An art show that created history and a legacy for iconic artists, over a century ago

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Armory Show, Chicago, 1913. The Cubist room

February 17, On This Day

Entrance of the Exhibition, 1913, New York City

109 years — that is how long it has been since the Armory Show opened in New York City on February 17, 1913. It was the first large exhibition of modern art in America, as well as one of the many exhibitions that have been held in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories.

This event displayed the works of artists who went on to become some of the most influential painters of the early 20th century — including iconic names like Constantin Brâncuși, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Francisco Goya, Edward Hopper, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Fernand Léger, Édouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, Maurice Prendergast, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Georges Seurat and many more.

Some 1,300 paintings, sculptures, and decorative works by over 300 avant-garde European and American artists went on display, representing Impressionist, Fauvist, and Cubist works

Of the works showcased, Matisse’s Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra) and Madras Rouge (Red Madras Headdress), Cézanne’s Hill of the Poor (View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph), and Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. created huge ripples.

Selected painting in the show: Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912

Astonished Americans, accustomed to realistic art, were for the first time exposed to the experimental styles of the European avant garde. The show served as a catalyst for American artists, who became more independent and created their own “artistic language”.

But in the lead-up to and just after the show, news reports and reviews were filled with accusations of quackery, insanity, immorality, and anarchy, as well as parodies, caricatures, doggerels, and mock exhibitions. About the modern works, former President Theodore Roosevelt is even reported to have declared, “That’s not art!”

Selected sculpture in the show: Constantin Brâncuși, The Kiss, 1907-1908,