In the face of the tremendous developments in art in America during the past twenty-five years, the building and endowment of museums all over the country, the hundred-thousand-dollar-gates to exhibitions during worlds fairs, the numberless galleries devoted to contemporary art in New York City alone and the sudden appearance of hundreds of new artists all over the country, the Armory Show of 1913 (International Exhibition of Modern Art given under the auspices of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors) seems today but a puny thing. In spite of all this manifestation of interest and money expended during the intervening years, it still holds a unique place in history. Hardly a week has elapsed since that spring of 1913 but what it has been mentioned at least once in the public press.
At various times during the past year I have been urged to put down some notes as to why and how the thing started and what it did for art in the United States, now that we have arrived at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the occasion. Owing to the fact that I was the executive secretary of the undertaking and today the only man alive who knows about or took part in all the activities both here and abroad from the earliest beginning of the project to its close, it is perhaps fitting that I say something about this, at that time most exciting adventure, which sprang upon the American public like a flash from the blue.
Two things produced the Armory Show: A burning desire by everyone to be informed of the slightly known activities abroad and the need of breaking down the stifling and smug condition of local art affairs as applied to the ambition of American painters and sculptors. This was the one point. The other was the lucky discovery of a leader well equipped with the necessary knowledge of art and a self-sacrificing and almost unbelievable sporting attitude. This was the American painter Arthur B. Davies.
As put forth in his manifesto in the catalogue, our purpose was solely to show the American people what was going on abroad, but this was only a half-truth, the real truth was that the Armory Show developed into a genuine, powerful and judging from results, a most effective revolt, perhaps even more effective than the incident of the Salon des Refuses of Paris in 1864. The group of four men who first set the wheels in motion had no idea of the magnitude to which their early longings would lead. Perhaps they felt just one thing
— that something had to be done to insure to them a chance to breathe.
It is necessary to realize that at this time most of the younger American artists, especially the progressive ones, had no place to show their wares. No dealer's gallery was open to them, the press in general was apathetic, maybe one in a thousand of our citizens had a slight idea of the meaning of the word "art". Perhaps it would be fitting at this point
to give credit to two American women. Mrs. Gertrude V. Whitney and Mrs. Clara Potter Davidge. Mrs. Davidge conducted a small gallery at 305 Madison Avenue of which Henry Fitch Taylor, a painter, was the director. Mrs. Whitney, I believe, supplied most of the wherewithal. A small group of younger artists were given free exhibitions at this gallery.
Three of the exhibitors, Elmer Mac-Rae, Jerome Myers and myself, together with Mr. Taylor the director, would sit and talk of the helplessness of our situation. Finally on December 14, 1911, we agreed to take action. Additional artists were invited. On December 16th the group had grown to sixteen members. Meetings were continued and new members added until the list looked sufficiently large and representative to answer the purpose.
At this time Davies was already greatly respected and looked upon as one of the leading figures in American art. I called alone on him, a shy and retiring man, and induced him to come to a meeting, promising him that should he not look favorably on our prospectus, we would annoy him no more. Luckily he immediately took practical interest in the proceedings and at the resignation of Alden Weir as president, was induced to take over that office.
At this point it is important to remember that so far this group had thought no further than to stage somewhere, a large exhibition of American art, with perhaps a few of the radical things from abroad to create additional interest. No one at this time had the slightest idea where the money would come from, or even if any sort of an exhibition
place could be found. Discussing this latter point, the old Madison Square Garden was discarded as prohibitive in size and cost. All other places seemed too small or otherwise unattractive. Some of the members mentioned casually about the possible availability of an armory, several of which permitted tennis playing for a fee. With this hint I visited several armories, talked to their respective colonels and finally found after a conversation with Colonel Conley, then commanding officer of the old 69th Regiment, N.G.N.Y. (The Irish Regiment), now the 165th Regiment Infantry, that his armory, Lexington Avenue at 25th Street, would possibly lend itself to our purpose.
In the meantime my friend, John Quinn, who until long after, thought the whole scheme a crazy one and had up to then shown no interest in the new art manifestations, agreed to take over all legal matters. So at last, with borrowed money, the president, vice-president and myself, signed the lease with Colonel Conley, $1,500 down, balance of $4,000 to be paid before opening of the show on February 17, 1913, the exhibition to continue for one month. Most of the members, knowing that the thing was on its way, and no one aware as to how in the world it was to be accomplished, retired to their various studios and hoped for the best.
