1998 32¢ Celebrate the Century - 1910s: Armory Show
US #3183d pictures viewers looking at Nude Descending a Staircase.

On February 17, 1913, the Armory Show opened at the 69th Regimental Armory in New York City, giving many in the public their first exposure to Modern Art.

In December 1911, a group that eventually became known as the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) met to talk about the nation’s art scene. Among the topics they discussed was the possibility of exhibiting American and foreign art that was often ignored or rejected by mainstream exhibitions.

US #2181 – Mary Cassat displayed Reine Lefebre and Margot Before a Window.

The following year, they established the AAPS with the goal to “lead the public taste in art, rather than follow it.” In addition to creating new exhibition opportunities for young artists, they also sought to educate the American public on modern art. Their first major undertaking was the International Exhibition of Modern Art to be held at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City.

1974 10¢ Famous Works of Art: Goya
US #1537 – Francisco Goya’s Monk Talking to an Old Woman was in the show.

With the site selected and paid for, the organizers then had the arduous task of selecting artwork. The organizers wanted to include a large number of European artists, so they traveled to England, Germany, the Netherlands, and France. Among the most famous works they secured on this trip were Matisse’s Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra) and Madras Rouge (Red Madras Headdress), and Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. Once they returned to America, the organizers officially invited American artists to participate.

1998 32¢ Four Centuries of American Art: Charles Sheeler
US #3236r – Charles Sheeler had six paintings on display at the show.

The Armory Show, as it came to be known, officially opened on February 17, 1913. It included about 1,300 paintings, sculptures, and decorative works by more than 300 artists. Their works represented the Impressionist, Fauvist, and Cubist movements.

The show marked the first time most Americans saw modern abstract art (though Arthur Dove had displayed his abstract works the year before, which is considered the first public exhibition of abstract art in America). Among the artists who participated were Stuart Davis, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Charles Sheeler, Joseph Stella, and Marcel Duchamp. Many viewers were outraged, including former President Theodore Roosevelt, who proclaimed, “That’s not art!”

2011 44¢ Edward Hopper
US #4558 – Edward Hopper sold his first painting at the Armory Show.

In spite of the public reaction, many artists in attendance were inspired and joined the modern art movement. These included Man Ray and Aaron Douglas. The work of all these artists paved the way for more abstract art in America by such artists as Charles DeMuth, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Gerald Murphy.

1964 5¢ Fine Arts
US #1259 was designed by Stuart Davis, one of the youngest artists to participate in the Armory Show.

After the show closed in New York on March 15, it traveled to Boston and Chicago. Altogether some 300,000 people attended it. Overall, Americans were shocked by their first look at modern art, and the Armory Show was received with widespread debate. Marcel Duchamp’s cubist painting, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, which suggests motion by blending a series of images, probably caused the greatest sensation and controversy of the exhibit.

2013 46¢ Modern Art in America
US #4748 was issued for the 100th anniversary of Modern Art in America.

The Armory Show introduced the US to modernism. In the decades to follow, its impact on American art would come to be accepted, understood, and greatly valued.

Click here for a virtual gallery of the Armory Show.

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  1. Thanks for this informative article. The US is a forerunner in using contemporary art on our stamps.We artists and Architects really dig it.
    I think the picture of the people looking at “Nude descending a staircase” looks like a Norman Rockwell. This show really confused and blew Americans away I think. But we picked up on it
    and carried it the the max. Since Americans have little restrain,t the modern movement went a little fast for the mainstream.
    My experience now is that Modernism is being blamed for the pollution and industrialized state we are in now. These new “millennials” are actually blaming me as an architect for putting a ” pretty face” on the abhorrent conditions of toxic areas created by industrialization.
    Probably partially true. They are missing the point. Modernism is a way of life; blame Tesla and Westinghouse for inventing electricity , which led to the rise of “better living through chemistry”.
    I’ve seen the results having grown up in Love Canal in Niagara Falls.
    Any way, THanks Mystic- this should be required reading in High Schools.

  2. Thank you, ed d’Andrea. My college degree is in Architectural Design and Drafting. I have worked for architectural as well as engineering companies, in California, and Connecticut.

  3. The Goya image shows the wrong painting. The right one is stunning. Thanks to d’Andrea for an insightful discussion.

  4. When it comes to some modern “art” I have to completely agree with President Theodore Roosevelt, who proclaimed, “That’s not art!”

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