Many exhibitions have been held in the vast spaces of US National Guard armories, but the Armory Show refers to the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art that was organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors. The exhibition ran in New York City's 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, from February 17 until March 15, and became an important event in the history of American art, introducing astonished New Yorkers, accustomed to realistic art, to modern art. The show served as a catalyst for American artists, who became more independent and created their own "artistic language".
The Armory Show was the first exhibition mounted by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors and was run by their president, Arthur B. Davies, secretary Walt Kuhn, and Walter Pach. It displayed some 1,300 paintings, sculptures, and decorative works by over 300 avant-garde European and American artists. Impressionist, Fauvist, and Cubist works were represented.
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 declared, "That's not art!" The civil authorities did not, however, close down, or otherwise interfere with, the show.
Among the scandalously radical works of art, pride of place goes to Marcel Duchamp's cubist/futurist style Nude Descending a Staircase, painted the year before, in which he expressed motion with successive superimposed images, as in motion pictures. Julian Street, an art critic, wrote that the work resembled "an explosion in a shingle factory" (this quote is also attributed to Joel Spingarn), and cartoonists satirized the piece. Gutzon Borglum, one of the early organizers of the show who for a variety of reasons withdrew both his organizational prowess and his work, labeled this piece A staircase descending a nude, while J. F. Griswold, a writer for the New York Evening Sun, entitled it The rude descending a staircase (Rush hour in the subway).
The purchase of Paul Cézanne's Hill of the Poor (View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph) by the Metropolitan Museum of Art signaled an integration of modernism into the established New York museums, but among the younger artists represented, Cézanne was already an established master.
Duchamp's brother, who went by the "nom de guerre" Jacques Villon, also exhibited, sold all his Cubist drypoint etchings, and struck a sympathetic chord with New York collectors who supported him in the following decades.
The exhibition went on to show at the Art Institute of Chicago and then to The Copley Society of Art in Boston,where, due to a lack of space, all the work by American artists was removed.
The 1913 Armory Show contained approximately 1,300 works by 300 artists. Many of the original works have been lost and some of the artists have been forgotten. The initial premise of the show was to bring the best avant-garde and recent European art to an American audience in New York City, Chicago and Boston, and to exhibit the works side by side with the best works of American artists.
The original exhibition was an overwhelming success. There have been several exhibitions that were celebrations of its legacy throughout the 20th century.
In 1944 the Cincinnati Art Museum mounted a smaller version, in 1958 Amherst College held an exhibition of 62 works, 41 of which were in the original show, and in 1963 the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York organized the "1913 Armory Show 50th Anniversary Exhibition" sponsored by the Henry Street Settlement in New York, which included more than 300 works.
Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) was officially launched by the engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer and the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman when they collaborated in 1966 and together organized 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, a series of performance art presentations that united artists and engineers. Ten artists worked with more than 30 engineers to produce art performances incorporating new technology. The performances were held in the 69th Regiment Armory, as an homage to the original and historical 1913 Armory show.
In February 2009, the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) presented its 21st annual Art Show to benefit the Henry Street Settlement, at the Seventh Regiment Armory, located between 66th and 67th Streets and Park and Lexington Avenues in New York City. The exhibition began as a historical homage to the original 1913 Armory Show.
Starting with a small exhibition in 1994, by 2001 the "New" New York Armory Show, held in piers on the Hudson River, evolved into a "hugely entertaining" (New York Times) annual contemporary arts festival with a strong commercial bent. The 2008 and 2009 Armory Shows did not hold back on the more crude and vulgar works, which are not unknown for the show, which has been less tame in past years.
The New-York Historical Society is organizing a major exhibition celebrating the centenary of the 1913 Armory Show titled "The New Art Spirit: The Armory Show at 100". The exhibition will take place from October 18, 2013 through February 23, 2014