An undertaking of this importance usually calls for underwriters. Some of the better known collectors and art lovers were approached without any marked success. The task seemed more and more hopeless as the weeks passed by. At this time began my friendship with Arthur B. Davies, which close association remained over a period of sixteen years until the end of his life. During the spring of 1912 he and I had many conversations debating some sort of program for the projected exhibition. The general opinion expressed by knowing people in New York, showed scant hope of securing any important works from European sources. However all this only helped to provoke in me the desire to go and see for myself. So with a growing familiarity of the subject, due to my talks with Davies (who was thoroughly informed) the picture gradually shaped itself. Later in the midst of a painting trip
in Nova Scotia I received from him by mail the catalogue of the "Sonderbund" Exhibition then current in Cologne, Germany, together with a brief note stating, "I wish we couldhave a show like this."
In a flash I was decided. I wired him to secure steamer reservations for me; there was just time to catch the boat which would make it possible to reach Cologne before close of the show. Davies saw me off at the dock. His parting words were, "Go ahead, you can do it!"
The Cologne Exhibition, housed in a temporary building had been well conceived and executed, in fact it became in a measure the model of what we finally did in New York. It contained a grand display of Cezannes and Van Goghs, including also a good representation of the leading living modernists of France. The show had languished through half the summer, much maligned by the citizens, but toward the end burst forth as a great success, with big attendance and many sales. I arrived in the town on the last day of the exhibition. In the midst of all the travail of the closing of the show's business, I could get but scant attention from the management. However through the courtesy of one
of its directors I was permitted to browse at will during the time of its slow dismantling. Needless to say, I crammed myself with all information possible. Van Gogh's work enthralled me as much as any. I met the sculptor Lehmbruck and secured some of his sculpture, also works by Munch, the Norwegian, and many others through the courtesy of the show's management. I received letters to collectors in Holland, departed to The Hague, where I first laid eyes upon the work of Odilon Redon, the Frenchman up to then unknown in America, and not very much considered in Paris. I felt so sure of Redon's quality that I agreed on my own responsibility to have an entire room in our exhibition devoted to his work. This was fortunate, as Redon became a hit in New York. He sold numerous examples, thereby elevating his market many points in France. At this time he was already over seventy years old. I also secured several of Van Gogh's paintings.
From Holland I took a flying trip to Munich and Berlin, made arrangements for the works of many of the advanced local painters and then was off to Paris. There I looked up that old-timer, Alfred Maurer, who introduced me to the formidable Monsieur Vollard, who although willing to listen remained somewhat noncommittal. My mission abroad had already been noised about and I could detect a slightly rising interest all around me. I next looked up Walter Pach, then resident in Paris, who later furnished inestimable service to
our undertaking. To his wide acquaintanceship among French artists and dealers, the advantages of his linguistic abilities and general knowledge of art, should be credited a large measure of our success. He later acted as the European agent for the association and during the exhibition in America took charge of the sales staff, wrote several of the
pamphlets, lectured and otherwise lent great and enthusiastic support to it all. His serious interest in art remains undiminished today, as can be witnessed Uy his own writings as well as his translations of the works of others. His latest achievement, a translation of the Journal of Delacroix, probably one of the most useful and seriously important books of its kind should be in the hands of every painter.
Things got more and more exciting. We went from collection to collection, from gallery to gallery, with constantly growing success. Talk spread in Paris. Jo Davidson introduced me to Arthur T. Aldis, who asked for our show for Chicago. One night in my hotel the magnitude and importance of the whole thing came over me. I suddenly realized that to attempt to handle it alone, without Davies, would be unfair to the project. I cabled him begging him to join me. He responded and in less than a week he arrived. The first night in the hotel we spent without sleep, going over the newly opened vista of what we could do for the folks at home. It was very exciting. Then came several weeks of the most intensive canvassing. We practically lived in taxicabs. Pach introduced us to the brothers Duchamp Villon. Here we saw for the first time the famous "Nude Descending a Staircase"
which became the succes de scandale of our exhibition in all three cities, New York, Chicago and Boston. Constantin Brancusi also was induced to agree to an American debut. Pach was left in Paris to make the final assemblage, and attend to transportation and insurance, a very tough job, which he executed as only he could.
Then with Davies to London to see Roger Fry's second Grafton Gallery show. I could see in the glint of Davies' eye that we had nothing to fear by comparison. Here it might be well to say that Davies' thorough understanding of all the new manifestations was due to one thing only — his complete knowledge of the art of the past. Dikran Kelekian speaks of him as one of the great antiquarians of his time. Many of the lenders to the Grafton Gallery exhibition transferred their items to our show. We sailed, worn out from work, but fearless and determined as to the outcome in America.
