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Visual Arts

The Armory Show
1913

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.

Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase and Henri Matisse's Blue Nude alarmed viewers with their radical technique. View the works?


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