Montclair Art Museum, NJ - The New Spirit: American Art in the Armory Show, 1913

Stasya Chyzhykova
Feb 18, 2013 2:48PM

The notorious Armory Show, which marked a turning point for American art history opened on February 17, 1913. Exactly a hundred years later Montclair Art Museum (MAM) launched an exhibition celebrating the centennial of this exhibition, highlighting equally groundbreaking American artists that were at that time overshadowed by their European counterparts.

Two thirds of the artists at the original Armory were Americans. Yet it was the European Fauvists, Futurists and Cubists like Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso and Cézanne that triggered the most controversy and anger among the New York crowd. Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase and Edvard Munch’s Madonna were two of the most infamous works at the show.

Many of the Armory pieces were ridiculed in newspapers across the country. The MAM exhibition starts with a scrapbook containing press cuts generated by the exhibition of 1913. The sheer number of comics ironizing modernism and the artists’ child-like painting is astounding.

To further recreate the events of 1913, MAM decorated its main exhibition space with pine tree branches, replicating the halls of the Regiment Armory where the original exhibition was held. Walt Kuhn, an Armory Show organizer, conceived a pine tree as the logo to symbolize the declaration of independence from the strait art of the American establishment: We are going to get [pine tree symbols] by the thousands. Give them to everybody – from bums to preachers – art students – bartenders – conductors etc.

MAM showcases 40 works from the original show by the obscured US artists like the Cubists Oscar Bluemner, the Realists Edward Hopper and Robert Henri as well as the Tonalist Leon Dabo. The curators also added small works by Matisse and Cézanne and offered vast documentary material from the 50th anniversary of the show in 1963.

MAM offers a perfect introduction to the numerous events this year that will recall and rethink the 1913 Armory Show. 

Stasya Chyzhykova