Returning to the United States late in November 1912, with Pach busy in Paris attending to his part of the job, we set about with our preparations. At home, in the meantime, interest had been slightly stirred by various messages I had sent for release to the press even before the arrival of Davies in Paris. Probably the initial announcement appeared on the editorial page of the New York Sun and made the home folks take notice. At a meeting of the association the general program, for the first time, was laid before the members. No such daring proposal had ever been considered by any group of artists. During the decade preceding this time great pioneering work had been done by Robert Henri and his group, which to say the least, had made the public realize that the artist has a legitimate place in American society. The first messages from abroad, submitted by the newly returned Americans, Max Weber and John Marin, and the persistent and most stimulating early efforts of Alfred Stieglitz in his little gallery on Fifth Avenue, all these things had made the big American public restless and desirous of finding out more about the socalled new movement.
It was now our mission to present these ideas in a grand, bold and comprehensive way, produced with a technique which would be understandable to every single American who was at all inquisitive, and banish that bug-a-boo to every sincere worker in the arts—the "help the poor artist" idea. We were prepared to help ourselves and demand our rights as legitimate practitioners. The events of the last twenty-five years seem to indicate that we were in a measure successful.
The Association's membership of twenty-five naturally suggests that there may have been divergencies of opinion as to just how far we were to go. Personal tastes and training had their effect on the attitude of the various men, but let it be said to their credit, that American sportsmanship won in the end. The sincerity of Davies was self-evident. Practically every man forgot his personal feelings and backed the president to the hilt in the undertaking.
The labors of organization began to mount; at the time we had a tiny office in an old building.
Weeks later it was conceded that I might require a telephone. I drafted the services of an old friend, Frederick James Gregg. He had been a first class editorial writer on the old New York Evening Sun. Contributing also, in the department of publicity, was Guy Pene du Bois. Articles were prepared for the press and everything was done to somewhat prepare the public for the impending excitement. Work was still mounting. We moved to larger quarters. I was given an assistant. Arrangements were made with contractors to fit out the armory with walls, coverings, booths, tables and seats for the weary. We had nothing but an empty drill floor to start with. Owing to the varied distribution of daylight through the skylights of the armory, we had considerable difficulty in planning the sections or rooms. After lengthy discussion it was George Bellows who hit upon a solution. Mrs. Whitney donated a thousand dollars for greenery and other decorations. We were flooded by American artists, good and bad, seeking representation and had finally to resort to a special committee, headed by William Glackens, to consider such requests. Printing had to be done. The catalogue, in spite of the heartbreaking work of such an efficient man as
Allen Tucker, was impossible. Exhibits were admitted even after the opening of the show, all due to the zeal of our president whose one desire was to make a fine exhibition and spare no one. It was a bedlam — but we liked it. The catalogue problem was finally overcome with the aid of a large group of art students wearing badges with the word "information". These young men had to memorize the location of all the works shown and act as guides to the visitors.
Here you must remember that the entire affair was being conducted on a shoestring, one might say, and-to-mouth. There was not the security of underwriters such as is usually the case in all "well conducted" exhibitions. The treasury was practically always depleted. Elmer MacRae, the treasurer, did well by a nerve-wracking and disagreeable job. When money was needed it was produced from the sleeve of Arthur B. Davies. It was Davies' party. He financed the show — he and his friends, with perhaps slight exception. No member at any
stage of the activities was asked to contribute a penny of membership dues.
A special meeting was held January 22, 1913 with all resident members present, when the following resolution was passed unanimously: 'That the policy expressed by Mr. Davies in
the selection of the paintings and sculpture be approved by the members. That improved plan of arrangements as submitted on this date, as well as Mr. Davies 1 policy regarding the distribution of works be approved."
From now on there was plain sailing. Pach arrived in New York. Then came a time of agony owing to storms at sea. The ship bearing the paintings and sculptures from abroad was two weeks overdue. But she came in. An entire uptown building was leased to temporarily house the works. Contractors got busy. The exhibition was installed. Everybody helped. Morgan Taylor of Putnam's gave his evenings gratis. He secured for us the sales staff for catalogues, pamphlets and photographs, also the girls to sell the tickets of admission, which incidentally were twenty-five cents. On busy days we had two box offices in operation. The pine tree flag of the American Revolution was adopted as our emblem; the tree was reproduced on campaign buttons to signify the "New Spirit". Thousands of these buttons were given away.
Posters were printed and distributed all over town. The President of the United States, the Governor of the State and the Mayor of New York, all sent their regrets. So the show finally opened without their aid on the night of February 17, 1913. All society was there, all the art public, and success seemed assured.
