimentation and engagement with modernist ideals. A third woman artist, who at the time of the Armory Show displayed symbolist paintings and later went on to form the Transcendental Painting Group, is Agnes Pelton. All three of these women have received more critical attention in the last five years but have not been discussed in analyses of the Armory Show.

Avant-Garde Artists at Work

Frances Simpson Stevens as avant-garde artist. Stevens (center) is surrounded by (clockwise, from top right) Marcel Duchamp, Gene Criotti, Hugo Robus, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, and Albert Gleizes.

Very little is known about the early training of the artist Frances Simpson Stevens, and until recently (1994) she was known primarily through her single painting in the Arensberg collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Naumann, “Lost” 110). According to Francis Naumann, Stevens was alone among American artists in exhibiting with the Futurists in Italy. Her involvement with modernism in some ways begins with her participation in the Armory Show, which undoubtedly provided Stevens with one of her first exposures to modern art. She studied briefly with Robert Henri, who was known to use examples of Cézanne in his classes. Henri, an early teacher of many artists who would go on to become modernists (Morgan Russell, Samuel Halpert, Andrew Dasburg, and Man Ray) was insistent on discouraging imitation in his students’ work. Stevens painted Roof Tops of Madrid, her contribution to the Armory Show, during the summer of 1912 while she was studying with Henri in Spain. This painting probably reflects the swiftly executed brushstrokes of Henri more than any modernist technique. During the 1912 trip to Europe, Henri also took students to visit Gertrude Stein in Paris, where they would have seen work by Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, and other fauvists. Stevens most likely gained an introduction to “futurism” not through the Italian painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlos Carrá, or Gino Severini but through Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase at the Armory. Futurism, a loosely tossed term in American criticism at the time and often unidentified with the movement in Italy, represented more than any other term the new, the now, the most outrageous art of the time. By 1913, however, Stevens undoubtedly had some knowledge of the specific artists who called themselves Futurists for, according to Carolyn Burke, one reason Stevens traveled to Italy was to meet the Futurists there (Burke 51).


A second major focus of many Armory Show narratives involves an attempt to gauge the effect the exhibition had on American artists. Although numerous painters have been discussed in this context—Arthur B. Davies and Joseph Stella are just two examples—the work of female artists involved in early 20th-century American modernism has received relatively little commentary.


Dynamism of a Printing Press
Frances Simpson Stevens
Dynamism of a Printing Press, 1914.

In addition to the passionate fervor of the Armory Show that certainly encouraged any interest Stevens had in modern art, Naumann refers to an equally important introduction to Mabel Dodge that likely took place some time during the Armory exhibition (Naumann, “Lost” 112). Dodge arranged for Stevens to live with Mina Loy, the modern British poet and painter who was living in Florence at the time of the show and had asked Dodge to find her a boarder. If Stevens did go to Italy in search of the Futurists, the desire for artistic collaboration was mutual: “When Frances made the acquaintance of the Florentine painters Carlo Carrá and Ardengo Soffici, who . . . had joined the futurists earlier in the year, they began turning up at the Costa San Giorgio in the hope of enlisting her in the movement” (Burke 151). Early in 1913, Marinetti met Stevens, then Loy, and began encouraging them to become his pupils. He also introduced the two women to other Futurist painters, bringing them to Loy and Stevens’ home (Naumann, “Lost” 107). Before the fall of 1913, Stevens had translated parts of the Futurist manifestos into English, and she provided the local English paper in Rome with commentary for the 1913 Futurist show (Naumann, “Lost” 107). In 1914, Stevens and Loy exhibited with the Futurists at the International Exhibition of Futurism in the Galleria Futurista in Rome where Stevens showed eight machine-image works like Dynamism of a Printing Press (above). She remained in Italy during 1914, until sometime in the late fall. Her works that survive through photographic reproductions owe less to Futurism’s depiction of dynamic movement on canvas than to its glorification of the machine—in this case, the printing press.

