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Today it’s a bit hard to imagine Cezanne, Matisse, Duchamp, and Van Gogh shocking anyone, but at the Armory art show in New York City 100 years ago, they did. Tom Vitale at National Public Radio has the story.

“On Feb. 17, 1913, an art exhibition opened in New York City that shocked the country, changed our perception of beauty and had a profound effect on artists and collectors.

“The International Exhibition of Modern Art — which came to be known, simply, as the Armory Show — marked the dawn of Modernism in America. It was the first time the phrase ‘avant-garde’ was used to describe painting and sculpture. …

“It was the Europeans — Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp — that caused a sensation.

“American audiences were used to seeing Rembrandts and Titians in their galleries — ‘a very realistic type of art,’ says Marilyn Kushner, the co-curator of an exhibition called ‘The Armory Show at 100’ that opens in October at the New York Historical Society. …

“The most talked-about painting in the 1913 Armory Show deconstructed a human figure in abstract brown panels in overlapping motion. Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired Nude Descending a Staircase was famously described by one critic as ‘an explosion in a shingle factory.’

“In 1963, on the 50th anniversary of the Armory Show, Duchamp was interviewed by CBS reporter Charles Collingwood. The audio is now at the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art.

“When Collingwood asked Duchamp if he had realized that the piece would create ‘such a “furor,” ‘ the artist responded: “Not the slightest.” …

“Duchamp went on in the 1963 interview to say that, at the time, artists had lost the ability to surprise the public.

” ‘There’s a public to receive it today that did not exist then. Cubism was sort of forced upon the public to reject it. You know what I mean?’ Duchamp said. ‘Instead, today, any new movement is almost accepted before it started. See, there’s no more element of shock anymore.’ ” More.

Photograph: Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired Nude Descending a Staircase was famously described by one critic as “an explosion in a shingle factory.” (Copyright succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2013)

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