Original works of art were not the only things for sale at the Armory Show. Visitors could also purchase a copy of the exhibition catalogue, or one of the pamphlets published by the American Association of Painters and Sculptors and devoted to Paul Cézanne, Odilon Redon, Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon. Taking a cue from the 1912 Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne, Germany, the A.A.P.S. also issued and offered for sale fifty-seven different postcards with halftone reproductions of art displayed inside the exhibition. They sold thousands.
The cards featured works by avant-garde European artists like Marcel Duchamp as well as more conservative American painters and sculptors such as Childe Hassam and Mahonri Young. For the exhibition’s organizers, the cards served several key functions as souvenirs, publicity, and didactic devices. Visitors to the show mailed their cards or carried them home with them, thereby sharing the work with friends who had not attended themselves. The American painter Carl Sprinchorn, for instance, was teaching at the Art League of Los Angeles and couldn’t travel to see the show, so he asked a friend in New York to mail the postcards to him in installments. He later recalled how the cards “circulated from hand to hand” and became part of the greater discourse about modern art in general. “Each card,” he wrote, “was minutely scrutinized and discussed from every angle, both for and against, but mostly for. Absence of color was no obstacle to this, in fact an additional stimulus to the imagination.”
The Armory Show’s organizers were hugely ambitious in most aspects of their undertaking, and production of the postcards was no different. At the end of the exhibition, they were reportedly left with some 60,000 unsold cards, which they consigned to George E. Newcombe and Co. They also sent cards to a number of American libraries which had requested them. A nearly complete set can be viewed online through the Walt Kuhn Family Papers at the Archives of American Art.
Megan Fort, Ph.D.
Research Assistant, Museum Department
New-York Historical Society
The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution is on view October 11, 2013 through February 23, 2013 at the New-York Historical Society.