The 1913 Armory Show marked a major turning point for art in America. At the time, the art world in the United States was governed by the conservative National Academy of Design, where idealistic realism continued to dominate. Classical styles with softened, perfected forms continued to be celebrated even though European artists of the same period had long rebelled against this rigid academic style, instead focusing on experimentation and abstraction.

In 1911, frustrated with this outdated mode of thinking, four young artists in New York began meeting to discuss strategies for reinvigorating the American art scene. The group formed the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, composed of young anti-academy artists, and in 1913 the group organized the Armory Show, then called the International Exhibition of Modern Art, aimed at introducing the newest European art to American audiences. 




The show gathered more than twelve hundred works of art from over three hundred artists from America and abroad. Two-thirds of the paintings on view were by American artists (Edward Hopper sold his first piece at the show), but it was Europeans like Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, and Duchamp that caused a sensation. American audiences were used to seeing classical Rembrandts and Titians, and the European contemporary avant-garde style was disorienting in comparison. Cubism, in particular, with its intensity and spatial decomposition, caused quite the uproar.



Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending A Staircase, No. 2,1912

Pablo Picasso, Woman With Mustard Pot (La Femme au pot de moutarde), 1910



Amadeo de Souza Cardoso, Avant la Corrida,1912


Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love II), 1912


Paul Gauguin, Words of the Devil,1892


Vincent van Gough, Mountain in Saint-RĂ©my, 1889


Henri Matisse, Blue Nude, 1907


The 1913 show became known as the official introduction of Modernism to America. In the following years, the show's impact on American collectors would contribute to the founding of New York’s modern art museums including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum. Most fundamental of all, the 1913 Armory Show finally gave credibility to the notion that art need not be beautiful to be considered good.



Alexander Archipenko, LaVie Familiale (Family Life), 1912


 Andrew Dasburg, Lucifer, 1912


Constantin Brancusi, Une Muse, 1912


Alexander Archipenko, Le Repos, 1912

Photography from the exhibition courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art