Now came a surprise. The press was friendly and willing. Sides were taken for or against, which was good, but in spite of this the public did not arrive. For two weeks there was a dribbling attendance. Expenses went on, a big staff of guards, salesgirls, etc., had to be supported. The deficit grew steadily, when suddenly on the second Saturday the storm
broke. From then on the attendance mounted and controversy raged. Old friends argued and separated, never to speak again. Indignation meetings were going on in all the clubs. Academic painters came every day and left regularly, spitting fire and brimstone— but they came— everybody came. Albert Pinkham Ryder, on the arm of Davies, arrived to look at some of his own pictures he had not seen in years, or maybe he too could not resist the Armory Show. Henry McBride was in his glory and valiantly held high the torch of free speech in the plastic arts, as he is doing today. A daily visitor was Miss Lillie Bliss who here first found her introduction to modern art. Frank Crowninshield reveled in discoveries. He was a true champion and is so today. Enrico Caruso came, he did not sing, but had his fun making caricatures. Mrs. Meredith Hare, one of the show's ardent supporters was having the time of her life. Mrs. Astor, now Lady Ribblesdale, came every day after breakfast. Students, teachers, brain specialists— the exquisite, the
vulgar, from all walks of life they came. "Overnight" experts expounded on the theories of the "abstract versus the concrete". Cezanne was explained nine different ways or more. The then cryptic words, "significant form", were in the air. Brancusi both baffled and delighted. Matisse shocked, made enemies on one day, developed ardent fans the next. People came in limousines, some in wheel-chairs, to be refreshed by the excitement. Even a blind man was discovered, who limited to the sculptures, nevertheless "saw" by the touch of his fingers. Actors, musicians, butlers and shopgirls, all joined in the pandemonium.
We gave away thousands of free admission tickets to schools and societies. The place was crowded; the exact attendance will never be known. On March the fourth, the day of Wilson's inauguration I had the pleasure of escorting the former president, Theodore Roosevelt, through the rooms of the exhibition. Perhaps the Ex-president felt that the Armory Show would be the right sort of counter-irritant to what was just then going on in Washington. If he did, he never showed it, for he was most gracious, though noncommittal. Later in the "Outlook" he discussed the show more freely.
One day I lunched with John Quinn at the old Hoffman House. He had begun to enjoy the fight, but he would not buy. I urged and urged, finally I won him over. His purchase of between five and six thousand dollars worth of pictures reached the ears of Arthur Jerome Eddy, famous in Chicago I was told, for having been the first Chicagoan to ride a bicycle and later the first man there to own an automobile. Eddy bought some of the most radical works in our show. Others followed suit. Rivalry between the collectors grew. Bryson Burroughs made history— through his efforts the Metropolitan bought a Cezanne, the first ever to be owned by an American Museum.
Mr. Aldis came from Chicago wih a committee to secure the show for The Art Institute. It was arranged to have it there from March 24th to April 16th. Here in New York everybody was happy and every member worked with a will until the end. On the show's last night at the Armory, we paraded with regimental fife and drum, led by the giant, Putnam Brinley, wearing a bearskin hat and twirling a drum major's baton. Through each room of the exhibition we marched and saluted our confreres past and present. The work of dismantling began at once and lasted until morning. I spent the night with the workmen. At ten o'clock on St. Patrick's Day the regimental band marched on to the empty floor and saluted our closing with the tune of "Garry Owen".
The show was now boxed for Chicago. It included most of the foreign works, but of the Americans, at request of the Chicago authorities, only works by members of the association. Gregg had already departed for Chicago to meet the press and was frantically telegraphing me to come and help handle the horde of newspaper boys who were evidently out for bear. The morning of my arrival I met a most formidable array of scribes. The echoes of the New York press had done their work, evidently Chicago was not to be fooled. The news-
papers were on the whole most skeptical, but it was great copy and they loved it. One young reporter called my attention to what seemed like a sixth toe on a nude by Matisse — and immediately rushed off to write his story. I found the officials of the Institute most easy to work with and must state that The Art Institute of Chicago is, to my mind, without a doubt one of the most efficiently conducted establishments of the kind in the country. Aided by a thoroughly trained staff we were able to hang the entire show in one day!
