The 1913 art exhibit that scandalized New York

The organizers of the 1913 International Exhibit of Modern Art knew their show would be a magnet for attention and criticism.

Consisting of more than 1,200 paintings, sculptures, and decorative pieces by 300 bold avant-garde European and American artists, the exhibit opened on February 17, 1913, at the Lexington Avenue Armory on 25th Street.

Immediately, it was derided by the press and public.

A New York Times letter described it as the art of “savages and children.” Even President Theodore Roosevelt reportedly weighed in by announcing, “That’s not art!”

Few knew what to make of Cubist, Symbolist, and Impressionist artists. Taking a big hit was Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. One critic said it resembled “an explosion in a shingle factory.”

Still, at 25 cents to $1 per person for admission and running until mid-March, it drew packed crowds and was considered a success, ultimately introducing Modern art to a nation used to Realism and signaling a “rebellion in art.”

Here’s a list of the artists (such as John Sloan, Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne, and Edvard Monk) whose work appeared in the show.

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2 Responses to “The 1913 art exhibit that scandalized New York”

  1. Joe R Says:

    For those interested, this armory usually gives tours during the Open House New York weekend in October. Two interesting things I learned from the tour: 1) The Knicks played some of their games here in the ’40s and ’50s. 2) Also, there’s a bar inside the armory.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I always think of Marcel Duchamp and his “explosion in a shingle factory” (1913 NYT’s description of Nude Descending Staircase) when I pass this armory.

    Also, when I pass 210 West 14th– the fifth floor of this nondescript tenement was Duchamp’s studio for the last 25 years of his life. He made his secret last work “Etant Donnes” here– a tableau of found objects from his walks around the nabe.

    I look up at the fifth floor windows, and wonder if the current tenants have any inkling that that they’re living in Duchamp’s crib.

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