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Armory Show of 1913 was the introduction of much of the American public to post-impressionist (modern) art. Most art lovers were either still clinging to the old European masters or they had embraced the realism and impressionist trends. However, the new school offered a new version of art that appealed to many in Europe. Therefore, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors brought together an exhibit of European and American post-impressionists that numbered more than 1,600 works. The media view of the exhibit was one of pre-exhibit fawning, followed by a general disdain of many of the works. The critics considered the art infantile and immature and advised art lovers to stay away. However, this insistence by the majority of the press that the show was a disaster only fueled a curiosity among the public that made the show the most successful in the history of such exhibits prior to 1913. More than 70,000 people saw the show in New York, and the crowds continued to see the show until it had amassed some 500,000 visitors. The spirit of the art and the boldness of the artists captured the hearts of American art lovers, and started a revolution that critics of the show could not have imagined.
American Media Backlash/Criticism of the 1913 Armory Show
The media has always helped shape the views of the American people, and during the International Exhibition of Modern Art in New York (popularly called the 1913 Armory show for its location) the press was at its influential worst. Many people attended the show because it was billed as a new form of art that deviated from the modern realism which was popular at the time (Osborne). Although realism was also a recent style which was not accepted by the public initially, by 1913 it had become a standard. However, new European and American artists were becoming interested in exploring a simplicity of form and had devised the modernist school (Pollock). The exhibition at the 69th Regiment Armory was meant as an introduction to both the public and the American media. While the show did receive a smattering of good reviews from both, the show was widely panned (Osborne). The show did engender criticism, but the result of the media uproar was an inroad into the American conscious which allowed American artists to express themselves in an entirely new way.
At first, the press and art critics around the United States eagerly awaited the show and talked in glowing terms of the effort that was made by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) (Holland), but they soon changed their tune. Some of the media maintained a positive attitude after they had seen the show and encouraged the general public to patronize it. Most notably the New York Sun described the entire effort as magnificent and important (Osborne). Other critics hedged the good that they had to say about some of the exhibits with a gentle trashing of others (Osborne). Still other journalists were not at all complimentary about any part of the show. One particular reviewer, James B. Townsend, from the magazine American Art News found "the most radical elements…awful" (Pollock). Other critics "found the works 'insane' and 'degenerate'" (Liu). Liu goes on to say that the New York Times said "the show could 'disrupt, degrade, if not destroy not only art but literature and society as well'" (Liu).
One of the most noted art critics of the time was a man named Royal Cortissoz. His critique of the art form was not that it did not have merit, but that it encompassed too much (Cortissoz). At the time, the post-impressionist camp included many groups of people, whether painters or sculptors, who wished "to eschew such approximately accurate representation of things seen as has been hitherto pursued by painters of all schools, and to cover the canvas with an arrangement of line and color symbolizing the very essence of the object or scene attacked" (Coritssoz). His problem with the movement was not with the works per se, but with the ego of the painters and the arrogance of those who seemed to find the new school fascinating. The painter's indifference to the "artistic lessons of the centuries" and the patron's condescension of those who did not like the…[continue]
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