Another gala opening. The papers hammered the show, but it was a grand success and thousands paid to get in. One outstanding champion was Julian S. Mason, later editor of the New York Evening Post. Harriet Monroe was also an ally. The feeling was so strong, especially against Matisse and Brancusi, that later upon my return to New York I received a wire from our treasurer Elmer MacRae who was then in Chicago, stating that he had difficulty in preventing the art students from burning them in effigy. The teachers at The Art Institute were almost a solid unit against our exhibition and insisted upon escorting their classes through the various halls and in "explaining" and denouncing every part of the show. I had to request that this be stopped, as it had a very bad effect on non-student visitors who had the right to be left alone to judge for themselves. Pach lectured at Fullerton Hall to a full house. Jo Davidson and Bob Chanler arrived to add to the excitement. Everything was just clean fun. The Chicago management, although perhaps worried at times, came through in good order and was actually delighted. Our relations with the Institute authorities were always perfect. I received letters later in which they stated their complete satisfaction with the show, as well as with their association with us.
In the meantime negotiations were going on with the Copley Society in Boston— and to Boston we went. Boston did not take to it. Maybe the sight of a large plaster relief by Matisse hanging between two drawings by Ingres was just a bit too much. Local psychoanalysts were especially vehement in their disapproval. Our relations with the management were most cordial; they did everything possible to promote success. However results on the whole could not be compared with those of New York and Chicago. The International Exhibition of Modern Art of 1913 was over.
It took an entire year to close up the affairs of the exhibition, with many disagreeable chores of a minor sort. There were no debts left to embarrass any of us. If anybody was embarrassed, it could only have been Arthur B. Davies and he certainly did not show it. After squaring everything, the bulk of the money left was turned over to him and by him possibly to friends who had supplied it to him in the beginning. All had worked hard, not one member of the Association accepted a penny as remuneration for his services. Nothing remained now, but to see what effect our great adventure would have on these United States.
To the collectors of America and abroad, too numerous to mention here, who so willingly loaned their works of art, and to the following group of artists who constituted the Association and whose sportsmanship and unity of purpose made the thing possible, all credit is due: Karl Anderson, George Bellows, D. Putnam Brinley, J. Mowbray Clarke, vice-president; Leon Dabo, Jo Davidson, Arthur B. Davies, president; Guy Pene Du Bois, Sherry E. Fry, William J. Glackens, Robert Henri, E. A. Kramer, Walt Kuhn, secretary; Ernest Lawson, Jonas Lie, George B. Luks, Elmer L. MacRae, treasurer; Jerome Myers, Frank A. Nankivell, Bruce Porter, Maurice Prendergast, John Sloan, Henry Fitch Taylor, Allen Tucker, Mahonri Young.
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER
In the course of years, since that wild time in 1913, my feelings have turned first hot, then cold, as to what the whole thing has really meant to us Americans. How did we benefit, if at all? The late President Coolidge once said, ''America's business is business." Therein lies the answer.
We naive artists, we wanted to see what was going on in the world of art, we wanted to open up the mind of the public to the need of art. Did we do it? We did more than that. The Armory Show affected the entire culture of America. Business caught on immediately, even if the artists did not at once do so. The outer appearance of industry absorbed the
lesson like a sponge. Drabness, awkwardness began to disappear from American life, and color and grace stepped in. Industry certainly took notice. The decorative elements of Matisse and the cubists were immediately taken on as models for the creation of a brighter, more lively America. The decorative side of Brancusi went into everything from
milliners' dummies to streamliner trains. The exhibition affected every phase of American life — the apparel of men and women, the stage, automobiles, airplanes, furniture, interior decorations, beauty parlors, advertising and printing in its various departments, plumbing, hardware— everything from the modernistic designs of gas pumps and added color of beach umbrellas and bathing suits, down to the merchandise of the dime store.
In spite of the number of admittedly first class pieces of "fine art" in the Armory Show, the thing that "took" was the element of decoration. American business, perhaps unconsciously, absorbed this needed quality and reached with it, into every home and industry and pastime.
At a dinner given to the press by the Association's press committee, one of the conservative critics said with good humor, "Men it was a bully show, but don't do it again." We did not have to do it again. It kept right on going and is going better than ever today. Many great exhibitions since then could not have appeared without it. The Museum of Modern Art in New York would never have been possible. For years Davies and the writer urged Miss Lillie Bliss, probably one of the truly disinterested collectors of her time, and a staunch supporter of the Armory Show, to establish just that sort of a permanent place for contemporary art, but she wasn't ready. After the death of Davies I kept up the pleading. Finally she decided and called me to steer the ship. I felt it was not my place and turned it over to another, who now is
doing a good job. I was not made for that sort of thing. Perhaps I was after all, as old Mr. Montross used to call me, just a "war secretary".