The Armory Show contained about sixteen hundred pieces of sculpture, paintings, drawings, and prints; it included a large American selection that comprised three-quarters of the exhibition. Remarkably, the entire exhibition is said to have been hung in only two days, beginning on February 13. The process was facilitated by Davies preparing a watercolor sketch of every room. By the time of the press preview on Sunday February 16, the Armory had been decorated with pine tress, yellow cloth streamers forming a canopy from the ceiling, and garlands of greenery hanging from the partitions and along the walls. The poster for the Armory Show depicts the pine-tree flag of the American Revolution proclaiming liberation from the art of the past (Schapiro 135).

Nude Descending a Staircase

Bruce Altschuler describes the layout of the Armory Show in his book The Avant-Garde in Exhibition:

The physical arrangement of the eighteen octagonal rooms of the exhibition centered on the Europeans, with a row of six rooms on each of the north and south walls mostly showing American works. Entry was through the room of American sculpture, commanded by George Grey Barnard’s marble Prodigal Son, from which one could walk straight ahead to the large room of French painting and sculpture. Off to the left was the show’s main attraction, the Cubist room--known as the Chamber of Horrors--with the lines waiting to see Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (65) 


The catalogue of the Armory Show, which lists about 1,100 works by over 300 exhibitors, of whom more than 100 were Europeans, is incomplete. Many works added in the course of the exhibition were not catalogued, and groups of drawings and prints by the same artist were listed as single works. Some estimate that the show comprised altogether about 1,600 objects.

Nonetheless, despite the actual number of exhibits, the Armory Show had direct impact on American art, and a few artists having been exposed directly or indirectly radically altered their styles, choosing to work more abstractly. For example, European modernism inspired many American artists to reconsider form experiment with pattern, and incorporate rhythm into their own creative process. The “slashing brush strokes” that once proved “daring” now proved not enough (Rose 62). Although many remained true to artistic realism, their realism transformed into more conceptual art.

The revolution of modern art was fought first by certain artists in the trenches. Later, the war was won by converted and enlightened patrons of art. As an opening battle, the Armory Show forged a courageous new path. The established values in the art world were shaken; purchases of Impressionist, Post Impressionist, and twentieth-century European art increased astoundingly after 1913; and the market for the modern art expanded rapidly (Hunter and Jacobus, Modern 106).

It is hard to understand today how difficult exhibition conditions were for modern artists in the early 1900s. One cannot help but wonder if Robert Henri was referring to the Armory Show when he said:

Critical judgment of a picture is often given without a moment’s hesitation. I have seen a whole gallery of pictures condemned with a sweep of the eye. I remember hearing a prominent artist on entering a gallery declare “my eight year-old child could do better than this.” The subject of the charge was a collection of modern pictures with which the artist was not familiar. There were pictures by Matisse, ézanne and others. Works of highly intelligent men; great students along a different line. The works, whatever anyone might think of them, were the results of years of study. The “critical judgment” of them was accomplished in a sweep of the eye. (Henri 192)

One measure of the significance of the Armory Show is reflected in the following comment: “The wider recognition accorded modernism, and its relative success after the Armory Show, are due in great part to the efforts of a few early patrons, collectors, critics, and dealers in whose activities Americans may take a justifiable pride” (Hunter and Jacobus Modern 104) The Armory Show did sell and promote new art, but more importantly it challenged and changed both the Academic and intellectual definition and attitude toward art and brought cultured America face to face with the question of what makes art Art. The Armory show was a moment allowing America to see beyond the usual. In the words of Robert Henri,

Art is simply a result of expression during right feeling. It’s a result of a grip on the fundamentals of nature, the spirit of life, the constructive force, the secret of growth, a real understanding of the relative importance of things, order balance….There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented.. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge. (Henri 226)

  Ashcan School | George Bellows | Ernest Lawson | Everett Shinn | George Luks | William Glackens | Robert Henri | John Sloan | Maurice Prendergast | Georgia O'Keefe | Charles Sheeler

Armory Show Web Site
Linda M. Larson.  All rights reserved.
Revised: 29 Nov 2000 14:30:28 -0500 .