Armory Show

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An art exhibition (officially entitled the International Exhibition of Modern Art) held in New York, 17 February–15 March 1913, at the Armory of the National Guard's Sixty-Ninth Regiment, Lexington Avenue, Manhattan. It was a daring presentation of new and still controversial art on a mammoth scale (about 1,300 works by about 300 artists) and is regarded as the most important exhibition ever held in the country and one of the milestones in 20th-century American culture. The initiative for it came from a group of artists, several of them from the circle of Robert Henri, who in 1911 formed an organization called the Association of American Painters and Sculptors to find exhibition space for young artists. The breadth of vision with which the show was conceived was primarily due to the Association's president, Arthur B. Davies, whose enthusiasm for presenting a comprehensive picture of current European movements largely overshadowed the original idea of an exhibition of American art. In effect, the Armory Show was two exhibitions in one. The American portion presented a cross-section of contemporary art from the USA, heavily weighted in favour of younger and more radical artists. The foreign section, which was the core of the exhibition and became the main centre of controversy, traced the evolution of modern art, showing work by Goya, Delacroix, Courbet, and the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, as well as leading contemporary artists including Kandinsky, Matisse, and Picasso. French artists were best represented, and there was comparatively little German art. From New York a reduced version of the exhibition went to Chicago (Art Institute) and Boston (Copley Hall). More than a quarter of a million visitors paid to see it, and its impact was enormous on a public that generally knew little of Post-Impressionism, let alone Fauvism, Cubism, or abstract art (the Metropolitan Museum, New York, bought a Cézanne at the Show and this was the first picture by the artist to enter an American public collection). Though there was a good deal of ridicule and indignation (directed particularly at Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase), there were also many favourable reviews and the show stirred up public interest in art and created a climate more favourable to experimentation. It had a profound effect on many American artists, for example Stuart Davis, who regarded it as the turning point of his career, and several important patrons and collectors made their first tentative purchases of modern art at the show, among them Katherine Dreier. It has therefore become a commonplace to speak of the Armory Show as the real beginning of an interest in progressive art in the USA.

Subjects: Art.

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