Returning to the U.S. due to World War I, Stevens became known to Stieglitz, who asked her for a contribution to Camera Workin 1914 (Stevens 30). During this period, Stevens also published political cartoons in the little magazine Rogue, published by Allan Norton and supported by Walter Arensberg (Naumann, “Lost” 110). Steven’s solo exhibition at New York’s Braun Gallery in March 1916 (Naumann, “Lost” 110) actively connected her work to the Futurists. The advertisements for the show included her own translations of excerpts from Futurist manifestos and emphasized her relationship to the movement in Italy. She showed a remarkable 21 works at this 1916 solo exhibition.

Dynamic Velocity of Interborough Rapid Transit Power Station
Frances Simpson Stevens
Dynamic Velocity of Interborough Rapid Transit Power Station, 1916.

By 1916, when Loy arrived in New York, Stevens was described as “a regular at Stieglitz’s gallery . . . she continued to paint in the Futurist manner” (Burke 213). Stevens introduced Loy to Walter Arensberg within a few days (Burke 213). Other artists Stevens would have known, if only through Arensburg, were Morton Schamberg and Charles Sheeler, whose machine-image works parallel her Futurist-inspired painting of 1916, Dynamic Velocity of Interborough Rapid Trasit Power Station (right). The painting, purchased by Arensberg, is the only known surviving work by Stevens. During this time, she also began creating objets d’art, hand-painted paper-maché heads (which she called pupae, “dolls”) that could be used as wig or hat stands. The striking contrast between her presentation as an avant-garde painter (above) and as an artisan (below) reflects the distinction between the two fields of art production at the time.

The Artisan at Work
Frances Simpson Stevens
as artisan

In 1917, Stevens exhibited with other American and European moderns at the People’s Art Guild and the Penguin Club as well as the 1917 Society of Independent Artists Exhibition (Petteys). Her participation in avant-garde circles seemed to come to an end with her 1917 publication in The Blind Man, a magazine edited by Duchamp, Henri-Pierre Roché, and Beatrice Wood. The Blind Man‘s first issue (out of a total of two) was devoted to Duchamp’s entry to the Society of Independent Artists’ Exhibition, Fountain. After Stevens’ marriage to a Russian count in 1918, she disappeared from the art world. Evidence of her prodigious work in the second decade of the last century exists in exhibition catalog listings and the few photographs of her work. While Stevens did not sustain a long career as an artist, her participation in the Futurist movement and her painting and cartooning in New York reflect the Armory Show’s inclusion of women artists that experimented within vanguard circles not as patrons but as producers of modern art.


Other artists Stevens would have known, if only through Arensburg, were Morton Schamberg and Charles Sheeler, whose machine-image works parallel her Futurist-inspired painting of 1916, Dynamic Velocity of Interborough Rapid Trasit Power Station .


Stieglitz Group
Stieglitz Group, c. 1910

Katharine Rhoades, virtually unknown now, also produced her work within the community now recognized as the First American Avant-Garde (the second being the Abstract Expressionists). The lack of attention given to her work is reflected in Brown’s 1988 catalog to the Armory Show, which questions even the spelling of Rhoades’ name. Rhoades became interested in modern art during a trip to Paris in 1908 with Marion Beckett, who also exhibited in the Armory Show. Although Rhoades destroyed most of her early work in the 1920s, her paintings that survive show an awareness of the work of Cézanne (Heller and Heller 467). Between 1908 to 1913, Rhoades was one of the active members of the Stieglitz circle, along with Marin, Weber, Hartley, Walkowitz, De Zayas, Dove, and Marion Beckett (Homer, Stieglitz 78). Edward Steichen, who guided Stieglitz in many of his early exhibitions, had suggested a show at ‘291’ for Rhoades in 1912. Like other artists that Stieglitz supported, Rhoades was undoubtedly influenced more through her involvement with the artists of ‘291’ than through the Armory Show itself. Though she did not exhibit at Stieglitz’s gallery until 1915, she and Beckett participated in the 1914 “Modern Art” exhibition at the National Arts Club. In 1914, Rhoades’ poetry was published alongside Mina Loy’s in Camera Work (Heller and Heller 467), and Rhoades also contributed to the 1914 issue “What ‘291’ Means to Me,” a collection of comments by ‘291’ artists and aesthetes. Rhoades’ contribution, a poem, indicates the significance she placed on her engagement with other artists at ‘291’: “I touch four walls—I hear voices . . . those who have touched its world—I too went gazing, questioning, answering . . . I too merged with the voices; and the walls echoed” (58). Her reflections give credence to her own artistic production within the celebrated circle of artists.

