Nude Descending a Staircase
Marcel Duchamp
Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2

Gallery I
French Paintings and Sculpture

The audience was encouraged by the layout of the Armory to move from Gallery A to the east or west side, where many of the American paintings and sculpture were shown. However, by the second week of the show, many visitors reportedly rushed to the "Chamber of Horrors," Gallery I, in the far lefthand side of the Armory. One reviewer recommended this approach to the exhibition: "The visitor might just as well go straight to gallery I . . . where the Cubists reign supreme. If he has been a consistent follower of New York exhibitions the shock will be slight, and if he has been to Paris the sight will be familiar. . . He is now prepared really to see the exhibition, and as he goes from room to room he will find that while weird examples are decidedly in evidence they hold a minor position in the exhibition" ("Modern Art" 1). Innocently titled French Paintings and Sculpture in the catalog, Gallery I quickly became known as The Cubist Room, and the works shown there solidified the movement in the minds of Americans for many years.

In large exhibitions like the Armory Show, the controversy usually revolved around one room; at the Armory the hub was Gallery I. This narrowed focus meant many artists were forgotten in the rush to identify the most memorable works from the show. The 1905 Salon d'Automne, where entries numbered over 2,000, was the exhibition where Louis Vauxcelles exclaimed, "Donatello among the wild beasts!" upon entering Room VII and seeing Italianate sculptures surrounded by the paintings of Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck, Marquet, Manguin, and Camoin (Altshuler 10). Fauve artists outside Room VII were generally overlooked at the 1905 exhibition. Similarly, cubism came into common parlance during the 1911 Salon des Independants exhibition where Metzinger, Gleizes, Le Fauconnier, Leger, and Delaunay, and Laurencin showed their work in Room 41 (Altshuler 28). Although Picasso and Braque are now credited as the originators of cubism, the artists in Room 41 were often considered the founders of this movement.

Crowds were reportedly so large in Gallery I that one could barely get a glimpse at the "success by scandal," Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (above). By the third week, the painting had gained such notoriety that it was bought sight unseen by Frederic Torrey, an art dealer from California. Duchamp's painting was punned to death—a work entitled "Food Descending a Staircase" was shown at an exhibition parodying the most outrageous works at the Armory, running concurrently with the show at The Lighthouse School for the Blind (Brown, Story 141). In American Art News, there were prizes offered to anyone who could find the nude (Brown, Story 136).


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