How the 1913 Armory Show Dispelled the American Belief that Good Art Had to Be Beautiful

Tens of thousands of visitors flooded Manhattan’s 69th Regiment Armory in the winter of 1913 to see the International Exhibition of Modern Art—or, as it was soon to be known, the Armory Show. “The crowd hurries first to the Cubist and Futurist room, eager to know the worst,” Harriet Monroe reported in the February 20th edition of the Chicago Tribune. “There most of them are obliged to laugh, others are struck dumb with an open mouth stare, and a few are seized with deep despair.”

So unfamiliar were these violently abstracted forms that they represented something of a blow to the face—and a bomb thrown at the art establishment. “It makes me fear for the world,” one dismayed art connoisseur told Monroe. “Something must be wrong with an age which can put those things in a gallery and call them art. The minds that produced them are fit subjects for alienists and the canvases—I can’t call them pictures—should hang in the curio room of an insane asylum.”

Yet for others who braved the long lines and buzzing rooms of the 1913 Armory Show—which gathered together over 1,000 artworks from almost 300 European and American artists, including Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Marcel Duchamp, and Edward Hopper, and later traveled to Chicago and Boston—the project was instantly historic. “The exhibition has been a brilliant success in every way,” wrote Arthur Hoeber in the Globe of March 9th. “The attendance has been large, and the sales of pictures numerous and remunerative. The exhibition has set the town talking and thinking, and cannot fail to rank as a most inspiring event.” Read more

2018-10-29T09:41:28+00:00