Untitled
Katharine Rhoades
Unidentified drawing, c. 1915.

Rhoades’ work in the Armory Show, Taillories, also exhibited in Chicago, may or may not have been influenced by European modernism, but by the time of her 1915 exhibition with Beckett at ‘291,’ she was described in many of the same terms as other modern artists in the United States. Elizabeth Carey, from the New York Times roused the revolutionary rhetoric used at the time of the Armory Show to report: “Miss Rhoades [is] now fighting under the post-Impressionist banner” (Carey, Untitled 19). Peyton Boswell in the New York Herald observed that Rhoades used “strident and striking color to the limit,” (Boswell 18) while Forbes Watson, critic for the New York Evening Post, supported the work of Rhoades, as he did the work of many American modernists:

Miss Rhoades possesses a good sense of color, and a freshness in her manner of expressing it which is far from ordinary . . . Landscape, while entirely unrealistic in the conventional sense, conveys what is far better than any literal exactness of fact, a real sense of living air and light (19).

The terms in which critics evaluated Rhoades’ work at the 1915 exhibition place her paintings within a loosely defined expressionism, which prioritized emotion, intuition, and spirituality. Charles Caffin in the New York American insisted that Rhoades’ reliance was on intuition, rather than observation: “Miss Rhoades seems to have a capacity of psychically sensing her subject” (19). Agnes Meyer, a journalist, photographer and fellow member of the Stieglitz circle reviewed Rhoades’ work at the time of the 1915, commenting on the artist’s individual vision:

her whole impulse to paint seems to spring from a close communion with and a desire to impart the underlying significance of the world as she sees it . . . There seems at first to be a strange and foreign quality in her portraits but a sympathetic study reveals the fact that she has seen further or at least differently than we (Meyer 8).

Meyer again points to Rhoades’ ability to visually articulate a metaphysical consciousness and stresses her status as a seer, psychic, or medium through which highly developed states of consciousness are expressed.

Woman
Maurice de Zayas, Agnes
Meyer, and Katharine Rhoades
Woman, 1915.

These assessments of Rhoades’ painting after the Armory Show suggest the correlation between her work and the work of the more celebrated ‘291’ artists. Even though Rhoades destroyed most of her work after the twenties, there is other evidence of her collaboration with artists working in New York in the early 20th century. In addition to exhibiting at Stieglitz’s gallery, Rhoades helped produce the little magazine 291, seen as one facet of the Dada movement in New York (Naumann, New York Dada 58). William Innes Homer, who estimates Rhoades as a lesser talent, remarks on the “progressiveness” of one of Rhoades’ pieces for 291 (Homer, Stieglitz 173). Announced “as both a magazine of satire and as representing modern French art,” 291 focused on caricature and psychological portraits (Green 245). While the magazine is often remembered for Picabia’s and de Zayas’ portraits of Stieglitz, at the time, Marsden Hartley described the magazine as “a chance for de Zayas, Meyer, and Rhoades to experiment” (qtd. in Leavens 128). Meyer later reflected on the writing in the journal as “‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing . . . we were on the track of something only dimly understood before the crucial analysis of Freud and the works of such successful explorers of the unconscious as Virginia Woolf and Joyce became popular” (qtd. in Leavens 128). Rhoades’ collaborative visual poem, created with Meyer and de Zayas, recalls both stream of consciousness writing and Apollinaire’s calligrams of the same period. In “Woman,” (above) published in May 1915, the speaker in Rhoades’ contribution to the piece disengages her body from a fixed gender, one aspect of Dada experimentation, through the music of Wagner:

I was not a woman. I became merely a part of the attunement of the moment as did all the others. The strangers were standing so near that I could have touched them and I think we were touching. We had dropped our little selves. We were not-but something greater than ourselves was breathing (qtd. in Bohn 249).

