The 1913 Armory Show in New York City introduced the American public to the works of “a number of foreign artists,” as the journalist Frederick James Gregg wrote at the time, “who, though they are well known in Europe, are for the most part but names to New York and America”. These unfamiliar foreign artists included not only indisputably cutting-edge Cubists and Futurists, such as Braque, Picasso, Brancusi, and Duchamp. This was also the first time most American had the chance to see paintings by a number of 19th-century painters long become canonical in Europe — among others Ingres, Delacroix, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.
The Cubists and the Futurists simply abolish the art of painting. They deny not only any representation of nature, but also any known or traditional form of decoration. They maintain that they have invented a symbolism which expresses their individuality, or as they say, their souls. If they have really expressed their souls in the things they show us, God help their souls!
We tend to forget, now that the Cubists and Futurists have become as integral to the history of art as the painters of the Dutch Golden Age and the Italian Renaissance, how hostile most people — even most artists — felt toward the non-representational innovations of the artists on display at the Armory.
For every open-minded viewer like William Carlos Williams, who later said he was “tremendously stirred” by what the show represented, there were dozens who felt more like the anonymous American quoted above — or like Mary Mills and Earl Harvey Lyall, who immortalized their disgust with “the Cubies”, stars of a novel alphabet book published sometime before the end of 1913.
Within a few decades, of course, the non-representational art many Americans thought was an aberration had become the norm on both sides of the Atlantic. To quote Frederick James Gregg, summing up the whole Armory affair in Harper’s Weekly only a few weeks after the show opened: “The moral is that there is nothing final in art, no last word, and that the main thing is not to be taken in on one hand, and not to be blind on the other.”