by Kim Orcutt
The National Academy of Design has been cast as the villain of the Armory Show, and the Association of American Painters and Sculptors that organized the exhibition arrayed themselves against the N.A.D. from the start. At their first official meeting, Henry Fitch Taylor said that a new organization was needed because “The National Academy of Design is not expected to lead the public taste. It never did and never will.” His fellow artist Augustus Koopman agreed, telling the New York Evening Post, “The Academy has been a dead institution for ten years. I say dead and I mean it.”
However, there’s more to the story than meets the eye. The N.A.D. started out in 1825 as a rebel group of artists, just like the organizers of the Armory Show, but by 1913 it was nearly 100 years old. It had become relatively conservative and showed few works by progressive young artists. Nonetheless, several key organizers of the Armory Show were also N.A.D. members, like George Bellows (who exhibited this work, Little Girl in White, at the Academy’s 1913 annual exhibition), William Glackens, Robert Henri, and Ernest Lawson. In fact, the A.A.P.S. elected a prominent academician, J. Alden Weir, as their first President, but he quickly resigned after hearing that the new organization was “openly at war” with the Academy.
There was another surprising bone of contention between the two groups – real estate. In 1913 the N.A.D. was in a decades-long search for a permanent home. They explained that they had to rent space at the American Fine Arts Society and didn’t have enough room to show as many artists as they would like. They tried pursuing space in Central Park, and partnering with other arts organizations for a site on 58th Street. But many people felt that the Armory Show proved them wrong – they didn’t need a permanent building to mount a major show, they could just rent a huge space as the A.A.P.S. did for their exhibition. It was a difficult blow for the N.A.D. They didn’t find a permanent home until the 1940s, when they moved into the Huntington Mansion on Fifth Avenue at 89th Street – and they’re still there today. The A.A.P.S., on the other hand, only lasted another year or so, and never mounted another show.