The poem illustrates Rhoades’ interests in fashioning new images and perceptions through visual poems. In her poetry, as in her painting, she emphasized not empirical data but a highly subjective, individual expression. In 1917, Rhoades was nominated in theBulletin of the Dada Movement for president of the Independent Artists Association along with Dodge, Stieglitz, Duchamp, Walkowitz, Loy, Marin, Pach, and Arensberg (Januzzi 578). While, as Willard Bohn attests, the lack of access to Rhoades’ work prevents an evaluation of her impact, her participation in the Armory Show and her engagement in modernist projects within the avant-garde circles of the early part of the last century should contribute to the conception of women’s involvement in the International Exhibition.


Rhoades’ work in the Armory Show, Taillories, also exhibited in Chicago, may or may not have been influenced by European modernism, but by the time of her 1915 exhibition with Beckett at ‘291,’ she was described in many of the same terms as other modern artists in the United States.


The last artist who deserves reexamination in light of the Armory Show is Agnes Pelton. Unlike Rhoades and Stevens, Pelton’s work has generated a moderate amount of scholarship, especially in recent years. Pelton also went through years of academic training, starting with her studies at the Pratt Institute with Arthur Dow, who also taught Max Weber and Georgia O’Keefe. Dow, according to Milton Brown, was a “pioneer in the teaching of design principles based on Chinese and Japanese art” (Brown, American Painting 138). In his book Composition, first published in 1899, Dow recommended the study of Chinese, Japanese, and Native American designs. He also argued that there should be no distinction between the fine and decorative arts (Moffatt 38). Pelton graduated from Pratt the same year as Max Weber, in 1900 (Zakian 138). In 1910, Pelton spent a year in Italy, where she studied under Hamilton Easter Field, also an enthusiast of Asian art, and an admirer of Picasso; Field commissioned the Spaniard to decorate his library in 1910. In 1911, perhaps as a result of Field’s suggestions, Pelton began what she called “Imaginative Paintings,” which, like Impressionism explored the effects of light, but was also influenced by Symbolism. Beginning with her first solo exhibition in 1911, Pelton had 14 such exhibitions by 1936 (Blankenship 1).

Vine Wood
Agnes Pelton
Vine Wood, c. 1910.

At the time of the Armory Show, Pelton lived primarily in Greenwich Village but spent summers at Field’s studio in Maine (Zakian 139). According to Tiska Blankenship, Walt Kuhn saw Pelton’s work at a 1912 exhibition at Field’s studio. Kuhn then invited her to exhibit two of her “Imaginative Paintings,” Vine Woodand Stone Age, in the Armory Show. Vine Wood illustrates Pelton’s exploration of a landscape of dreams, recalling a prelapsarian paradise where wood-nymph and monkey coexisted. Although far from her later non-objective paintings, Pelton’s work at the Armory Show reveals a concern with interior vision. Pelton, who went a number of times to the exhibition, could not have missed Improvisation, No. 27, the only work in the show by Kandinsky, who would have a resounding influence on Pelton’s understanding of painterly abstraction. While there is no mention of Pelton’s reaction to the show, her mother’s recollections echo the enthusiasm voiced by other modern painters and writers for the show: “Nothing in the art line has ever caused the sensation that has been this exhibit . . . and although it has caused endless criticism from all sources, it remains the great event of events, and everyone regrets it closing. Agnes could not resist going to see the last of it and brought home a Matisse photograph as a final souvenir” (Levin and Lorenz 125). After the Armory Show, Pelton exhibited in 1915 at the Women’s Suffrage Exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries, had a solo exhibition in 1917, and received honorable mention for her entry, Philosophy, in Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s mural decoration contest (Tufts 80).

Star Gazer
Agnes Pelton
Star Gazer, 1929.

Although Pelton continued her work in relative isolation, she was one of the early visitors to Mabel Dodge’s home in Taos in 1919, shortly before O’Keefe’s stay. Pelton’s visit to the desert of New Mexico brought about a period of organic painting. She focused on “realistic portraiture and landscape oil painting, as well as on pastels of Native Americans and desert landscapes” (Blankenship 1). During her stay with Dodge, she also held a solo exhibition at the newly opened School of American Research in Santa Fe where her paintings of New Mexico were shown.

