Imagine it’s the year 1913, the occasion of the first Armory Show. You make a special trip for a shoeshine (that costs you all of ten cents), during which you sip a five-cent coffee and daydream about the art you’ve heard so much about but have yet to see for yourself. For a dollar’s admission, you’re granted entry to the fair, and for $20, you exit with a Picasso under one arm and a Matisse in the other (you liked the Kandinsky, but $500 was a little steep).
Adjusting for inflation, it is slightly easier to understand how the main attraction of the fair, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, was sold for $324. But even considering the conversion of the Armory Show’s most expensive work, Cézanne’s View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph that sold for $6,700—the equivalent of about $150,000 today—the works are still a bargain by our current stratospheric standards.
Photos courtesy of Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Check out their 1913 Armory Show digital exhibition here.