The impact of The Armory Show, the modern art exhibition that opened at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City on February 13, 1913 and toured the country 100 years ago this spring, cannot be overstated. It was a huge sensation. The organizers wanted to usher in a revolutionary movement and so it was fitting that the exhibition take place in a military setting.
Over 1300 works of art were on display in the exhibition, three-quarters of which was created by American artist; however, the Europeans stole the show.
Many critics hated the modern art, calling the artists “lazy” and “lunatic fringe.” The American public especially hated French artist Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. The Cubist composition shows a female figure as she walks down some stairs. The forms in the female body are reduced to planes, the repetition of which suggests movement. The colors are from the typical Cubist palette with browns, black, and ochers.
The vast majority of the audience had never seen a human figure depicted this way, and the critics had fun lampooning it. Julian Street wrote that it looked like, “an explosion in a shingle factory.” Gutzon Borglum made an interpretive drawing of the painting that, when published in the New York Evening Sun, was entitled, “The rude descending a staircase (Rush hour in the subway).”
Even though the art created by Europeans drew the most criticism, those artists outsold the Americans by a ratio of four to one. Duchamp’s painting sold for $324.
See the online exhibition dedicated to the 1913 Armory Show that was created by The Art Institute of Chicago here.