After spending ten years painting on Long Island with intermittent travels to Hawaii, Beruit, and Syria, Pelton turned to less figurative work again. Though she created her first paintings that could properly be called abstractions in 1926, she continued to develop figurative works as well. In 1929, the same year that the Museum of Modern Art opened, Pelton introduced her method of non-representational painting with an exhibition titled “Abstractions” at the Montross Gallery (Levin and Lorenz 126). After this exhibition and another in 1931, she was included in an early survey of modern art, Understanding Modern Art, published in 1931.

Awakening
Agnes Pelton
Awakening, 1943.

In his 1931 modern art survey, the artist and critic Leo Katz evaluated Pelton’s work in the terms that other critics often used to assess women modernists: “When she began her abstract compositions, there was still touch of decorative[my emphasis] quality in them. She has grown out of this phase completely” (734). Katz goes on to characterize her work in terms of its mystical, other-worldly qualities: “Her later work is of a strictly mystical, visionary character . . . Often her pictures look like semi-materialized thought forms, and her colors have an unearthly luminousity” (Katz 734). Pelton’s interest in theosophy and her move to California led her to Dane Rudhyar, the French-American composer and philosopher who explored the relationship between atonality and dissonance and a “cosmic” form of spiritual expression, a modernism that coincided with Pelton’s understanding of painterly abstraction. He believed, as Pelton did, that “The urge to surmount materialism in some of these [other] movements has driven them away from emotional reactions” (Blankenship 1). Rudyhar introduced the artist to Raymond Jonson, who invited Pelton to become one of the founding members of the Trancendental Painting Group (TPG), a community of artists working in the Southwest (primarily in New Mexico) and committed to non-representational painting. Though Pelton remained in California, her connections with the artists of the TPG, and especially Johnson, were through Rudhyar, theosophy, and Kandinsky. Pelton’s paintings remain a testament to an integration of organic and non-organic forms designed to produce emotive sensations. As with most artists who visited the Armory Show, a direct relationship between Pelton’s work and her involvement in the exhibition would merely be reductive, but as an artist who developed an extremely unique abstract vision, she can be considered along with artists like Stuart Davis, Morton Schamberg, and Joseph Stella in the retrospective evaluation of the 1913 exhibition.


“Her later work is of a strictly mystical, visionary character . . . Often her pictures look like semi-materialized thought forms, and her colors have an unearthly luminousity.”


Through investigating the careers of individual artists who participated in the Armory Show, it is clear that a substantial number of women artists adopted a variety of formal principles used to delineate modernism in America, whether it be through the work of Cézanne, through Matisse and other fauve artists, through cubism and all its adversaries, or through the work of Kandinsky. While Dreier, Zorach, Goldthwaite, McEnery, Myers, Rhoades, Stevens, and Pelton are only a few of the women who contributed work to the Armory Show, and there were numerous other women modernists who were not in the exhibition at all, the examples provided above illustrate the participation of women artists in the quite unique opportunity to show their work in a large, unjuried exhibition. While the dominant understanding of women’s involvement in the Armory Show (as with early modernism) has been through their consumption of modern art objects, women were decidedly engaged in the experimentation and freedom that the Armory Show signified for a whole generation of artists.

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NPR

‘Armory Show’ That Shocked America In 1913, Celebrates 100

Tom Vitale February 17, 2013

Listen to this story

Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired Nude Descending a Staircase was famously described by one critic as “an explosion in a shingle factory.” (Copyright succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2013)

On Feb. 17, 1913, an art exhibition opened in New York City that shocked the country, changed our perception of beauty and had a profound effect on artists and collectors.

The International Exhibition of Modern Art — which came to be known, simply, as the Armory Show — marked the dawn of Modernism in America. It was the first time the phrase “avant-garde” was used to describe painting and sculpture.

On the evening of the show’s opening, 4,000 guests milled around the makeshift galleries in the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue.

Two-thirds of the paintings on view were by American artists. But it was the Europeans — Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp — that caused a sensation.

American audiences were used to seeing Rembrandts and Titians in their galleries — “a very realistic type of art,” says Marilyn Kushner, the co-curator of an exhibition called “The Armory Show at 100″ that opens in October at the New York Historical Society.

“If you saw a female nude, in art, in sculpture or painting, it was very classical,” Kushner adds. “And it was the idea of this perfect, classical beauty.”

