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Visual Arts

The Armory Show

The International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known as The Armory Show, opens on February 17th, 1913 in New York City. Organized by a group of progressive artists, the show is the first large-scale exhibit of 20th century "modern" art from Europe and America, including a number of ultra-modern French paintings whose technique and style quickly become the focus of intense controversy. The work of two painters, Marcel Duchamp's cubist Nude Descending a Staircase and Henri Matisse's unconventional Blue Nude, draw particular condemnation -- both painters are attacked in the press as inept and unartistic.

Nonetheless, the show, exhibiting more than 1,600 works, receives some praise and is heavily attended. In New York more than 70,000 people attend during the month-long run. Even larger crowds turn out at The Art Institute of Chicago, where a smaller collection of works is displayed despite the qualms of the director and the burning of Matisse in effigy by the students of the Institute. After a final stop in Boston, where it attracts small crowds and ignites no controversy, the show returns to New York, and the works go back to the artists or to new owners.

The novel approaches to color, motion, and form displayed at The Armory Show contrast strongly with the realistic works favored by many established artists. These innovations open up a new aesthetic for American artists, museum-goers, and collectors. The Armory show is now cited by many art historians as the most important American exhibition in the history of modern art.

Image is a painting in the cubist style of a figure walking down a staircase.
Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2, Marcel Duchamp, 1912, oil on canvas, 58 x 35 in. Courtesy of The Philadelphia Museum of Art: Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection. © 2000 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris, Estate of Marcel Duchamp.

Image is a painting of a reclining nude.
Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra), Henri Matisse, 1907, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 55 1/4 in. Courtesy of The Baltimore Musuem of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, MD, BMA 1950.228. © 1999 Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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