Notes: The rare original poster for the most important art show in American history.
14 by 20-5/8 inches; lithograph in five colors, on thin cardstock, with a line of letterpress at the bottom.
The International Exhibition of Modern Art, commonly known as the "Armory Show" after its venue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, introduced European modern art to the United States. The show organizers, looking to adapt the French salon format for an American audience, formed the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) to sponsor the exhibit. More than 1400 works were displayed, allowing many American artists, dealers, and collectors to see Picasso, Matisse, Gaughin, and Van Gogh for the first time. The non-representational European works directly challenged the realism that had dominated American painting for decades, and American art was never the same afterwards. The show was open to the public for just a month, February 17 to March 15, 1913, in Manhattan, before traveling for brief stays at the Art Institute in Chicago and the Copley Society of Art in Boston. Despite its short run, the Armory Show's effects are still felt 110 years later.
The poster is as puzzling to today's audience as many of the artworks on display were to the visitors to the Armory in 1913. The image, in the upper third of the poster, is based on a Massachusetts "pine tree" flag that dates back to the colonial era. Walt Kuhn, the AAPS secretary, describe the origin of the design in a letter, "We have adopted an emblem—Taken from the old pine tree flag of the revolution—I got the idea one morning in bed—[Arthur] Davies made the drawing...—ought to make an immense hit and get everybody asking questions" (quoted from the New York Historical Society web page for the centennial of the show).
The organizers described the design as an "eradicated pine tree", or "a pine tree torn up by the roots" (New-York Tribune; January 5, 1913). The revolution in American art was officially declared. Selecting an old-fashioned symbol to promote a modern art show could be seen as being as radical as any of the artistic ideas on display inside the Armory.
The poster design is relatively simple. Below the flag graphic follows the exhibition name, the organizers (the newly formed Association of American Painters and Sculptors), the venue and dates, and a list of some of the European artists with work in the show. The location of the Armory is printed letterpress in red along the bottom.
Swann Galleries sold a near perfect copy in 2013 for $27,500 as part of an auction commemorating the centenary of the event. They sold another original in 2016 for $7800. This example formerly belonged to the French bibliophile Paul Destribats.
Edition + Condition: This is a passable copy, with old tidemarks along the bottom edge; fading to the last line of text; darkening at the edges from an old mat; surface abrasion to the upper right corner, just touching the flag's border; short tape reinforcing to the verso (back) in three places; and a narrow chip to the right edge.
Publication: New York: Association of American Painters and Sculptors, 1913.
Item No: #362570