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That Time the 1913 Armory Show Was Investigated for Indecency

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Turns out former U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t the only one incensed by the 1913 Armory Show. After the blockbuster exhibition of avant-garde European artists and select American contemporaries left the Lexington Avenue Armory and traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), it was met with similarly high-ranking opposition, to the point that 100 years and one day ago the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, Barratt O’Hara, ordered an examination of the landmark show.

According to a very brief press clipping from the second volume of exhibition co-organizer Walt Kuhn’s scrapbook — which you can browse in its entirety thanks to the Archives of American Art’s abundantly rich 1913 Armory Show timeline — an investigator who visited the show at the AIC was so struck by the Cubists and Futurists’ paintings and sculptures that his ensuing report prompted Lieutenant Governor O’Hara to demand a thorough examination of the artworks by the Illinois Legislative “White Slave” Commission.

Exactly why a commission concerned with stopping the trafficking of human beings was called in to investigate charges of indecency leveled at an art exhibition is anyone’s guess. Whatever investigation may have occurred, it did not prevent the exhibition from finishing its run in Chicago before moving on to its last stop in Boston.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Photo via the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art/Facebook.)

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Comments

  1. it’s not at all surprising since the Mann Act was ambiguous and was used to criminalize forms of consensual sexual behavior.

    http://www.pbs.org/unforgivableblackness/knockout/mann.html

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