Kushner says it was jarring for audiences in 1913 to encounter works such as Matisse’s Blue Nude for the first time.

“You know, she’s a nude. You can tell she’s a nude. But she’s in all of these colors that you never imagined you would see on a woman before,” she says. “She looks very primitive, almost childlike.”

Viewers were shocked, Kushner says, “because they’d never seen anything like this before. And they didn’t know how to relate to it.”

Critics reviled the experimental art as “insane” and an affront to their sensibilities. But the media attention drew crowds, and collectors took notice.

Matisse’s Blue Nude wound up at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Leah Dickerman, a curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, explains The Red Studio, another Matisse from the show.

“You see pictures piled up in the background, a bureau with another work leaning against it,” Dickerman says. “But the walls of the studio, the floors of the studio, the table — anything that’s not art, and not his composed still life, is done in a bright brick red.

“It’s an extraordinary painting. The red jumps, and yet, within that background, are all these brightly colored paintings and sculptural figures that are an inventory of things that Matisse made.”

Dickerman says the works in the show had a profound effect on American artists. But almost as remarkable was the exhibition itself. It was organized by a group of two dozen young artists who called themselves “The Association of American Painters and Sculptors.” They raised money, generated publicity, transported the art, rented the Armory and staged the exhibition — all without public funding.

Historian Valerie Paley calls that revolution a countercultural moment that questioned the 19th-century vision of the world: “I think art historians are fond of thinking that it created a revolution.”

But, Paley says, the artists’ ingenuity was part of a bigger revolution.

“All sorts of extraordinary things are happening,” Paley says of the modern age. “Albert Einstein is working on a new theory of gravity. New technology — electric light, communication — just an explosion of 19th-century norms. And in New York, new buildings like the Woolworth Building or the Grand Central Terminal — these are opening.

“It’s a different time. It’s the dawn of a different time. And certainly this idea of deconstructing the old way of thinking — is very much in the air.”

The most talked-about painting in the 1913 Armory Show deconstructed a human figure in abstract brown panels in overlapping motion. Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired Nude Descending a Staircase was famously described by one critic as “an explosion in a shingle factory.”

In 1963, on the 50th anniversary of the Armory Show, Duchamp was interviewed by CBS reporter Charles Collingwood. The audio is now at the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art.

When Collingwood asked Duchamp if he had realized that the piece would create “such a “furor,” the artist responded: “Not the slightest. In the first place, I was a very young painter, 26 years old. Never had been to America. Wasn’t here at the time.”

Duchamp said he was in France when he got word that his painting had sold for $324. After the commission, he received $240 — about $5,565, in today’s dollars. Not bad for an artist unknown in this country at the time.

Duchamp went on in the 1963 interview to say that, at the time, artists had lost the ability to surprise the public.

“There’s a public to receive it today that did not exist then. Cubism was sort of forced upon the public to reject it. You know what I mean?” Duchamp said. “Instead, today, any new movement is almost accepted before it started. See, there’s no more element of shock anymore.”

That’s why the Armory Show was so important in 1913, Dickerman says.

“It’s this moment in time, 100 years ago, in which the foundations of cultural practice were totally reordered in as great a way as we have seen,” she says. “And that this marks a reordering of the rules of art-making — it’s as big as we’ve seen since the Renaissance.

“And I don’t think we’ve seen as great a transformation in the 100 years that follow — where the foundations of how art is conceived are totally shaken.”

The 1913 Armory Show attracted 87,000 visitors in New York City before it traveled to Chicago, where critic Harriet Monroe saw it. She wrote in the Sunday Tribune, “These radical artists are right. They represent a search for new beauty” and “a longing for new versions of truth observed.”

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One hundred years ago today, an art exhibition opened in New York City that shocked the country, changed our perception of beauty and had a profound effect on artists and collectors. The International Exhibition of Modern Art marked the dawn of Modernism in America. It was the first time the phrase avant-garde was used to describe painting and sculpture. From New York, Tom Vitale has the story of what came to be known as the Armory Show.

