The artwork that generated the most headlines was almost certainly Duchamp’s now-famous painting Nude Descending a Staircase (1912). To the eyes of Armory Show visitors, there was no nude figure in sight. ARTnews even issued an invitation to its readers: If anyone could decode the meaning of this inscrutable work, they would be handsomely rewarded with $10.
One man wrote in, suggesting that Duchamp might have been experiencing a brain malfunction at the sight of a nude woman. “The painter, never having seen a nude lady, sees one on a fine morning in the month of May, which incident and time makes him rather confused,” he wrote. “The picture plainly shows this emotion. A veritable brain-storm.” The winning poem hypothesized that the figure was, in fact, a man.
Word of the exhibition spread fast, thanks not only to the broad press coverage it received, but also to the society’s savvy marketing strategies. They produced buttons displaying their logo and distributed them to anyone who would take one—cabbies, shop girls, collectors alike. They handed out postcards printed with select works, then placed a mailbox conveniently by the exit so visitors could broadcast their experience of the show around the country. “They tried very hard to avoid an elitist feeling,” Lunday says.