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: Four thousand guests milled around the makeshift galleries in the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue. It was the evening of February 17, 1913. Two-thirds of the paintings in the show opening that night were by American artists. But it was the Europeans – Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp – that caused a sensation. Americans were used to seeing Rembrandts and Titians in their galleries.

MARILYN KUSHNER: Very realistic type of art. And if you saw a female nude, in art, in sculpture or painting, it was very classical, and it was the idea of this perfect classical beauty.

VITALE: Marilyn Kushner is the co-curator of an exhibition called “The Armory Show at 100,” opening later this year at the New York Historical Society.

KUSHNER: OK. So, imagine that’s what you’re used to seeing. Then all of a sudden you go into an exhibition like the Armory Show and you see “The Blue Nude.” She’s a nude. You can tell she’s a nude. But she’s in all of these colors that you never imagined you’d see on a woman before. She looks very primitive, almost childlike. And so it was a shock to them because they’d never seen anything like this before. And they didn’t know how to relate to it.

VITALE: Critics reviled the experimental art as insane and an affront to their sensibilities. But the media attention drew crowds and collectors took notice. Matisse’s “Blue Nude” wound up at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Leah Dickerman is a curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She stands in front of another Matisse from the Armory show called “The Red Studio.”

LEAH DICKERMAN: You see pictures piled up in the background, a bureau with another work leaning against it. But the walls of the studio, the floors of the studio, the table – anything that’s not art – is done in a bright brick red. It’s an extraordinary painting. The red jumps, and yet, within that background, are all these brightly-colored paintings and sculptural figures that’s an inventory of things that Matisse made.

VITALE: Dickerman says the works in the show had a profound effect on American artists. But almost as remarkable was the exhibition itself. It was organized by a group of two dozen young artists calling themselves the Association of American Painters and Sculptors. They raised money, generated publicity, transported the art, rented the Armory and staged the exhibition, all without public funding.

VALERIE PALEY: Art historians are fond of thinking that it created a revolution. In fact, it was part of a bigger revolution.

VITALE: Historian Valerie Paley calls that revolution a countercultural moment that questioned the 19th Century vision of the world.

PALEY: Extraordinary things are happening: Albert Einstein’s working on a new theory of gravity, new technology – electric light – just an explosion of 19th Century norms. And in New York, new buildings like the Grand Central Terminal are opening. It’s a different time. It’s the dawn of a different time. And certainly this idea of deconstructing the old way of thinking is very much in the air.

VITALE: The most talked about painting in the 1913 Armory Show deconstructed a human figure in abstract brown panels in overlapping motion. Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired “Nude Descending A Staircase” was famously described by one critic as an explosion in a shingle factory. In 1963, on the 50th anniversary of the Armory Show, Duchamp was interviewed by CBS reporter Charles Collingwood. The audio is now at the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPED INTERVIEW)

CHARLES COLLINGWOOD: Did you realize at the time, Mr. Duchamp, that this would create such a furor?

MARCEL DUCHAMP: Not the slightest. In the first place, I was a very young painter, I guess 26 years old. Never had been to America. Wasn’t here at the time.

VITALE: Duchamp said he was in France when he got word that his painting had sold. He went on in the 1963 interview to say that then, artists had lost the ability to surprise the public.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPED INTERVIEW)

DUCHAMP: There’s a public to receive it today that did not exist then. Cubism was sort of forced upon the public to reject it. You know what I mean? Instead of today, any new movement is almost accepted before it started. There’s no more element of shock anymore.

VITALE: And that’s why the Armory Show was so important in 1913, says the Museum of Modern Art’s Leah Dickerman.

DICKERMAN: It’s this moment in time 100 years ago in which the foundations of cultural practice were totally reordered in as great a way as we have seen. This marks a reordering of the rules of art making. It’s as big as we’ve seen since the Renaissance. And I don’t think we’ve seen as great a transformation in the hundred years that follow, where the foundations of how art is conceived are totally shaken.

VITALE: Eighty-seven thousand people visited the 1913 Armory Show in New York City before it traveled to Chicago, where critic Harriet Monroe got it. She wrote in the Sunday Tribune: These radical artists are right. They represent a search for new beauty and a longing for new versions of truth observed. For NPR News, I’m Tom Vitale in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I’m Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio (Source).
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